July 22, 2016

Capital Coffee: 5 Specialty Cafés in Washington DC


With nearly 675,000 residents and over 20 million visitors annually, Washington, DC’s specialty coffee scene has a lot of traffic to keep up with. Luckily, the local coffee shops can easily meet the high demand.

Over the past decade, numerous roasters have hit the area, specializing in sustainable sourcing, local business connections, and good-quality coffee. The cafés have matched their passion by offering unique spaces, perfectly blended espresso drinks, and a commitment to coffee that rivals the best of the best.

For those looking for a cup of coffee in Washington, DC, here are five cafés to whet your appetite.

SEE ALSO: Cafe Culture: The Rise of Smashed Avocado Toast

Wydown Coffee Bar

Crowd pleasing cappuccino at Wydown Coffee Bar.

Why These Five?

In a city this large, and a specialty scene expanding this rapidly, it would be impossible to pick the five “best”. Each place on our list is one of our personal favorites, and taken together they serve as a great introduction to Washington’s specialty scene. Whether you’re seeking single origin pour overs, a cozy vibe to indulge in a supreme cappuccino and pastry, or a place to learn more about third wave coffee, you’ll find it here.

But if you have a little more time on your hands, we encourage you to explore further – there’s plenty to see and drink in the nation’s capital.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Blagden Alley

The brew bar at La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Blagden Alley.

1. La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Blagden Alley

This line of boutique coffee shops got its start in Philadelphia in 1994, but their first DC location in Blagden Alley cannot be overlooked. Its cozy red-brick walls, industrial garage door which sits open on warmer days, and alleyway murals make it a stylish place to stop for a coffee.

And while it may be a chain, La Colombe is serious about its specialty coffee. In fact, Co-Founder Todd Carmichael is the subject of the Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds as he sets out to source the best beans from the remotest places. It’s no wonder the café’s seasonal menu is excellent – and almost always boasts a Geisha.

If you get something brewed to order, be prepared to pay a little more than usual, around $6-7. But when you’re served your delectable coffee on La Colombe’s iconic, Instagram-worthy china, you’ll have no complaints.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters

La Colombe Coffee Roasters is easy to miss, but worth finding.

Where 924 Blagden Alley NW
Atmosphere Industrial yet warm
Espresso Machine La Marzocco GB5
Grinder Baratza Forte (pour overs), Nuova Simonelli Mythos (espresso), Mahlkonig EK43 (specialty)
Coffee Offerings Fetco, pour overs, espresso-based drinks, cold brew, and draft latte
Roaster La Colombe
Food Pastries from The Sweet Lobby and Souk
Retail Offerings In-store: whole bean coffee

Online: machinery and La Colombe merchandise

Events Occasional cuppings and classes (check their social media for details)

specialty coffee in Washington

Specialty coffee served in iconic china makes La Colombe Coffee Roasters perfect for photos.

2. Peregrine Espresso, Union Market

No trip to DC is complete without a stop at Union Market, and popping into Peregrine Espresso is a great reason to do so. Peregrine is an esteemed coffee shop with award-winning baristas, and they have the hardware to prove it.

While the baristas are expertly preparing your drink, feel free to ask about food recommendations around Union Market – they’re bound to have some tasty suggestions! They’re also comfortable taking and refining orders using American Sign Language.

Try to head here on a weekday, since on weekends you’re sure to encounter a long line. Alternatively, consider popping into one of their other two locations.

Peregrine Espresso

Peregrine Espresso is a welcoming sight as you enter Union Market.

Where 1309 5th St. NE
Atmosphere Busy and friendly
Espresso Machine La Marzocco Strada MP
Grinder Mazzer Robur E
Coffee Offerings Pour overs; espresso-based drinks; Fetco; and one USBC-finalist signature drink with crème anglaise, apple juice caramel, and espresso
Roaster Counter Culture
Food Pastries from Bluebird Bakery, yogurt with granola, and organic/direct trade chocolate
Retail Offerings Whole bean coffees (many of which are organic), Bonavita kettles and carafes, Baratza electric grinders, Peregrine t-shirts and mugs, and beehouse drippers
Events Periodic classes at Union Market Test Kitchen

Peregrine Espresso

Take a break from your shopping with a coffee at Peregrine Espresso.

3. Zeke’s Coffee DC

Zeke’s is a family business that began in Baltimore and made its way to DC in 2008, officially opening a storefront in 2013. What makes Zeke’s stand out among other local coffee shops is its use of an air roaster. Capable of roasting customizable batches, this machine uses hot air to roast the coffee beans evenly, keeping them consistent and preventing them from burning, all while using 80% less energy than a drum roaster.

Zeke’s specializes in fair trade, organic, and sustainable beans, and for optimal sampling they offer several different manual brew methods, including an AeroPress – and it’s the only location on this list with one. In addition to participating in 15 local farmer’s markets, their product is touted by over 50 stores, restaurants, and cafés in the area, so you know it’s good!

Zeke's Coffee logoThe crab logo is a tribute to Zeke’s Baltimore roots.

Where 2300 Rhode Island Ave NE
Atmosphere Bright, open, and welcoming, Zeke’s Coffee has a sense of community
Espresso Machine Faema E61
Grinder Casadio Enea on Demand
Coffee Offerings Drip coffee, pour overs, French press, AeroPress, cold brew, nitro cold brew, and espresso drinks
Roaster Zeke’s
Food Pastries from Bluebird Bakery
Retail Offerings Whole bean coffee, Coffee Club subscription, growlers (reusable cold brew containers), Zeke’s t-shirts and mugs, and – in cooler months – chocolate-covered espresso beans
Events Farmers markets, occasional tastings

Zeke's Coffee cup in front of wall decoration explaining coffee plant

Zeke’s Coffee’s distinctive black-and-white branding.

4. Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar, Dupont Circle

Filter’s flagship café makes you feel like you’ve entered a secret cave of coffee paradise. It’s in the basement of a classic DC brownstone in Dupont Circle, but there’s no way you’ll miss it: the door is bright orange. There are also orange, coffee-shaped bike racks outside – the staff at Filter love their cycling, and it shows in the bike theme.

Once you walk in, you’ll be greeted by some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable baristas around. And although seating can be hard to come by, you’ll notice people are comfortable flowing out onto the steps and adjoining walls outside.

This humble café sources its coffee from a local roaster, Ceremony Coffee in Annapolis, with whom they’ve created a custom espresso blend just for their shop. Since many coffee lovers also appreciate good quality chocolate, Filter chooses single origin organic chocolate for their mochas and hot chocolate.

Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar

Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar is easy to spot.

Where 1726 20th St. NW
Atmosphere Cozy and intimate
Espresso Machine La Marzocco FB80
Grinder Mazzer Robur E
Coffee Offerings Pour overs, espresso drinks, single origin organic chocolate drinks, French press, and Fetco
Roaster Ceremony Coffee Roasters
Food Pastries from Hawthorne Bakery and fig bars from La Mano Coffee Bar
Retail Offerings Whole bean coffee, Hario brew supplies (hand grinder, V60 dripper, scale), Baratza electric grinders, Filter keepcups, and totes
Events Check out their collaborations within the District cycling community

Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar

Custom coffee-cup bike racks at Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar.

5. The Wydown Coffee Bar

The Wydown is the youngest café on this list, originally operating as a pop-up before opening up their brick and mortar in June 2014. It’s also the only place with rotating and guest roasters, and boasts the largest in-store retail selection.

The crew is selective about what company they go with, though. If decaf is your game, they’re sure to have found the best bean out there. And if you go at just the right time, you might be able to grab one of their made-from-scratch pastries right out of the oven.

With a comfortable atmosphere and baristas who remember your name, it’s no wonder this place has gained such a loyal following so quickly.

Wydown Coffee Bar

Winding down at the Wydown Coffee Bar.

Where 1924 14th St. NW
Atmosphere Hip, contemporary, and inviting
Espresso Machine La Marzocco Strada and La Marzocco FB80
Grinder Baratza Forte (pour overs), Mahlkonig EK43 (drip), Nuova Simonelli Mythos (espresso)
Coffee Offerings Pour overs and espresso-based drinks
Roaster Rotating
Food Fresh-baked goods made from scratch and Harper Macaw chocolate
Retail Offerings Whole bean coffee; Wydown t-shirts and keepcups; Baratza electric grinders; filters; Chemex; AeroPress; Bonavita scales, kettles, and coffee makers; Hario syphon; and canteens
Events Weekly cuppings at 1:30 on Fridays

Wydown Coffee Bar

Perfected pour overs at Wydown Coffee Bar.

Washington DC has numerous coffee shops to choose from, each with its own unique vibe. In fact, this introduction to the District’s coffee offerings just skims the surface. But whether you’re a local beginning to immerse yourself in the coffee scene, or a traveller passing through town and looking for the best cup of specialty java, this list is a great jumping off point. Happy sipping!

Written in collaboration with D. Kilbride. Edited by T. Newton.

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