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M.E. Swing Coffee, Founded in 1916, Roasting in Alexandria with Coffee House Next Door, 17th and G Street Location Closing Mar, 2016 - May, 2017 for Renovations


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Better late than never.  M.E. Swings is a true DC area coffee pioneer, having been founded here in 1916.  Long roasting downtown and a major presence through the roaring 20s and WWII, the company has a wonderfully rich history and commitment to our region.

In 2006, the last generation of the founding family relinquished control and sold to a non-family buyer.  Today, the company roasts in Alexandria and operates a single retail shop just east of the World Bank across from the Old Executive Office Building.

I tend to think of Swings with respect for its history but, sadly, not with a lot of enthusiasm for its product.  Very important to fess up that I have not visited the downtown shop but will very soon.  So why a dour view of the product?

I've had Swings coffee many times in restaurants and, at least a few times, in homes where they'd bought the beans.  Based on those experiences, I can say that the flavors weren't vibrant, rich or especially complex and that I didn't so much enjoy them. This was a consistent view.  While true that home and restaurant brewed coffee can suffer from all kinds of equipment and technique issues, I think I've had it enough in situations where I had good visibility to the brew method, bean freshness and equipment used with still the same impression.

We know a few more things about Swings that support a view that the company has fallen behind a booming coffee scene increasingly dominated by great independent shops focused on new approaches, freshness and the highest quality single origin beans.

First, Swings simply doesn't have the focus that the great independents here do. They have a healthy wholesale business not just with restaurants but also with grocery stores ranging from Safeway to Whole Foods.  Large batch commercial roasting though they do use Probats in Alexandria which tend to be fine roasting machines.

Second, their known practices aren't quite up to modern standards.  They routinely sell beans that were roasted months (as many as 6) before; just not a timeline for great coffee as discussed on many other threads. They also tend to emphasize blends. Blends can be fine or even wonderful but an emphasis on those at the expense of single origin beans often illustrates a roaster not emphasizing freshness and the highest quality arabica beans.

Finally, I know a couple of local restaurants (which shall remain unnamed) that have switched or are in the process of switching from Swings because they feel the coffee isn't helping them with their customers.  It doesn't get a lot of raves or positive feedback.  Again, true that restaurants muck up coffee all the time but the better coffee roasters work with their restaurant partners to ensure that doesn't happen. This is why you can get a very good or excellent cup at places like Eve, Society Fair, NRG's restaurants (Birch & Barley, Evening Star,  Buzz), R24 or Woodberry Kitchen.

As a coffee hound, I'd love to see one of the old line locals really up their game. This applies to three roasters primarily:  Swings, Quartermaine and Mayorga. But I fear these companies long ago decided that quantity was the path to success versus the harder slog to ensure great quality.

I will visit the shop--they may be using fresher beans there than available elsewhere; I'm not sure.  But based on what I have experienced so far and know, Swings isn't close to the same level of the fast growing number of super local retailers and roasters we've written about in many other threads.

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One quick addendum to this new Swings topic.

I'm a big fan of Tim Carman's. I think he's a leading light in food writing here in DC and eagerly look forward to his stuff in the Post, in City Paper and online.

However, I'm not as big a fan of his stuff on coffee.

Tim has been a bit of champion of Swings with recent pieces in both papers. One in the Post to announce Swing's intention to move locations in Alexandria and open up a retail shop with new roasting facility there. And, another in City Paper (have to scroll to the bottom for the brief piece on Swings).

The Post article is more problematic in my opinion as it really misrepresents the reality of the booming fine, artisan, specialty coffee industry in this city by making well intended but careless declarations like this one:

Most of the gourmet coffee shops in the region, whether Peregrine Espresso or Northside Social, buy beans from wholesalers such as the North Carolina-based Counter Culture, which has dominated the D.C. market.

This statement underserves the market by implying that Counter Culture is still The Dominant Force in DC when it isn't so much anymore and by failing to mention the increasing number of roaster retailers operating in our area. While it is true that the two shops mentioned are exclusive purveyors of Counter Culture, they (especially Peregrine) do it exceedingly well as far as what will be in your cup whether you order an espresso drink or a brewed coffee. "Most of the gourmet coffee shops" though, are increasingly using beans roasted on site (e.g., Qualia, Sidamo, Caffe Amouri), super quality beans roasted by specialty roasters that have made huge inroads here (e.g., Annapolis-based Ceremony and shops ranging from Blind Dog (KC's PT's) and Dolcezza (varied and rotating) to Filter (Ceremony) and The Coffee Bar (Handsome, Batdorf & Bronson, rotating). In fact, I'd guess--not having quantified this--that "most" of the better shops are either roasting onsite, in the MD/VA/DC area or buying beans from specialty roasters in the mid Atlantic. If you then add in the shops that are selling wonderful coffees sourced from across the country but shipped here via commercial shipper to be on shelves and in grinders within a few days of roasting, that'd be nearly all the better local quality shops.

I don't blame Tim that much since I know his knowledge on food and restaurants is both deep and broad. Again, I'm a big fan. But I wish he'd be more supportive of the fast-growing independent coffee house sector here. Even better would be if the Post or City Paper saw fit to hire a writer to focus on coffee if the readership would support it.

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So here's a question--how does it compare if the aim is to hit the market that normally buys grocery or Starbucks coffee? I do tend to think of Mayorga as more of a competitor in that regard, and not of as a high-end coffee roaster. Could it be that ME Swing is also going for this market? Just trying to expand the focus.

I don't drink coffee enough to buy fresh beans (because they will be put in the freezer and not be fresh anymore!) But I do want the best I can get for my situation. And since I drink decaf, I've found that I am particular to beans from Peru. I haven't had ME Swing's coffee but I have had Mayorga coffee, and I have tasted the decaf sold at MOM's and liked that as well. Again, I like it for my Sunday morning coffee drinking, and not for the "best of the best" standard. If there were a local custom roaster/brewer close to my home or office, I may have a different view. But I already go to 3 or 4 different stores to get the groceries I buy and wish there was something nearby that would change my mind. (I get the Mayorga when they do the road shows at Costco)

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I like Swing's a lot. Had it at Againn back when Againn was really great and tracked down the manager to find out what the coffee was.

I'm not a coffee expert. It's just not my thing. I just like a cup of not over roasted coffee that just needs a splash of cream to cool it.

The friend I was with when we first tried it lives in Brooklyn. In the 2 years since we discovered it, I've probably shipped her 15 pounds of it. She's bought close to that amount when she's visited. It was a highly popular Christmas gift in her circle last year.

I will say I'm not a fan of the DC location--coffee is great but it is a little old and worn down. There isn't any really comfortable seating either.

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So here's a question--how does it compare if the aim is to hit the market that normally buys grocery or Starbucks coffee? I do tend to think of Mayorga as more of a competitor in that regard, and not of as a high-end coffee roaster. Could it be that ME Swing is also going for this market? Just trying to expand the focus.

I don't drink coffee enough to buy fresh beans (because they will be put in the freezer and not be fresh anymore!) But I do want the best I can get for my situation. And since I drink decaf, I've found that I am particular to beans from Peru. I haven't had ME Swing's coffee but I have had Mayorga coffee, and I have tasted the decaf sold at MOM's and liked that as well. Again, I like it for my Sunday morning coffee drinking, and not for the "best of the best" standard. If there were a local custom roaster/brewer close to my home or office, I may have a different view. But I already go to 3 or 4 different stores to get the groceries I buy and wish there was something nearby that would change my mind. (I get the Mayorga when they do the road shows at Costco)

Great and fair questions all, squids. I think they are aiming at the mass grocery (or Starbucks) market and they may be doing that well or at least comparably. Nothing at all wrong with that of course. And, as always, very important to say that whether wine, food or coffee, at the end of the day, the ultimate test is both simple and clarifying: if the taster likes whatever, then that is truly all that matters.

There are several things in your situation, Squids, that would generally be seen as creating a gap between what might be versus what is (subject to the paramount constraint just above, of course!). The age of the beans. Decaf. Freezing them. There might well be a thing or two you could do to get a better result within your requirements/needs but I'd probably need to understand the context better. Maybe can PM or we grab a cup sometime. :)

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Swing's Embassy Row is my go-to blend in the press pot at home. I'm perfectly satisfied with it and it ticks all the check marks I care about:

1) Local

2) Fresh (the last bag I bought had a roast date 2 days prior)

3) Convenient (I buy it at Whole Foods so it doesn't require a separate trip)

Then again I'm the kind of person who doesn't have a decent grinder at home so I do it at the store (gasp!), will take up to 4 weeks to go through a bag (WHAT?!) so I store it in a sealed bag in the freezer (NOOOOOOO!!!). For coffee heathens like me Swing's is a much-better-than-average caffeine delivery device.

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One observation. If you go to the G street retail location you will note that it seems to be the go to place for the world bank crowd with many accents coming from countries where I suspect the quality of the espresso is very much a part of the culture. Go just a block away to the Starbucks or the Caribou Coffee near 17th and Penn and suddenly the accents are a lot fewer in numbers.

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In response to darkstar965 -


As the owner of M.E. Swing Coffee Roasters, I am very proud of our product, our company, and the progress this roasting company has made over the past seven years.. There are many inaccuracies in your post that need to be addressed:

1) Not sure where you would have purchased a six-month old bag of Swing’s, certainly not direct from us. ALL coffee leaving our roasting facility whether sent to our store downtown or to wholesale customers is right off the roast (24-48 hrs), roast dated, and sealed in valve bags for freshness.

2) Beans available at Swing’s Coffeehouse in DC are delivered fresh-roasted direct from our Alexandria roastery nearly every day of the week. Roast dates for all beans sold at the store are posted for customer visibility. The “churn” of beans there is so high, beans don’t have time to sit very long. Additionally, we grind and brew before they have a chance to age beyond peak flavor.

3) Swing’s coffee is not available at Safeway.

4) Every bag of Swing’s on the shelf at Whole Foods and other retail locations is roast dated. Not every coffee consumer has the time or ability to visit a local roaster to buy beans right off the roast, however, there is still complete transparency with regard to freshness of our product.

5) Blends vs. varietals – our coffee menu, whether online or downtown has an even distribution of both, with an ever-increasing emphasis on single origin coffees from small farm-holders. Yes, the industry is moving towards single-origins. As a long-term roaster (97 years), we have customers for both, and will respect the demands of our loyal customer base.

6) Proper blending coffee has NOTHING to do with masking freshness or quality of beans. Most often, beans are blended to complement and balance flavor profiles in either pre-roast or post-roast blends. See Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Verve, etc...

DarkStar965 stated: “As a coffee hound, I'd love to see one of the old line locals really up their game. This applies to three roasters primarily: Swings,Quartermaine and Mayorga.”

Can’t speak for the others, but Swing’s has recently opened a new roasting facility that includes a comprehensive coffee cupping/training/roasting lab intended for the benefit of educating Swing’s wholesale clients, employees,and the public. Additionally, Swing’s will soon be opening a coffeebar on-site at the new roastery, thus allowing patrons to sample single-origin brews, espressos and beans, and tour the roasting facility. As a reference, read Tim Carman’s article.

I welcome everyone to visit either Swing’s DC or our new roastery in Alexandria and judge for themselves.

Mark Warmuth

Owner - M.E. Swing Coffee Roasters

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In response to darkstar965 -

As the owner of M.E. Swing Coffee Roasters, I am very proud of our product, our company, and the progress this roasting company has made over the past seven years.. There are many inaccuracies in your post that need to be addressed:

1) Not sure where you would have purchased a six-month old bag of Swing’s, certainly not direct from us. ALL coffee leaving our roasting facility whether sent to our store downtown or to wholesale customers is right off the roast (24-48 hrs), roast dated, and sealed in valve bags for freshness.

2) Beans available at Swing’s Coffeehouse in DC are delivered fresh-roasted direct from our Alexandria roastery nearly every day of the week. Roast dates for all beans sold at the store are posted for customer visibility. The “churn” of beans there is so high, beans don’t have time to sit very long. Additionally, we grind and brew before they have a chance to age beyond peak flavor.

3) Swing’s coffee is not available at Safeway.

4) Every bag of Swing’s on the shelf at Whole Foods and other retail locations is roast dated. Not every coffee consumer has the time or ability to visit a local roaster to buy beans right off the roast, however, there is still complete transparency with regard to freshness of our product.

5) Blends vs. varietals – our coffee menu, whether online or downtown has an even distribution of both, with an ever-increasing emphasis on single origin coffees from small farm-holders. Yes, the industry is moving towards single-origins. As a long-term roaster (97 years), we have customers for both, and will respect the demands of our loyal customer base.

6) Proper blending coffee has NOTHING to do with masking freshness or quality of beans. Most often, beans are blended to complement and balance flavor profiles in either pre-roast or post-roast blends. See Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Verve, etc...

DarkStar965 stated: “As a coffee hound, I'd love to see one of the old line locals really up their game. This applies to three roasters primarily: Swings,Quartermaine and Mayorga.”

Can’t speak for the others, but Swing’s has recently opened a new roasting facility that includes a comprehensive coffee cupping/training/roasting lab intended for the benefit of educating Swing’s wholesale clients, employees,and the public. Additionally, Swing’s will soon be opening a coffeebar on-site at the new roastery, thus allowing patrons to sample single-origin brews, espressos and beans, and tour the roasting facility. As a reference, read Tim Carman’s article.

I welcome everyone to visit either Swing’s DC or our new roastery in Alexandria and judge for themselves.

Mark Warmuth

Owner - M.E. Swing Coffee Roasters

Mark--Thanks very much for posting here. I'd like to just briefly respond and then make a bigger point.

I stand corrected on a couple of the current facts in your points 1 through 4 and apologize for inaccurate statements such as current Safeway availability of the product. I do believe it was and is fair to say that some retailers and restaurants may not always turn beans as they should and some practices may be different now from even the recent past. On blends and "masking freshness" (point 5), I think I acknowledged your point in my original post.

Blends can be fine or even wonderful but an emphasis on those at the expense of single origin beans often illustrates a roaster not emphasizing freshness and the highest quality arabica beans.

I know this is (at least) sometimes true for the industry speaking broadly. I was perhaps wrong though to write "often" and definitely wrong to allow the understandable implication that your blends should be suspect in that way. Though my own preferences tend toward single origin coffees, I do enjoy many blends from different providers. Of course, when blends are used for nefarious purposes they'd be 'improper' versus the "proper blending" about which you wrote.

Most of all though, it's very clear that Swings has an amazing and long history. Great to hear about the investments you're making. It's also clear that Swings has many fans that have allowed it to grow and endure for a century! And, while I stand by my post with the exceptions above, it's also worth repeating that I've only had your coffee in restaurants and private homes.

Thanks again for engaging here; both for setting the record straight on a few areas and, most importantly, probably motivating many to do what I'd already decided I'd do: try out Swings in the retail outlets you control (your shop downtown and new facility in Alexandria) for themselves. I'm looking forward to it.

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Thanks again for engaging here; both for setting the record straight on a few areas and, most importantly, probably motivating many to do what I'd already decided I'd do: try out Swings in the retail outlets you control (your shop downtown and new facility in Alexandria) for themselves. I'm looking forward to it.

Feel free to seek me out at either location should you wish to have an in-depth conversation regarding Swing's roasting methodologies, green coffee selection process or recommended brewing practices.

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As the owner of M.E. Swing Coffee Roasters, I am very proud of our product, our company, and the progress this roasting company has made over the past seven years..

I was not aware that anyone had bought the company seven years ago. I haven't had Swing's Coffee for about seven years, but back then I was not really impressed with the cup. I too look forward to checking out the roaster and revisiting the G Street location, I wouldn't want to base my opinion on what prior management did.

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I want to again thank Mark Warmuth for registering with donrockwell.com and engaging a bit with the board to respond to my initial post that began this topic. One of the great things that makes dr.com unique is that most of the posts, whether critical or positive, tend to be well supported and constructive. In that way the forum is good and possibly helpful for consumers and owners alike.

And, as always, I'm just supporting my own opinion here. Others like Swings more than I do and that's as it should be. I'd probably choose it over Starbucks and clearly Swings has many followers since they seem to be targeting that same Starbucks/grocery market. One of Swings fans upthread called it a good "caffeine delivery device" and I'd agree with that.

All said, I wrote when I originally posted that, while I wasn't personally a fan of Swing's coffee, I hadn't yet been to the cafe downtown where a better experience might be possible at the roaster-operated retail store.

I now have and I'm sorry to say it just validated what what I'd written originally and makes me question whether Mr. Warmuth knows what's going on with his store in town. This may prompt a 3rd post from Mr. Warmuth. If he's willing, I'd be interested since I think I'm still missing the plot a bit reconciling what he posted versus what I experienced.

Much of what Mr. Warmuth posted challenged my sense that Swing's product often isn't very fresh "off the roast." He posted that beans are delivered to the cafe "nearly every day of the week," "the 'churn' of beans there is so high, beans don't have time to sit..." and "ALL coffee leaving [their] roasting facility whether sent to [their] store downtown or to wholesale customer is right off the roast (24-48 hrs) [and] dated."

That wasn't the case when a friend and I visited and spent about an hour in the shop. More specifically:

- Coffee beans at the cafe are sold loose from bins and pre-packaged in bags. They offer more than 20 varieties and all were indeed dated (a very good thing not all shops do). Many of the coffees were 2-3 weeks old. A few were just more than a month old. And a few were fresher; just a few days old. I saw a bag that was five weeks old and a couple of bins that were a month old. Again, all fine and the coffee clearly works for many people. But it doesn't appear that most of the coffee is just a few days old as was stated and implied. It simply isn't.

- Mr. Warmuth also informed us that the shop offered "an even distribution" of blends and single origin coffees. That wasn't quite the case during our midweek visit when there were 7 single-origin coffees, 10 blends and 5 decafs on offer for bean sales. FWIW, I don't think this a big deal since even 7 single-origin choices is greater than most every ICH in town. My issue here was that I thought (and still think) that blends are more a focus for Swings, no doubt consistent with their read of the market and maybe will change in the future.

- The shop uses a gorgeous large red (at least 3 group if not bigger) Marzocco espresso machine and top notch mazza grinders. All the more reason I was surprised that they don't offer any fresh brew option. No pour overs. No french press. No clever. No vac pot. Just coffee kept warm from large pots. When we were there, there was just one single origin (from Africa) available that way, along with two blends and a decaf, so if you wanted a single-origin cup of something from Latin America, you were out of luck. No doubt Swings would likely say fresh-brewing isn't feasible given the crowds and how busy the shop is. Fresh brewing is more labor intensive than just filling cups from a large pot. Shops that don't freshly brew coffee typically say that yet, still, other very busy shops around the country seem to make it work. And, whether Swings offers freshly brewed (to-order) coffee is their choice alone. It may well be that the market they're serving doesn't care and wouldn't reward them for doing it. I can't say.

- The coffee. Between the two of us who went, we tried espresso, two espresso drinks and the tanzanian coffee from the pot. The coffee was hard to drink, tasting over-roasted, muddy or maybe just in the pot too long. My friend couldn't finish that one and trashed it. The espresso was bitter. A cappuccino was smoother but that was because it was mostly warm milk with too much milk relative to espresso. It was more a coffee-enhanced milk drink than a balanced espresso drink as a good capp should be.

Bottom line. An okay shop relative to Starbucks (not considering the venue, where Starbucks probably has the edge for a comfortable work and meetup environment) imho but not a shop I'd frequent simply because, to my taste, there is huge daylight in the quality of what Swings is serving and what is now available at many other great independent coffee houses in town. The above are just the facts. I suppose the day we were there could have been an "off day" but, given it was mid week and the observed freshness was across a large number of coffees and we tried several drinks, I think it likely more typical of how they operate.

I'll close with something I originally posted and which Mr. Warmuth quoted:

I'd love to see one of the old line locals really up their game.


I'll now update that statement. I'd love to see Swings, the oldest in our market with such a venerable brand and amazingly rich history, really up its game if Mr. Warmuth sees fit to do so.

They could do this in a number of ways by rethinking staffing to offer a fresh-brew option which would allow customers to order from among that huge mix of beans already on site. They could reduce the number of coffees onsite to improve focus and freshness by rotating a smaller number that would remain. They might invest in some training for the baristas to ensure that espresso drinks are being made to whatever standards they think right. Or, most likely, they can keep on doing what they're doing since they seem to be doing very well with the current formula and Mr. Warmuth seems to feel he has the pulse of his market. Judging from the lines in the store, I'm guessing he's right about that. My posts here are just sharing my own experience with some facts different from what were suggested upthread. FWIW.

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I visited Swing's coffee house, which officially opened today. Twice. I had expresso both times and they were excellent. There is nowhere else in Old Town--and probably Alexandria--that comes close to making espresso like the better cafes in DC. Swing's does. I met baristas Clark and Stephanie and they know their craft.

I've had hit or miss experience at Swing's downtown, but the atmosphere is very much like a European cafe. I always enjoyed it. My impressions of Swing's coffee follow some of the remarks here. However I visited the new roasting operation a few months ago and could tell there was a commitment to "upping the game" by what I saw in the tasting room.

My thoughts were confirmed and then some by my visits today. It is no exaggeration to say that Swing's coffee house is one of the top locations in NoVA and probably the best in Alexandria, by a wide margin.

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I visited Swing's coffee house, which officially opened today. Twice. I had expresso both times and they were excellent. There is nowhere else in Old Town--and probably Alexandria--that comes close to making espresso like the better cafes in DC. Swing's does.

Is the coffee house in Alexandria at the same location as the roasting plant?

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Is the coffee house in Alexandria at the same location as the roasting plant?

Yes, 501 E Monroe.

Mark W. is running a great ship over there; absolutely one of the premiere coffee destinations in the DC area. He has two highly skilled people working the coffee bar: Clark & Stephanie. This Saturday (today) seemed about as busy as the "grand opening" las Saturday. I have had at least a dozen drinks there and they have all been great. (a cappuccino might have had too much milk on one occasion, that's the most critical I can be) There's no French Press, only pour overs using Hario conical drip filters. Automatic drip coffee is only available until 10am. Pastries are sourced from Alexandria Pastry Shop, and they are good, if too large for my taste (I prefer Euro-sized). The coffee bar seems very much designed to highlight the upgrade in Swing's roasting program -- focused on single origin coffees. The daily menu offers four single origin coffees, plus the house 4-mile espresso blend. I've bought beans twice, both times roasted the day before and less expensive than those from Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, etc.. I am hooked.

There was a write up in the Post which seems pretty good: http://goo.gl/kDNY1

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Confident that my caffeine needs would get a righteous bump courtesy of the recently opened M.E. Swing's, I trekked over around 2:45 today.

*gasp*

*shock*

*horror*

They close at 2PM on Saturdays. Leaving the locked entry way in a foggy haze of muddled disbelief, I encountered two other potential patrons leaving their cars. We remarked that we should have known it was too good to be true when we found such easy parking on the street. I left for Grape & Bean, one of the other cars was headed to Buzz, the other to Caboose.

Amusing Co-Location: Check out the photo, it's the street into which Monroe terminates, which then spills back towards Potomac Yard and Route 1. Imagine how many people will see read the street name just as a rush from espresso begins to flood their bloodstream.

post-5654-0-30233800-1369525002_thumb.jp

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Bought a bag of the Diplomat Blend a few weeks ago, and I would rate it a solid "good." I don't know if I care for dark, oily beans, but it was producing a relatively rich cup in the Chemex and an even stronger one in the press pot. Flavor never really jumped out at me (but I realize that could very well be my brewing method) and there was something about the cup that didn't sit well with me.

For my money these days, it's Qualia or bust.

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When I worked at the DC Legal Aid Society (which was located at 11th & G Sts. NW), I was often sent on a run to Swings to buy coffee for the office. This was (and I'm guessing still is) a shoe-string operation. However, one perk was an insistence on decent coffee for the office coffee pot. Besides the nice walk, I loved the old building. Not sure I'm too happy with the "facade-ectomy" that was done on the block; but, then, I remember frequenting the Old Ebbitts Grill when it was also in one of the old townhouses. I'm glad Swings still exists, in whatever form, and has learned to adapt to the times. Beats the alternative.

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For those who missed Tim Carman's profile of M.E. Swing in the Post last week: click.

For anyone who hasn't seen the Post piece, it presents a good overview of the "old Swing's" vs the "new Swing's" that is still emerging. Thank you dcs.

+ladi kai lemoni, I would steer clear of the "blends" at Swings (or most places, for that matter). Those are legacy products which they continue to sell for wholesale accounts and to keep some existing customers (see story). I suggest the single origin coffees (not available in grocery stores, to my knowledge); the Brazilian Poco Fundo is very good. They change frequently.

I have been wanting to visit Qualia for years, but never get there. I understand it's darn good. I suggest you visit Swing's the roastery & coffee bar and let us know what you think.

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+ladi kai lemoni, I would steer clear of the "blends" at Swings (or most places, for that matter). Those are legacy products which they continue to sell for wholesale accounts and to keep some existing customers (see story). I suggest the single origin coffees (not available in grocery stores, to my knowledge); the Brazilian Poco Fundo is very good. They change frequently.

I have been wanting to visit Qualia for years, but never get there. I understand it's darn good. I suggest you visit Swing's the roastery & coffee bar and let us know what you think.

Yeah, unfortunately, I was all out of beans at home and happened to be by Swings on G, so I stopped in and that happened to be the only bag that looked appealing. I've fast discovered single origin bags are usually the way to go.

Will check out the Roastery on my next jaunt down to Alexandria.

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I visited Swing's coffee house, which officially opened today. ...

I've had hit or miss experience at Swing's downtown, but the atmosphere is very much like a European cafe. I always enjoyed it. My impressions of Swing's coffee follow some of the remarks here. However I visited the new roasting operation a few months ago and could tell there was a commitment to "upping the game" by what I saw in the tasting room.

My thoughts were confirmed and then some by my visits today. It is no exaggeration to say that Swing's coffee house is one of the top locations in NoVA and probably the best in Alexandria, by a wide margin.

Hey jondagle, thanks for the report on Swing's new outpost. I'm very much looking forward to trying it and will soon.

I'm curious given you've rated it possibly "best in Alexandria," have you been to either Society Fair or Grape + Bean? Those are my two best currently for Alexandria fresh-brewed coffee but, again, have not yet tried Swing's new location and am intrigued.

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darkstar965, Thanks for the opportunity to respond on these places. I am familiar with both and stand by my assessment.

Both espresso and pour over coffee are manual, attention intensive processes. They are highly dependent on the skill and attention of the maker. I'm told that in blind tastings of knowledgeable coffee geeks, pour over using the Haro V60 cone is consistently selected as the best prep method. I would say the best cups of coffee I've had were from such (at Swings, Filter, and a few places in San Francisco and NYC [notably Blue Bottle uses a dripper that is shaped more like a Melita cone and that is among the best coffee I've ever had]). I should say that I've had enough espresso at Swing's to have gotten below average cup there too. It can and does happen even at the best places.

G+B does a great job with coffee and I'm a fan of David's crew at both locations. I would say they don't put their heart into it as much as Swings, who's whole business is coffee. Swing's doesn't sell foods and foo-foo beverages or event tea! (Well, they have some pastries--otherwise they'd be leaving $$ on the table) Coffee is not G+B's main proffit center or focus at either location. And they don't have espresso. I loved the Clover, but the Trifecta is a disappointment to me.

I've had mostly espresso beverages at SF and I don't think they are very good--they are certainly not consistent. I would be surprised if SF has pour overs (I should know this, but don't recall). I applaud SF for their intent: high quality (and priced) beans from Ceremony and great equipment including a La Marzocco GB/5(?). But that appears to be focus of their coffee program (if not the extent). When SF first opened, I had some good espresso there; they've been sliding ever since. The last three have been adequate at best. Quality beans and equipment can only be the foundation; training and attitude need to be the focus.

I appreciate the problem of training staff on a wide range of jobs, as G+B and probably SF have, but that doesn't change the grading! Swing's coffee programs is superior by a lot, and their coffees (at the coffee bar) are better in my judgement.

Finally, i should point out that it is darn hard to have a serious coffee program when the majority of customers want a cup of warm milk that tastes like chocolate, oh, and maybe a little like coffee too. I won't rant about how most people are drinking sugared milk (maybe soy), when they say they want a coffee. But, mass-market tastes make it difficult to put the effort into crafting great coffee/espresso.

I've seen people come into Swings looking for a frappucinno, flavored shots, and sandwiches. They don't have them. It's a coffee bar. The only place around here with good coffee/espresso and sandwiches is Chinatown Coffee--and those few are hand made by a small supplier and sold daily around lunch. Oh, and Blue Bottle on Mint St has a great brunch menu. But it is the exception, not the rule. Hold the line craft coffee makers!

Oh my. I didn't mean to write all that... Cheers.

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Finally, i should point out that it is darn hard to have a serious coffee program when the majority of customers want a cup of warm milk that tastes like chocolate, oh, and maybe a little like coffee too. I won't rant about how most people are drinking sugared milk (maybe soy), when they say they want a coffee. But, mass-market tastes make it difficult to put the effort into crafting great coffee/espresso.

Hehehe, I should point out I was once part of these unwashed masses who wanted their coffee like they wanted their romantic comedy protagonists—a little bitter, but mostly sweet and white.

However, I will credit Yola, the sadly-defunct yogurt and coffee shop, for finally breaking that habit. I think anyone who is the slightest bit curious about good coffee will realize that sugar and milk ultimately cut too far into the flavor of the drink. I know I stopped putting sugar in my coffee when I realized it was becoming too cloying and I couldn't taste anything in the coffee itself. I've gone black and haven't looked back!

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Rounding out the final lap to the finish line of Northern Virginia/D.C., today I finally made it to M.E. Swing Alexandria during open hours.

The openness of the space, coupled with the simplicity of unfinished wood tables and lack of Torani-hoarding clutter, appealed to my eyes and acoustic sensibilities.  In few places this close to the city can you walk in and say "wow, this is a lot of room".

Pour overs, Chemex, espressos, and drip brews are the focus here.  Minimalists and purists will appreciate the lack of distraction-inducing options from syrups and garnish, others will find it limiting.  I ordered the iced coffee ($3), served quickly from friendly baristas.  It delivered smooth complexity, an excellent and refreshing quencher.

Major bonus points for Trickling Springs cream, kept in a glass carafe, over ice, available for customers to pour at will.  This is not an inexpensive choice, a testament to a business that seeks honorable ingredients to accompany its flagship products.

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I love this place, and I'm surprised to see the variety of opinions. I kind of figured everybody thought the place was wonderful.

The environment, like mentioned above, is minimalist and uncluttered. No knick knacks and boardgames and chotchkies about. There is a small shelf of coffee/brewing related items in the back, not obstrusively in your face everywhere. The natural light is vast, because of the firehouse style door, which is open when the weather is nice. There is the lab/cupping/seminar area on the side, and behind the counter, you can see the coffee in bags, where the roasting takes place. Visually, it is exactly what I want to see in decor. Very Scandinavian.

Not only is the decor minimalist, but so is the menu and options. They do very few things here, but they aim to do them right. I believe the options are coffee (drip and pour over), ice coffee, 2 shots of espresso, macchiato, cappucino, latte, hot chocolate, and maybe some tea? They have that awesome creamer mentioned above from a local farm, brown sugar, white sugar, cane syrup, and that's about it. Their baked goods are from Alexandria Pastry Shop (Bradlee Center), and they make me very happy. I think the coffee is the best in Alexandria, but I'm no expert.

Service is not fast here. And that isn't to say not good. It's just not fast. It is not in and out, there isn't one or two people extra chirping "What can we get started for you?" If there are 4 people ahead of you, you might wait 10 minutes for your latte. They aren't going to rush orders, and if you don't have time, you may need to hit another cafe. But, on the other hand, the service is friendly, they are knowledgeable about coffee, and I like seeing the staff, they seem to remember me. They are local, and you'll see them at the yoga studios in Old Town or Del Ray and at concerts and what not.

I usually get a latte or a regular coffee, and always wish a Flat White was on the menu. I asked this morning about that, and they said, "Of course we can make you one of those". So, that's what I'm going to order now, because it's my favorite.

Another thing I liked - I bring my amazing staff at the clinic breakfast every morning, and sometimes I use Swing's. When if I asked if they had those cardboard boxes like Dunkin' Donuts to take a bunch of coffee to my staff, they said they didn't, but they let me borrow the large plastic/metal containers that keep it hot, and just said to drop it off the next day. It's a $100 item, and they didn't have to do that, but they did. And I love that kind of service.

I like it a lot. It's different than St. Elmo's which is cozy and cluttered and looks like a lived in house, which I like if I want to read a book. Mischa's is busy and Old Towny and I like it on cold weekend mornings, because it's bustling and close to all the Old Town action. But, Swing's ... That's my favorite. I think we are lucky in Del Ray to have them.

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I like it a lot. It's different than St. Elmo's which is cozy and cluttered and looks like a lived in house, which I like if I want to read a book. Mischa's is busy and Old Towny and I like it on cold weekend mornings, because it's bustling and close to all the Old Town action. But, Swing's ... That's my favorite. I think we are lucky in Del Ray to have them.

Another difference between Swings and St Elmo's or Misha's is that the former (Swing's) knows how to make espresso and espresso-based drinks, whereas the other two do not. Or at least cannot reliably do so. Misha's espresso is undrinkable and can be compared with bad Turkish coffee. Elmo's, well, where to begin. I would never order espresso there. The coffee is marginal and the espresso is probably adequate for a favored latte.

Extra credit: Try ordering a cortado at these three places and see what happens.

In Old Town, "Killer ESP" is the best bet (only bet?) for espresso, also Grape+Bean makes fine coffee.

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After starting this thread about two years ago before the Monroe St roastery and cafe opened, just realizing I never closed the loop reporting on several visits to Alexandria so will do so here.

Totally different deal from downtown imho. The G St location isn't one I ever visit but clearly its long history there means many regulars who like what they do.

The Alexandria location, otoh, is very much a peer to the now larger number of great independent shops we have in and around DC. Unlike downtown was (and may still be but not sure since I don't go there), Alexandria is all about proper technique for espresso and fresh brewed coffee with truly fresh off the roast beans. It's also a cool space with good wifi and plenty of seating. It's a bit atypical for a two-location coffee retailer to operate its locations so differently but Swings is unique in the market given how long it has operated and the move to modernize under new ownership in the last ten years. I'd even say best in Alexandria but, for me, not quite at the level of Afficionado in Arlington or the better spots (Wydown, The Coffee Bar, Filter, Peregrine, Qualia, Mockingbird Hill and maybe Slipstream). Still, very glad to see what Swings has built in Alexandria and, whenever I'm in that area, have been enjoying it in the past year.

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The G street location of Swings has a sign by the register saying they will close on March 25 for an estimated 14 months while their building (former home of CFPB) undergoes renovations.  I'm sure this will drive business to Starbucks and Peets on Penn but I also hope neighborhood folks will trek across the park to Pleasant Pops on 15th for their independent coffee fix.

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I've been using our corona time to sample various local roasters, buying bags of coffee from grocery stores.  I would say I'm a coffee enthusiast but no expert.

I've enjoyed several bags of Swing's coffee.  The current batch is 1013 Reserve, which is described on the bag as a Medium Roast Milk Chocolate, Orange, Sweet. Costa Rica Sumatra

Their website says:  "Our 1013 Reserve Blend pays homage to M.E. Swing’s original location at 1013 E Street in Washington, DC, a site recognized and protected by the National Register of Historic Places.

The blend is inspired by our classic Java Mocha and marries the sweet, creamy body of Sumatra with a pointed, citric acidity of Costa Rica. The result is a complex and nuanced coffee that is easy-drinking with a velvety mouthfeel."

The bottom of the bag has a label with the brew date and best used by date.  In this case:  10/29/2020 and 1/27/2021.  I bought the 12oz bag about 3 weeks ago, so that means when I bought it the beans would have been roasted approximately 10 days earlier.  

I bought it from Streets in Cleveland Park, which has a pretty decent selection of bags of coffee, for a smaller grocery store.  In this case, the 1013 Reserve cost $9.99.      

 

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