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Quartermaine, Coffee Roasters on Bethesda Avenue and in Georgetown Square

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Just realized today there wasn't a topic for Quartermaine, one of the area's oldest coffee shops. I've gone to Quartermaine semi-regularly over the years mostly because it was convenient and because I usually felt it better than the chains. They do have local ownership and roast in Rockville. Their founders were involved in Starbuck's early years. They are a bit of an institution. The Bethesda Row location, in particular, is the kind of worn, quirky, quasily comfortable coffee shop of a different era. And that's because it is of a different era.

I appreciate Quartermaine. At the same time, it feels like a business in real need of an updating. Contrast this with the Apple store just down the block, now closed for a week for updating when it didn't seem like it needed it.

Quartermaine's coffee can be highly variable and that's partly due to the turnover they seem to experience. Just in the past couple of months, it seemed as if they did a near-total changeout of their more tenured staff/managers (again).

Espresso drinks, drip coffee and french press coffees all range from pretty good to, well, not so good depending on all the usual factors. At it's best, the flavors can be memorable and pleasing. At worst, different drinks can be bitter, burnt and muddy tasting. They do carry a good variety of beans from all the continents but don't label or communicate their sources in a transparent way. Staff usually can't or won't answer questions about it. I don't know that this is due to any desire to be secretive but, as with many things about Quartermaine, it seems just a result of the business feeling like it's still locked in the late 80s/early 90s when fewer people knew or cared about single origin coffee, roasting particulars and barista technique. They seem to be inventory challenged much more than most other shops in the area and will run out of numerous beans for weeks at a time.

Baked goods are just okay with some worse than that.

It'd be great for Quartermaine's owners to update most everthing about the shops IMHO. Layout, coffee sourcing/quality, barista training, technology. The website is a good proxy for the in-store experience; not so current (e.g., their most current newsletter is from 2009) but simple enough. They're on facebook but with virtually no activity, avatar, posts or followers there either.

The Bethesda Row location in particular is in one of the best foot-traffic locations in the area. Can't help but think Quartermaine could close some of the product and experience quality gap with the newer, artisan shops that have opened in recent years if they chose to. Also can't help but think such a "relaunch" could be great for the business given the total lack of great coffee in Bethesda*.

* With the one exception of Dolcezza, which does have excellent coffee (Intelligentsia, MadCap, Ritual, Ceremony, etc) but, in Bethesda, is a very small shop mostly dominated by their amazing gelato.

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I really appreciate Quartermaine's Costa Ricans, also, their Red Line Blend. I support them by seeking them out first when I'm buying inside of Whole Foods, and especially when I get the South and Central American beans, I'm always glad I do (forgive me, Cathal).

This post could obviously go in the Shopping and Cooking forum since it doesn't have to do with buying pre-made cups to drink, and maybe it'll end up there although I feel no rush - let's talk about them some more and give them some well-deserved publicity.

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I agree with darkstar's assessment -- their coffee has been tasting "tired," lately. As if they've been cooked like a good piece of charred meat. This assessment is based on the last two bags of Quartermaine beans purchased at one of the WF locations.

There is supporting local and then there is supporting your caffeine habit. But, if you want local, then I think you might want to direct to Central Coffee roasters in VA (also sold in WF), if not Qualia Coffee.

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