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Zeke's Coffee - Thomas Rhodes' Baltimore-Based Coffee Roasters (with Retail Available) at Rhode Island and South Dakota Avenue in Woodridge (DC) - NOW OPEN!


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As with most any restaurant, Zeke's opening in DC has been known for a long time though the Saturday date is only recently announced (thanks Cheeze!).  Zeke's has been selling at local farmers' markets for a couple of years and has been the coffee on offer at the also newer Bakehouse at 14th and T NW next to Taqueria.

I'm looking forward to trying the new Zeke's shop since it'll be the newest entrant (until the next one) and more because I've felt that the farmers' markets and even Bakehouse outlets probably weren't doing the beans full justice.

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Bit of an update on Zeke's for any interested. I had a chance to talk to them at a farmers' market this weekend.  They've been selling beans and pre-brewed coffee at local markets for years.

The Nov 2nd date sounds firm.  No "soft opening" or anything like that--the new shop will just open then.  Interestingly, this first location in DC will be more a roastery than a coffee shop.  I didn't ask but imagine the roaster itself will be of good capacity (and thus require some floorspace) because they plan to supply other local outlets (like Bakehouse) and retail stores from this location.  They'll be selling beans here and serving either pre-brewed (pots) coffee or maybe using French Presses.  More likely the former from what I gathered which is what they do at farmers' markets.  No pourovers will be offered.

Bit of an odd decision since:

- real estate in the city is expensive. normally it makes more sense to locate a space-hogging roasting operation outside the city to get a better return on the space. Then in-city space can be used to sell drinks and beans to the public.  Two good examples of this are Qualia (Joel has a small roaster that mostly has supplied his own shop but he's in Petworth where rents are lower than downtown or NW) and Swings, who operate the popular shop right near the White House but roast in Alexandria (not Old Towne).

- Zeke's doesn't yet have much of a footprint in DC.  I'm a bit surprised they wouldn't want to use a first location to really demonstrate the full range and bouquet of their beans which is best done with a choice of brewing methods and of beans.

All that aside, it sounds like they're still figuring some things out and may well adapt to whatever they perceive the market favors.  Looking forward to visiting the new shop.  Hopefully they'll have mugs since I have a neighbor with a dog named Zeke.   :D

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Made it over to Zeke's DC today on their 2nd day of operation.



TOPLINE



First and most important is to share a key caveat about this shop while correcting a misperception I had upthread.



This isn't so much a coffee shop as it is a roasting operation that serves some excellent coffee.  



BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY



John & Autumn Kepner (John's a grandson of the founder) own this location in about-as-east-as-you-can-go DC.  John & Autumn are both wonderful people and if there's a cuter 3-year-old little girl out there, I haven't yet met her.



The Post beat me to it again--kind of--though this time not Tim Carman but, rather, Lavanya Ramanathan.  But, this time, we here at dr.com will definitely one or two up the Post since their post doesn't report on an actual, post-open visit and many key and interesting facts were missed.



The roasting priority is important here at Zeke's.  I'd posted upthread that I found it a bit of a head-scratcher that a new entrant to the DC coffee scene would put a shop so far from the higher foot-traffic areas of downtown and northwest. Don't think that anymore as the purpose of this location is primarily about roasting a wide variety of great beans supplied by Royal in NY, a very high-quality importer .  Zeke's DC is roasting for Bakehouse off 14th St NW but more for all of its farmers market outlets and a growing wholesale (restaurants and retail stores like Glen's Garden Market in Dupont) business.



THE SHOP



The shop is large and bright and I'd imagine a great energizer for the Woodbridge neighborhood.  Most of the space is devoted to storage of all the beans and, of course the roasting operation. Easy enough get a good cup here and maybe even hang out for 10 or 15 minutes but this isn't a spot to camp and do work or plan for a 5-person meeting.



The front of the store has just 4 or 5 seats at a counter facing up against the front window.  Nearly all of the coffees are available for sale to your right when you enter.  They're arranged on three shelves running from lightest roast to darkest, left-to-right and then continued on the 2nd shelf.  The lowest (3rd shelf) is for decaf beans.



At the service counter straight ahead is a custom pourover rack made from pipes that John built.  If you're into that kind of thing as I am, it's pretty cool in its simplicity and ingenuity. There are also three or four small pots with hot pre-brewed coffee at (I think) $1.75 whereas the pourovers are $3 and change.  Very limited selection of baked goods on a single platter under glass to the left of the Square-enabled ipad point-of-sale. Not sure where those come from.



WiFi isn't quite yet up and operating but this shop can be marked "free WiFi" as it should be by next weekend.



THE COFFEE



We tried three pourovers.  A Nicaraguan I enjoyed but wasn't as robust as I'd ideally like.  A Balinese I really enjoyed.  And, a Guatemalan my +1 loved.



John was kind enough to take me in the back after he got tired of answering my questions about the operation and this is where it gets more interesting.



THE ROASTING MACHINE & WHY IT'S UNIQUE



Zeke's uses a roaster called a "fluid bed" machine made by the original/founding company called Sivetz.  The Sivetz roasting machine was invented by Michael Sivetz in 1976. After he passed, his children didn't want to continue the business and today there's a fairly healthy secondary market for the machines that are original Sivetz and others using the same design since it wasn't protected.  If interested to see one in operation (why you might care just below) you can do so here.  NB: It's an 8-minute video with the first four minutes enough to get the idea depending on your interest. The Post labeled it a "12 lb roaster" but, more accurately, it's a 12lb-in and 10lb-out roaster since the heat and roasting concentrate the beans removing moisture and weight.



Most roasting machines you'll see in the US are drum roasters. Beans go into a drum and then are usually either spun/rotated or agitated/stirred with a built-in wand or arm as heat and time are controlled by the operator to get different results.  The Sivetz operates more like a popcorn maker.  Beans go into a small cylinder, beneath which sit four heating elements and four fans.  When started, the fans keep the beans elevated as they roast.  Advantages to this, according to those who favor the method, are that since beans don't roast against metal, burning isn't as much of a risk.  But, IMPORTANT, preference between drum and fluid bed roasters is really a matter of personal preference. Fluid bed machines are more common out west than here and, whatever one's preference, just interesting to have a different option to try and compare.



THE FUTURE



The shop has no espresso maker and, as already mentioned, limited baked goods.  Offering espresso drinks may be part of the future plans but not in the near term.  As this is only their first week, the future is now.  :)



BOTTOM LINE



This is a wonderful roastery where you can get a darn good pourover and you can choose from a bevy of wonderful beans packaged to take home.  But don't expect the full coffee shop experience because it isn't intended to be that.  That said, these are truly wonderful people with real passion and expertise for roasting great coffee.  Super addition to Washington's coffee scene.



P.S.



My neighbor with the dog named Zeke, referenced in the immediately preceding post, is now the proud owner of a free Zeke's bumper sticker and a reasonably-priced bag of their very interesting* "1812" espresso blend.  * interesting because, as a "post-roast" blend representing five different coffee growing regions of the world, each type of bean is roasted at different temp and time before being combined.



P.P.S.



After telling me he'd be sure to try the 1812 tomorrow morning, neighbor guy texted me tonight to say he couldn't wait and ground and pulled a (double) shot tonight. Evidently his wife wasn't very supportive but the beans and espresso machine were calling out to him. He wrote that it was 'excellent' and I take no responsibility if he's a bit tired tomorrow at work for lack of sleep.


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