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The Coffee Bar, Cait Lowry Brings an Independent Coffee House to 12th and S Street, NW

Logan Circle Midtown Coffee Independent Coffee House

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#1 turbogrrl

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Posted 16 December 2012 - 09:12 PM

While out looking at open houses, I noticed what appeared to be an adorable, but closed, cafe on the corner of 12th and S. I discovered that's because they open for the first time Monday (17 December) morning at 7am.

The Coffee Bar will be serving beans from Ceremony Coffee Roasters, LA's Handsome Roasters, and Batdorf & Bronson of Seattle. They'll be serving pour-overs from Hario V60 brewers, and pulling espresso from a La Marzocco GB5.

The cafe looked really welcoming; pity the house I went to see already had a contract on it.

http://www.thecoffeebardc.com/


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#2 darkstar965

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 08:07 PM

Very cool! Handsome and B&B are both relatively unknown in DC. And, of course, the Hario and Marzocco equipment bode well for the new spot's seriousness about quality.

#3 porcupine

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 08:01 AM

They will be selling beans retail starting some time next week.

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#4 marketfan

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 11:42 AM

Went yesterday. The espresso is Handsome and it made a delicious and chocolate-y capuccino from a blend of Guatamala and Salvadorean beans. They are adding more seating over the next few days. Nice atmosphere and a good addition to the neighborhood.

#5 Marty L.

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 09:06 PM

Went yesterday. The espresso is Handsome and it made a delicious and chocolate-y capuccino from a blend of Guatamala and Salvadorean beans. They are adding more seating over the next few days. Nice atmosphere and a good addition to the neighborhood.


I'd second all of that -- very welcoming and enthusiastic about their wares. Terrific new spot.

#6 darkstar965

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:40 PM

The best thing about the new "The Coffee Bar" (TCB) at 12th and S NW is...well, actually, there are two best things. And, warning, warning! Though only two things, these are detailed (longer).

"Executive Summary" for a Quick Read

Great new shop serving interesting, high-quality coffees and espresso. Inviting, calm and bright venue with nice, skilled staff using state of the art (also somewhat different/interesting from the norm) equipment. Better than average baked goods. Fast broadband.

And, below, lots of detail on TCB ranging from coffees, roasters, and DC retail zoning to asian ceramics and Catalunyan coffee equipment.

The First Best Thing About TCB is the Location.

Most of the great coffee spots now in town are sensibly in big traffic areas. That's a good thing of course. They're convenient whether in/around Dupont Circle, along Florida/U Streets, Georgetown, down by GW, H St or downtown. A few others are off beaten paths. Caffe Amouri in Vienna. Sidamo's 'other' location in Fulton is largely unknown to DC's coffee cognescenti. And, of course, one of my favorites in town, Qualia, is about a quarter mile north of a metro but in a still-emerging commercial area in Petworth.

Locating a coffee shop (similar to any restaurant of course) is both key and extremely challenging. And it's difficult. Usually started by less famous entrepreneurs with limited resources and without high margin opportunities like liquor licenses or deconstructed whatevers, rent and foot traffic are make or break. If interested to learn more about the challenges for small independent retailers around finding affordable space, can check out a Kojo Nnamdi transcript from a show on the topic done last year in which Qualia participated here.

I think The Coffee Bar has hit upon something with its location. I don't know what their rent is but guessing it's not as bad as some others. When at the shop, you feel like you're in an emerging neighborhood; that TCB is a shop designed to serve a neighborhood rather than tourists and throngs of tie-clad, badge-jangling government types (not that there's anything wrong with that! :-)). Across the street is Garrison Elementary School. Just next door on the north side is the 12th St Christian Church with The Thurgood Marshall Center just to the north of that. Very neighborhoody, comfortable, welcome and calm.

But that's what's so interesting about the site. Just two blocks west is 14th St and all the uber cool restaurants, bars and shops. Likewise two blocks north is U St and the U Street metro (convenient!). But at the corner of 12th and S where TCB sits, you can park without a charge and no meter. The places left in DC where there are retail businesses and you can do that are increasingly limited.

The Second Great Thing About TCB is The Coffee

This is usually my main priority with coffee shops. While some might say that should be obvious, it's of course true that many people care most about other factors whether the broadband quality, baked goods/foods or music/magazines available.

I really like TCB's coffee because they're not exclusive to just one roaster and they've currently prioritized a roaster not already prevalent in DC. Just my own view but I'm not a fan of the understandable trend for new shops to hitch their wagon to just one roaster. They do this for the support (training, equipment, marketing) they get but I think it's at the expense of customers. This is why Counter Culture (who absolutely do a lot for the local coffee scene and roast some fine beans) seems like it's everywhere. Part of what's cool about coffee shops is discovery. New roasters sourcing beans from new places processed and roasted with very different techniques to yield a huge range of flavors. Really very much like wine that way. The only way to expose customers to variety, new approaches and new terroir is to mix it up a bit as TCB does.

Currently, TCB is brewing Handsome Coffee and Batdorf and Bronson. Handsome is a fine LA-based roaster I know more from the western US than out our way. They also have decent distribution in the midwest and the Gulf (of Mexico, not Persian) states but, if you look at their website, they don't show anything in the mid Atlantic region. But they are here now and, more importantly, they're good! I had a Salvadoran pourover I really enjoyed interestingly called "Aida Batlle's Finca Tanzania". Tasting notes emphasize chocolate and "super smooth"ness. It was both of those in spades. Handsome is a small biz owned by three seemingly nice guys. Indeed, part of their stated mission is "We're going to make great coffee and be nice to you,..." Most hip new roasting companies and uber-cool barista moderating watering holes don't promote themselves that way. Fewer do it. I'm in.

TCB is also brewing Batdorf & Bronson. Batdorf is based at the southern tip of Olympic National Park (aka Washington State's capital of Olympia) and has been around more than 20 years. There aren't that many roasters around that pre-date Starbucks but these guys do. Interesting history here.

I've also tried a cappuccino at TCB here and it was one of the best I've had in a year. They were using Ceremony's "Mass Appeal" espresso and the barista who made it (formerly Northside Social) did so expertly. Truly delicious drink; better than most capps you'll find anywhere. I'm keen to try the cortado and macchiato on future visits.

TCB is a spartan yet comfortable space with a few plush chairs, one sofa and high counter and long table seating for about 8-10 more people. Serious coffee equipment is used with a gorgeous celadon green Marzocco espresso machine. I was delighted to see beautiful, towering, twin commercial grinders from Compak, a company based in Barcelona, Spain that has been in the coffee business for more than 50 years. You don't see their machines in many small independent US coffee shops; very cool to see them here. And, of course, anything from Spain is okay in my book ;)

TCB will seem simple to many who visit. But clear to me that there's a lot of thought that has gone into this place. It's in the top echelon of DC coffee shops on my scorecard and I'd recommend it for anyone looking to try interesting, super high quality coffee and espresso drinks, made very competently in a comfortable yet unassuming space. Another big exclamation point on the declaration that DC has arrived as a coffee town.
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#7 DonRocks

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 12:44 PM

The First Best Thing About TCB is the Location.
The Second Great Thing About TCB is The Coffee


The Third Great Thing About TCP Is The Person Who Just Wrote About It. What a great post.

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#8 Marty L.

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:18 PM

What darkstar965 said. That's exactly right, based on my initial visit. (And I had the cortado -- excellent.) Except it overlooks one other important point: If I'm not mistaken, TCP's prices are much more reasonable than we're accustomed to seeing from some of our better coffee shops, such as Chinatown Coffee. That's no small thing. (Compare my rant about drink price inflation over in the Puree thread.) Here's hoping it stays that way and that it turns out to be a successful business model.

The best thing about the new "The Coffee Bar" (TCB) at 12th and S NW is...well, actually, there are two best things. And, warning, warning! Though only two things, these are detailed (longer).

"Executive Summary" for a Quick Read

Great new shop serving interesting, high-quality coffees and espresso. Inviting, calm and bright venue with nice, skilled staff using state of the art (also somewhat different/interesting from the norm) equipment. Better than average baked goods. Fast broadband.

And, below, lots of detail on TCB ranging from coffees, roasters, and DC retail zoning to asian ceramics and Catalunyan coffee equipment.



#9 DaRiv18

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:38 PM

Except it overlooks one other important point: If I'm not mistaken, TCP's prices are much more reasonable than we're accustomed to seeing from some of our better coffee shops, such as Chinatown Coffee. That's no small thing.


Is this an across-the-board thing, or just certain drinks/beans? I don't consider CC to be unreasonably priced, in fact they have specials on most days. Then again, I only order beans, coffee, or espresso; I'm not a big dairy person for coffee.

"All martinis taste good but do not promote fine distinctions in taste or other areas of intellectual discrimination." Raymond Sokolov, How to Cook


#10 darkstar965

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:40 PM

What darkstar965 said. That's exactly right, based on my initial visit. (And I had the cortado -- excellent.) Except it overlooks one other important point: If I'm not mistaken, TCP's prices are much more reasonable than we're accustomed to seeing from some of our better coffee shops, such as Chinatown Coffee. That's no small thing. (Compare my rant about drink price inflation over in the Puree thread.) Here's hoping it stays that way and that it turns out to be a successful business model.


MartyL, you must be a technology type like Rocks (TCP, as in TCP/IP versus TCB, The Coffee Bar :D )

Interesting thought about pricing at TCB. I was going to include a thought that it seemed competitive and definitely fair but not especially lower or higher relative to the norm at the top level. Think most of the espresso drinks are between $3 and $4 with pourovers maybe around high $2/lower $3 range depending on the beans. I'm more in DaRiv18's camp on Chinatown pricing though I think there's BIG daylight between the quality levels of Chinatown and TCB. I'd put Chinatown down at least a tier from these guys.

#11 DaRiv18

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 01:56 PM

Now I'm intrigued, I will have to check it out. Truth be told, I feel that DC has taken a step back in the past year in terms of the espresso I have been drinking at any number of places. I recall sweeter shots with more viscosity; too often, I get bitter shots with less body.

"All martinis taste good but do not promote fine distinctions in taste or other areas of intellectual discrimination." Raymond Sokolov, How to Cook


#12 Marty L.

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 02:37 PM

MartyL, you must be a technology type like Rocks (TCP, as in TCP/IP versus TCB, The Coffee Bar :D )

Interesting thought about pricing at TCB. I was going to include a thought that it seemed competitive and definitely fair but not especially lower or higher relative to the norm at the top level. Think most of the espresso drinks are between $3 and $4 with pourovers maybe around high $2/lower $3 range depending on the beans. I'm more in DaRiv18's camp on Chinatown pricing though I think there's BIG daylight between the quality levels of Chinatown and TCB. I'd put Chinatown down at least a tier from these guys.

I was thinking more of the pour-overs, which I think are closer to $5 at CC, if memory serves. But perhaps my recollection is faulty.

#13 porcupine

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 03:01 PM

I'll take this opportunity to once again plug my map for good coffee in the area: http://goo.gl/maps/Fgq2X

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#14 darkstar965

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Posted 02 January 2013 - 08:52 PM

Now I'm intrigued, I will have to check it out. Truth be told, I feel that DC has taken a step back in the past year in terms of the espresso I have been drinking at any number of places. I recall sweeter shots with more viscosity; too often, I get bitter shots with less body.


You'll have to report back after you get over to The Coffee Bar. I'm totally with you on most espresso shots (and espresso drinks) falling short of what they should be. Bitterness and overextraction are the most common culprits but body and nuance (or lack thereof) are problems as well. Root causes, of course, are the espresso bean choices places make (and/or poor bean condition) and poor technique used to weigh/portion, grind, tamp, pull or all of the above. Less often the equipment is the problem since most decent independents here have serious espresso machines and grinders.

In the case of TCB, their choice and technique are both very sound. Ceremony is the espresso but even all Ceremony espressos aren't alike. They currently sell three and, going a bit deeper, the specific Ceremony espresso TCB is using: "Mass Appeal" (formerly known as "Sweet Cheeks") makes the result possible but not assured. Both those names suit the beans. I'm pretty sure I've had most or all of the Ceremony espresso blends and this is my favorite. Have to remember also that some places use fine espresso beans but have very variable skill levels behind the machine. I know I've had excellent espresso shots at Dolcezza some days, for example while, on other days, maybe not as eyebrow raising.

Different tastes aside, I'll be surprised if The Coffee Bar doesn't at least partly restore your faith in DC espresso. I didn't get his name but if there's a young male barista with a blonde ponytail there, have him pull your shot. He'll do you right.

#15 DaRiv18

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 07:42 PM

Have to remember also that some places use fine espresso beans but have very variable skill levels behind the machine. . . I didn't get his name but if there's a young male barista with a blonde ponytail there, have him pull your shot. He'll do you right.


This has always been my theory, and today when I walked in I was a bit disappointed I didn't see Mr. Blonde Ponytail. Gratefully, when the young brunette lady pulled my shot, I didn't see Mr. Blonde Crema in my demitasse. A short pull, with thick tan crema and dark freckles. Robust, clean, sweet-ish finish. Not the most convienent place for me, but I am impressed.

"All martinis taste good but do not promote fine distinctions in taste or other areas of intellectual discrimination." Raymond Sokolov, How to Cook


#16 darkstar965

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Posted 04 January 2013 - 04:44 PM

Made it here again today because I wanted to suss things out a bit more. And because I'm really working my way through TCB's drink menu!

Met the owner, Cait Lowry, who was working the espresso machine along with an all-female crew. Have to observe how very cool it is to see a business like this, operating at such a high level, owned by a young woman. Great coffee shops, like excellent restaurants, tend to be dominated by men as owners and chefs. Aside from her own obvious and deep expertise about coffee and espresso, Caitlin has also built a staff of young, talented and experienced baristas who've learned their craft at all the best spots in the area. Yet another great sign of a city that has arrived coffee wise.

A few other new bits:

- The teas are also excellent! A high-quality looseleaf, good variety, served in generously-sized cups and priced between $2.50 and $3.00.

- The pourovers here are either $3.00 or $3.30 depending on the beans chosen. They'd be very reasonably priced even if they were fifty cents or a dollar more imho.

- The place was bustling today just after lunchtime. I counted around 17 customers in the shop with a comfortable capacity of around 20.

- TCB has to have the nicest, cleanest restroom of any coffee shop in the area with the only possible exception being Artifact in Baltimore. If you care about that sort of thing since, hey, we all value different things. :D

If you like great coffee, tea and espresso, try out TCB. And please share what you think if you do.

#17 marketfan

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Posted 04 January 2013 - 06:15 PM

Now I'm intrigued, I will have to check it out. Truth be told, I feel that DC has taken a step back in the past year in terms of the espresso I have been drinking at any number of places. I recall sweeter shots with more viscosity; too often, I get bitter shots with less body.


I live a few blocks away so it has been easy for me to pop in and I have had espressos/caps/machiatos at various times of days pulled by different baristas. They have all been sweet with very good body that does not dissolve into something a bit more bitter after a minute or two. The Ceremony espresso is a blend of two different Brazilians and a Guatamalan bean. It is very chocolate-y.

Cait is going to be starting some interesting coffee tastings in late January -- tasting, fx, the same bean brewed different ways ( pour over, drip, french press, espresso ). That will be interesting.

#18 darkstar965

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:21 PM

Mexican coffees aren't nearly as common in top coffee shops as those from Central and South America and Africa.  Recently, I've seen just a couple appear in DC.  To my taste, the Mexican coffees I've tried ring a little hollow without either the sweetness/richness I often get from Latin America or the brightness and acidity more typical of Africa.  

 

All said, this new offering from Olympia, WA's Batdorf & Bronson, courtesy of The Coffee Bar, is the best Mexican I've yet tried. Small sample size to be sure.  The roaster's own tasting notes claim a "heavy cream mouth feel" I didn't so much get.  But, "a mild and crisp acidity" did align with what I perceived. Very dark color masking a deceptively more mild flavor. Most importantly, it was good!

 

TCB is doing an event with Batdorf tonight at 7pm called the "Iron Tamper Competition."  More details here. Will feature baristas from all around the city and is open to the pubic. That is if you're not glued to the Lance Armstrong interview carefully watching for genuine contrition.  :D



#19 jondagle

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 06:46 AM

I'll pile on the praise of TCB. I love the real "bar" which is reminiscent of cafés in Italy where you stand (and it costs more if you sit at a table). The place is rather low on seating.

The coffee was very nice. We had espresso, a macchiato, and a pour over of a Bolivian coffee. All excellent. Friendly and competent staff. The place has a great vibe. Very "neighborhood."

What wonders me is how many people come to a place like TCB because of the quality vs the location. I'm curious about the economics of "coffee culture." How do you make money with a quality coffee shop. I traveled across the river to visit but you can't operate a coffee house for coffee geeks who patronize occasionally. I
Suspect that they use the LA roaster because it's unique. Is it more sustainable to use a closer roaster, or is it just perception?

#20 darkstar965

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 01:08 PM

...
What wonders me is how many people come to a place like TCB because of the quality vs the location. I'm curious about the economics of "coffee culture." How do you make money with a quality coffee shop. I traveled across the river to visit but you can't operate a coffee house for coffee geeks who patronize occasionally. I
Suspect that they use the LA roaster because it's unique. Is it more sustainable to use a closer roaster, or is it just perception?

 

Good questions.  With TCB, I think it's a definite mix of location and quality.  Their location is actually smarter than it seems when there.  Easy walk to both U St and 14th so lots of residential development around there along with community groups and the schools. At the same time, most any true coffee hound in the city now knows about this place.  Their staff and product put them above all but a few other shops.

 

As for making money, it's tough but maybe not as tough as with the typical restaurant since start up costs and operating costs are lower with smaller staffs and a more narrow product mix.  Coffee is perishable so inventory management is key. Beyond that, and as with any small business, it's largely about bringing people in the door consistent with intelligent pricing and cost control. I suspect (don't know) that TCB got a decent deal on its rent for the space.  They've invested in top line equipment and price more or less in line with other better shops around town.  So far, they've seemed busier than most so I'm hopeful they're cash flow positive and will be breakeven this year.  Can't be sure but the signs are good.

 

They don't just use the LA roaster (Handsome). They're also using a Washington State roaster (Batdorf & Bronson) which is unique to DC.  Dolcezza also used Handsome at one point.  I don't think the distance/shipping are too big a deal for a few reasons. First, it's very much in a smaller west-coast roaster's interest to get beachheads in areas outside their home region.  So that figures into wholesale pricing and the supply deals that can be struck.  Second, most better shops in DC that are just retail (don't roast themselves) offer beans that come at least from the midwest if not west coast. Ritual, PT's, Intelligentsia, etc.  Other west coast roasters like Stumptown are now shipping from NY.  Even Counter Culture is NC.  Finally, TCB also uses Ceremony (for espresso when they first opened a few months ago and maybe still now). Ceremony is one of the best local roasters, based in Annapolis and what you're enjoying at Society Fair and Filter.


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#21 ad.mich

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 07:58 PM

They've been pretty busy every time I've been in, with longer lines typical on weekends.  

 

That being said, some things they do leave me scratching my head.  No pourovers until 11 because of how busy they are.  Drip only.  I'd be happy to wait for the option of a good morning coffee but ok, fine.  When I was in a hurry and tried to grab a quick drip last week, I was told they don't do drip after 11.  I'll still be back, but it was all in all a very weird transaction.

 

Try those little caramel waffle things they sell at the counter.


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#22 porcupine

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 07:06 AM

Try those little caramel waffle things they sell at the counter.

 

Stroopwafels!  A Dutch tradition I hope will catch on here.


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