BON APPETIT – The DC Caffeine Scene: the “hottest” coffee shops in the metro area


May 13, 2016
Alex Barron
Restaurant Critic
Bon Appetit

A couple years ago, the New York Times ruffled some feathers when, in a Travel section article, it threw some shade at D.C.’s coffee scene. Specifically, in response to brunch at Tune Inn, a Capitol Hill bar, the article proclaimed, “The coffee is meh – a problem throughout much of the city.” Admittedly, the coffee at Tune Inn might be subpar, but then, who goes to the local dive in search of the perfect cup anyway? Mediocre coffee was never a true problem across the entire District – probably not two years ago, and certainly not now. Within the city and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs, there is outstanding coffee to be found.  You just have to know where to look for it. For starters, you might try a few of these spots:

Peregrine Espresso

How ironic that the consensus champion of D.C. coffee bars is located a mere two blocks from Tune Inn: on Pennsylvania Avenue, a short distance from the Capitol Building. Peregrine Espresso — which also has locations on 14th Street and inside Union Market — is a tiny storefront with a relatively brief menu of coffee drinks and a small case of breakfast offerings…and that’s all it needs. Since its opening in 2008, its flavorful pour-over coffee has won it accolades on multiple national top ten lists. And its world-class barristas, led by owner Ryan Jensen, know their way around a French press.

Compass Coffee

This clean, modern café broke onto the scene just over a year and a half ago and was an immediate hit, especially with the twenty-something crowd in the rapidly gentrifying Shaw neighborhood. Compass Coffee is the pet project of two former marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, who after enduring terrible cup after cup while in the service, vowed never to settle for less than top-notch coffee again. A comfortable, spacious dining area, with exposed brick and steel décor, is the perfect backdrop for morning caffeinating.

M E Swing’s

Until recently, Swing’s was a rarity in downtown D.C.: an old school, no frills, metal counter shop that your grandparents would have loved (and possibly did, if they worked downtown at any point during the last hundred years). Sadly, Swing’s G Street location closed for renovations in March. When it reopens, it promises to be – in its own words – a “world-class coffee bar,” which sounds lovely, although not at all similar to the original. But no matter, such a coffee bar will be more than welcomed downtown. And in the meantime, there’s always Swing’s second location: a spacious, industrial café and roastery in the Delray section of Alexandria.

Vigilante Coffee

It seems that Hyattsville’s stock has been on the rise for a few years now, and Vigilante Coffee is a major sign of its progress. A bright, roomy warehouse located in Hyattsville’s slowly growing downtown, Vigilante Coffee draws a diverse crowd that often includes students and professors from nearby College Park. With huge roasting machines and burlap sacks of coffee beans at its center, the café announces its serious ambitions. And it delivers on them with several seriously flavorful blends, and tiny but potent espresso and macchiato.

Firehook Bakery

It may not take its coffee quite as seriously as some of the other entries on this list, but tasty breakfast goodies and cozy ambiance have made Firehook a D.C. staple for the last twenty years or so. Locations are all over the place; the count is up to eight in the District and Northern Virginia.  Each of them offers the same superlative breads, pastries and wraps. The ham and cheese croissant (toasted, of course) is a particularly pleasant way to beginning a day. And the coffee, while perhaps beneath the standards of the most discerning coffee snobs, is still a far cry from just “meh.”


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DC Spotlight Restaurant Critic

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