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Qualia Coffee, Petworth - Joel Finklestein's Independent Coffee House on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Street

Petworth Coffee Coffee Houses Small Batch Roasting Onsite Roasting WiFi

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#1 darkstar965

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 04:43 PM

Though I know Qualia has been referenced on some other coffee topics, I don't think it has it's own thread. Not in the Dining Guide. Didn't come up with a google search. So I'll create it here because this shop, now three years old, totally deserves to have a little spotlight shone on it. WaPo got it right with their brief review last year. And, even a visit to the content-rich Qualia website makes clear this is a shop obsessed with bean quality and the technique/process that convert bean to great-tasting cup.

Today I was in the area of Georgia Avenue and remembered Qualia Coffee was nearby. I'd only been there once before a year or two ago and vaguely remembered enjoying it but I'd had a lot of good/great coffee since then...and had learned a bit more, so I wanted to check back.

This time, I talked at length with Joel Finkelstein, Qualia's owner and chief roaster, along with Aaron, also a roaster and a serious and generous teacher of all things coffee to anyone interested enough to ask.

Qualia is a Great Shop by my scale as explained here.

They offer a large selection of very fresh, frequently changing and clearly dated beans. They roast onsite using a smaller roaster and average 5lb batches. This means they'll run out of a given roast often but then can restock in 2 hours. With a dozen or so from which to choose for a pourover, this means you'll always get freshly roasted beans, whatever the region or varietal.

Joel and Aaron both care about roasting intensely. Their knowledge is incredibly deep and their dedication to excellence exceedingly high. I think they do espresso drinks but that's decidedly not the main focus here. It's very much about the world's best beans roasted with a crazy high level of finesse. Oh, and coffee aside, Qualia does seriously good baked goods including bagels from the area's best bagel maker*

I had a very interesting Panamanian coffee I really enjoyed followed by a Brazilian Minco I loved. And, I left the shop with a deep appreciation for Joel, what he's doing and how he's doing it. He's thinking about possibly opening a 2nd Qualia downtown somewhere and I hope he does since the only downside to Qualia that I can see is that it's not that conveniently situation for me to be a regular.

For all of us that deeply appreciate purveyors who prioritize quality over revenue maximization, Qualia deserves our enthusiastic support. It'd be great to see a few restaurants in town serving Qualia. Qualia won't ever be a multi-million, high-growth business. But it is already a great business because it is first and foremost about Great Product.

* Georgetown Bagelry on River Road

#2 RoastMonkey

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 03:16 PM

Thanks for the kind words. We have also been recognized as a Staff Pick in the Washington City Paper's Best of DC issue:

http://www.washingto...counter-culture

Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)


#3 darkstar965

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 10:36 PM

Welcome to donrockwell.com ! And thanks for the education and great experience I had a couple of days ago.

And, btw, love the handle and avatar. Looking forward to more Rockwellian java addicts trying and reporting on Qualia.

#4 DonRocks

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 12:48 AM

I love this succinct, direct, and very reasonable policy regarding use of WiFi at Qualia (check the website for other minor rules):

Please keep in mind that we do not charge as much for drinks as other specialty coffeeshops in DC because we wish to be a citizen of the broader Petworth community, and as such, we rely on steady turnover of seats to keep the lights on. We welcome you for an hour or two’s coffee and writing break, but please keep in mind that our nearly-socialist attitude means we cannot support camping for six hours on a single small coffee.


It says what needs to be said while at the same time being polite and respectful of all customers. Very well done, and a model for others to follow. (Seems like a small detail, and is, but it's the small details that distinguish between good and great.) I'll be making a special trip here at some point. Initiated as noteworthy in the Dining Guide.

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#5 darkstar965

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 11:10 PM

Some years ago, I had a good friend finishing a Peace Corps stint in Tanzania. Another friend and I were able to fly over, meet her and did a great trip by car mostly through South Africa. Anyway, that trip (and Billy Joel)* always left me with a good feeling about Tanzania. I don't see coffees from there as often as Ethiopia or Kenya so, when I saw a jar of freshly roasted Tanzania Songea Peaberry on the counter at Qualia alongside the other 7-9 choices, I ordered a pourover. Really good. Personally, I think Joel's description of the coffee's tasting notes from the current beans blog...

This carefully selected micro-lot, dubbed Kusini, includes beans culled from eleven cooperatives and farmers’ associations throughout the Songea region, in the southern part of Tanzania. The coffee trees, mostly bourbon varietals grown on plateaus between 1400 to 2000 meters, where the temperature is relatively warm and less acidity in the soil yields vibrant, nutrient-rich fruit.
Tasting Notes: juicy, tangy, cedar and grapefruit


...is a bit wacky (in a good way :D ). Wasn't any "juic"ier or more "cedar"-like for me than other coffees I've really enjoyed. Maybe a note of a sort of sweeter nut like macadamia or almond? But that's all inkblot stuff where we all sense different things. Definitely clear is that it's a somewhat unique , bright and delicious cup of joe.

* Pete Rose fans or watchers will appreciate the live "edit" Joel did to the published lyrics at around 2:04

#6 goodeats

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 08:50 AM

^ I always thought that the Peaberry mutations are supposed to be richer in flavors than other coffee types, and have "brighter notes" compared to many beans--hence the "juicy, tangy" notes. So, I don't think Joel's description is that "wacky;" but, everyone's experience varies

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#7 ozgirl

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Posted 21 May 2012 - 09:35 AM

Sunday morning, the hubs and I decided to make a dedicated trip to Qualia for the morning cup. I loved it the moment I saw the people sitting out front on the veranda/stoop talking to each and reading the paper. (electronic devices were few yesterday morning.) The vibe of the place took me back to Portland, OR - relaxed, unpretentious, homey AND they serve great coffee. We had a cappucino and a latte. Both delicious. (I can't remember the taste well enough to describe in detail and those flavour "notes" are long forgotten - maybe next time.) We also tried a slice of the chocolate/banana bread pudding. We asked for it to be reheated - which they happily obliged. Not sure if it was in the reheat, but while the dark chocolate bits in the bread pudding turned nice and melty, it may have also turned the texture of the whole thing a bit rubbery. Still tasted good and may try some of the other baked goods (the salt & sugar scone sounded intriguing, but they had already run out.)

with or without food - will absolutely be going back for coffee on a more regular basis. it's the kind of place i kinda feel bad that i don't live closer.

#8 darkstar965

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 08:38 PM

Thought about putting this on the Media board but decided here better for two reasons. Two shout outs, actually.

1. Joel won't tell you himself but he was on Kojo Nnamdi today. Interesting panel discussion about challenges faced by small, independent businesses (e.g., Qualia) in DC with respect to finding good sites, developers, suitable retail mix, etc. Can read or listen here.

2. Qualia was serving a very nice Ethiopian Harrar today. I know. I had one. I'm used to Ethiopian brews being bright, citrusy, some acidity. This wasn't so much like that. Rich. Robust. Lower acid. Smooth. Smoky maybe. At least that's what my palate sensed. More importantly: damn good.

#9 bimbap

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 08:07 AM

Joel's coffee is what we drink at home. Thankfully, we can buy Qualia beans from the Brookland Farmers Market. As someone who is not a born coffee drinker (but has been driven to it from having two young kids), I appreciate the complex flavor and it is basically the only coffee I can drink black.

#10 giant shrimp

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 10:47 AM

Qualia was serving a very nice Ethiopian Harrar today. I know. I had one. I'm used to Ethiopian brews being bright, citrusy, some acidity. This wasn't so much like that. Rich. Robust. Lower acid. Smooth. Smoky maybe. At least that's what my palate sensed. More importantly: damn good.


I am in the process of making habitual, almost weekly trips here. It is an intertesting part of town, about an hour and a half or so walk from where I live. Last time I overshot it by wandering on trails through Rock Creek that ended behind Carter Barron, but encountered five deer fording the stream along the way.

I agree on the Harrar, though have no notes. The Yirgacheffe Kochere is also worth the trip, and I still have much more to work through. As a destimation, however, on my last visit I was happy not to have to stay any longer than it took to make my purchase. The place was sweltering, reminiscent of summer in Washington decades ago when fans were far more common than air conditioning in homes. You have to build up to this kind of heat, and the way the weather has been I am not sure I can get more than halfway there.

#11 RoastMonkey

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 12:55 PM

We had to install a new air conditioning system and things have not gone smoothly. We are waiting on a part from the manufacture and with any luck should have it up and running by this weekend.

Joel

I agree on the Harrar, though have no notes. The Yirgacheffe Kochere is also worth the trip, and I still have much more to work through. As a destimation, however, on my last visit I was happy not to have to stay any longer than it took to make my purchase. The place was sweltering, reminiscent of summer in Washington decades ago when fans were far more common than air conditioning in homes. You have to build up to this kind of heat, and the way the weather has been I am not sure I can get more than halfway there.


Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)


#12 darkstar965

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 03:09 PM

Congrats to Joel on a nice mention by Tim Carman in today's WaPo Food Section. Sounds like it was a very interesting (and educational) confab.

As someone who gets around DC's coffee scene fairly well, will say this about Qualia and Joel: there's noone in this area who cares more about the quality of what's in the cup. I could write a few paragraphs justifying that otherwise hyperbolic and qualitative statement but won't. Suffice to say, it's both substantive and true. Were I arguing the point in front of a jury, I think I'd win based on overwhelming evidence.

As for the central point Joel made to Carman in the piece, couldn't agree more that virtually no restaurants have a serious coffee program, though some are perhaps a tad more palatable than others and Woodberry would be a major exception. The question is, though, does it make business sense for most restaurants to have such a program? Maybe a tough sell until some time in the future when the market is much more aware of the difference between bad, good and great coffee. That's a major market education challenge to prompt the kind of customer demand to merit other restaurants doing something like what Woodberry does.

In the meantime, congrats again to Joel. Great to see some marketing and, maybe...just maybe, even this website, bringing more folks over to Qualia in Petworth. :D

#13 chefgunshow

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 06:38 PM

Definitely agree about Joel's passion for coffee, and Qualia is the by far the best cup I've had in town. Glad its in my neighborhood, but would travel for a cup.

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#14 RoastMonkey

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 01:19 PM

On the issue of both restaurant coffee and farmers market roasters I intend to remain an unrepentant pest, but I seem to have little sway on either group. I occasionally head down to Dupont Circle on Sunday mornings and hand out free samples in an effort to encourage the market's customers to avail the management to admit coffee vendors. Ultimately, I think it will be you, the customers, who have to convince industry that it is in their best interest to up their game.

Joel

Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)


#15 giant shrimp

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 02:51 PM

In at least one instance I noticed a thin line at the Dupont market on its requirement for what is being sold locally -- blankets made in Canada but of wool from Virginia sheep. If the animals had been Canadian and the blankets had been made by Virginia knitters, I assume they would not have qualified for the market. And that is exactly the predicament of local roasters of a product that cannot be cultivated here. But it doesn't strike me that this is exactly opening up the flood gates for an invasion of outsiders. Starbucks across the street is the business that profits the most from the current policy (although you can walk a couple of extra blocks to support roasters in Annapolis).

Coming from upper Northwest, I find visiting Qualia on foot an interesting way of exploring different parts of the city -- i.e., you can come out of the Park at Carter Barron and then head over to Georgia Avenue; or you can go straight through Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, which is closer to Petworth than I realized. The other week I headed from Qualia to Park and then Rock Creek Church and Harewood. This leads to unexpectedly beautiful parts of the city -- the sprawling grounds of the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home and Rock Creek Cemetery. The elevations are higher than you might have expected, and you can take aromatic hits off your bag of Flores roasted earlier in the day to push you up the hill.

#16 daveo

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 05:39 PM

I listened to the piece on the Kojo Nnamdi show and read the piece abt restaurateurs not using good coffee, along with swallowing up the content about Joels coffee. Sounds inviting.

I find it hard to believe that margins on coffee aren't that high relative to so many other foods and drinks. Surprised me.

I used to lease space and leased retail/restaurant space. Jim Abdo had it totally right. Regardless of everything else the financial partners add to the problems for a small tenant. The financial partners want a "credit" tenant and the big big landlords want the same. There are tricks to getting a deal...but good luck on that Joel.

All of it sounds like a trip to Petworth sounds inviting, as I do love good coffee.

#17 ol_ironstomach

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 06:32 PM

In at least one instance I noticed a thin line at the Dupont market on its requirement for what is being sold locally -- blankets made in Canada but of wool from Virginia sheep.


This amuses me. In 2009, we were browsing a wool shop in the charming hamlet of Picton, Ontario, located on the opposite shore of Lake Ontario several hours east of Toronto. Paraphrased:

Shopkeeper: "Oh, you're from Maryland! You must love going to the sheep and wool festival!"
Us: (cluelessly) "What sheep and wool festival?"
Shopkeeper: "You must be kidding. It's enormous! Everybody goes to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. We go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival!"

So, yeah. Local wool.

Dave Hsu
--------"Cuisine represents a knife edge that separates attractive stimulation from death."--- Art Ayers


#18 ozgirl

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:14 PM

I've been to Qualia many times now since my first visit back in May.  I really like the relaxed vibe, outdoor seating areas, and it's only a quick jaunt across the park to get there from my house.  Qualia seems to take its coffee seriously and committed to its own roasting program.  But, during my last visit there, the coffee was just not good.  The taste was so excessively burnt/over roasted, I couldn't drink it.  I had ordered a latte with whole milk, and even the milk couldn't cut the burnt taste.  (It also didn't taste like whole milk.)

 

I'm not sure what happened on this last visit.  Maybe a bad batch?  Barista having an off day?  Service was friendly and attentive, but this was clearly not a good pour.  The redeeming factor was a good, crusty bagel, ever so slightly toasted.  the way i like it.  Wonder where they source their bagels from.  It was definitely not a "roll with a hole".  

 

Given the quality and growth of the ICH in the DC, I now expect more from my coffeehouse in terms of coffee quality.  Hope Qualia's roasting was just having an off day.



#19 darkstar965

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 05:25 PM

I've been to Qualia many times now since my first visit back in May.  I really like the relaxed vibe, outdoor seating areas, and it's only a quick jaunt across the park to get there from my house.  Qualia seems to take its coffee seriously and committed to its own roasting program.  But, during my last visit there, the coffee was just not good.  The taste was so excessively burnt/over roasted, I couldn't drink it.  I had ordered a latte with whole milk, and even the milk couldn't cut the burnt taste.  (It also didn't taste like whole milk.)

 

I'm not sure what happened on this last visit.  Maybe a bad batch?  Barista having an off day?  Service was friendly and attentive, but this was clearly not a good pour.  The redeeming factor was a good, crusty bagel, ever so slightly toasted.  the way i like it.  Wonder where they source their bagels from.  It was definitely not a "roll with a hole".  

 

Given the quality and growth of the ICH in the DC, I now expect more from my coffeehouse in terms of coffee quality.  Hope Qualia's roasting was just having an off day.

 

Thanks for the post!  Curious to know if it was an off day from your perspective? I ask just because you wrote that you'd been to Qualia many times since last May.  Has the coffee there usually seemed burnt/over roasted to you or just this one recent time?  



#20 ozgirl

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 05:51 PM

Thanks darkstar. 

 

It might have been an off day.  I've never had a cup like it at Qualia before.

 

Service-wise, when I was there on Saturday, it wasn't very crowded, only a couple of people ahead of me.  No chaos behind the counter.  I chatted with the barista over the whole milk option, both of us agreeing that whole milk was the way to go.  The barista seemed on his game.

 

As for the coffee itself, I've never found the coffee undrinkable until this particular cup.  I really enjoyed the first visit.  The coffee was good and I continued to come back, often bringing friends/1st timers to the place to share the joy of Qualia.  Admittedly, throughout the visits some lattes were better than others, but I chalk that up to different roasts/origins of bean and some just weren't "my cup of tea" (or coffee as the case may be).  None were this burnt though.  I can't recall in detail the varied tastes of my other cups at Qualia, but I don't recall them having a burnt taste at all.  This time though, it was as if it only had one flavor profile, burnt.

 

I'll go back again.  One bad cup won't ruin it for me.  Since I find that each of the lattes I've had there seem to vary slightly one from other, here's hoping it was a one-off.



#21 RoastMonkey

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 05:56 PM

I've been to Qualia many times now since my first visit back in May.  I really like the relaxed vibe, outdoor seating areas, and it's only a quick jaunt across the park to get there from my house.  Qualia seems to take its coffee seriously and committed to its own roasting program.  But, during my last visit there, the coffee was just not good.  The taste was so excessively burnt/over roasted, I couldn't drink it.  I had ordered a latte with whole milk, and even the milk couldn't cut the burnt taste.  (It also didn't taste like whole milk.)
 
I'm not sure what happened on this last visit.  Maybe a bad batch?  Barista having an off day?  Service was friendly and attentive, but this was clearly not a good pour.  The redeeming factor was a good, crusty bagel, ever so slightly toasted.  the way i like it.  Wonder where they source their bagels from.  It was definitely not a "roll with a hole".  
 
Given the quality and growth of the ICH in the DC, I now expect more from my coffeehouse in terms of coffee quality.  Hope Qualia's roasting was just having an off day.


We keep a sample and detailed roast log of every batches, so I can state with some certainty that the beans weren't over roasted. It's much likely that the shot was over extracted, which would make it taste very bitter and sour. This can happen pretty easily if the barista is distracted for even a few seconds.

If someone has a bad experience at Qualia, I would love to hear about it then and there, when we have the opportunity to fix it. We do make mistakes and coffee is a fickle mistress.

Joel

Joel Finklestein
Owner, Qualia Coffee
Head Roaster, Fresh Off the Roast

3917 Georgia Ave. NW (Petworth Metro, between Randolph and Shepherd St.)

website - Facebook - Twitter (Qualia) Twitter (Fresh Off the Roast)


#22 ladi kai lemoni

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 07:33 AM

Damn. Good. Coffee.

 

This is also the only coffeehouse to serve me a cup of Ethiopian coffee that I didn't immediately hate. Unfortunately, my only experience with Ethiopian beans has been Yirgacheffe, which is too sour for my tastes, but there was one Ethiopian roast they were carrying that was surprisingly balanced in cup.

 

Plus, can't beat the fact that any bag of beans you buy is never more than a day old.


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