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Category — coffee

Peregrine espresso

For those that live on Capitol Hill, this is old news, but the good news is that Peregrine Espresso has opened, in the space that once occupied by Murky Coffee. The better news is that Peregrine is co-owned by a former Murky Coffee employee (and 2005 Southeast Regional Barista Champion [warning:pdf]) Ryan Jensen. Which is to say, Peregine continues, and expands upon, Murky’s pursuit of coffee excellence.

I visited Peregrine for the first time Saturday. The space has been remodeled to look much cleaner–in fact, nothing from the old Murky remains. Their blog has several pictures. The chalkboard menus are gone, the walls are painted, the floors are freshly finished. The menu has been simplified, to the point where each drink comes in only one size. The brewed coffee offerings are given more prominence. 

Peregrine gets its coffee from Counter Culture Coffee, the same supplier that Murky uses. Their milk comes from Trickling Springs Creamery, a relatively local dairy in Pennsylvania that sells milk in re-usable and returnable glass bottles. This is one step beyond Murky, which as far as I know used ordinary supermarket milk. 

I had a cappuccino–regrettably, to go, as there were no free seats. Even in the (appropriately sized) to-go cup, the barista poured a small rosetta. It had been months since I’d had a “third-wave” cappuccino: the way-beyond-starbucks, hand-crafted expression of exactly how amazing coffee can be. Delightful.

Coffee lovers in Washington do owe much to Nick Cho, owner of Murky. That his business skills are sloppy is unfortunate, but he planted the seeds of coffee culture in DC. That a former employee is able to open a cafe that improves upon its predecessor reflects both the technical training and the enthusiasm for coffee that Nick imbued his employees with.

October 20, 2008   No Comments

Coffee and Tea

Sundays May through October we have, in our neighborhood, what could accurately be called a “Farmer Market,” because these days, we’re down to just one farmer, except that I think he’s more of a consolidator for a few mostly-organic farmers and less of a farmer himself. But the produce he sells is good, and I really don’t need more than one vendor of green beans or potatoes.

There are other vendors, too, including Fresh Off the Roast, a local coffee roaster who started as a hobbyist but who has been steadily expanding his business. I’ve been getting my coffee from him for just over a year now. He roasts every Friday, and I pick up just enough for the week on Sunday. It works out very well. He blogs at Cuppa Joel.

There is now, at our Farmer Market, a tea vendor as well. A fellow Brooklander recently bought Pearl Fine Teas, which has mostly, I believe, been a mail-order firm dealing in higher-end loose teas. She had several teas–black, scented, and herbal–on display, which were sold in one-ounce packages. She blogs at TeaLove.

I drink more coffee than tea. Every morning starts with coffee, although I lean towards tea at work because low-effort tea is much better than low-effort coffee, doubly so if there’s nobody else around who would want to share the coffee. My tolerance for caffeine in the evenings isn’t what it used to be, so I tend to favor herbal teas after dinner, although there is no better accompaniment to dessert than coffee.

For our little Farmer market to become a center for high-quality beverages is pretty cool.

September 22, 2008   1 Comment

CoffeeGeek podcast

The other coffee podcast that I listen to, the CoffeeGeek podcast, just released it episode 61, its first new podcast since January. Yay!

This episode features Mark Prince, the host, talking solo about a handful of issues. Prince, an enthusiastic consumer (which is to say, he doesn’t earn a living in the coffee industry), generally shies away from insider gossip. Here, he touches on Caffeine awareness month, rhapsodizes about a new coffee techniques book, and offers a personal reflection on the pursuit of the perfect espresso–the “God Shot”–that is inspired by and in response to an article in the Guardian.

The biggest chunk of the podcast is devoted to a discussion of the recent acquisition by Starbucks of the Coffee Equipment Company, which had been making one of the most innovative and noteworthy coffee brewing devices on the market, the Clover. The Clover was an automated single-serving brew-on-demand device that functioned somewhat like a French Press. Although automated, the brew time and temperature would need to be tweaked to coax the best out of each coffee–and this need for tweaking, Prince argues, is why it’s unlikely Starbucks will be able to use these machines to get substantially better coffee than they brew now.

What is troubling about this development is that the existing Clover owners are sort of left hanging, after investing substantial resources in the success of the machines. They weren’t cheap, costing over $10k apiece. They didn’t make great coffee off the bat–rather, the early adopters worked with the company to troubleshoot and improve the machine and its brewing process. And now that Starbucks has bought the manufacturer, the only thing available to existing customers will be replacement parts: no new machines, no tech support, no training. I understand business decision for a small startup to sell, but it just seems wrong to cast all your early adopters adrift.

April 1, 2008   No Comments

murky no more

DC recently suffered the inglorious closing of murky coffee, which had served what was by far the best coffee in town. First reported on in DCist, the Post later picked up the story, and owner Nick Cho has posted his version of the events on the murky coffee website. I did not visit murky as often as I would have liked: it was in a part of the city, near Eastern Market, that was awkward for me to reach. But whenever I was in the area, I would make a point of stopping in, usually for their amazing Classic Cappuccino. Fortunately, their branch in Arlington (even more awkward to get to) remains open, and I do hope Nick is able to follow through on his determination to open another DC store once his present mess is cleared up.

Nick, through his store and his through his efforts in the specialty coffee industry, has done wonders for the local coffee scene. I’ve been a coffee enthusiast since receiving a coffee grinder for my birthday while in high school. I soon picked up Kenneth Davids‘s Coffee: a Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying—my first in what is now a collection of many dozens of books about coffee—and Sacramento, fortunately, had a good number of respectable coffee shops.

Out of high school, I didn’t really keep pace with the specialty coffee industry. Chicago’s coffee scene was comparatively underdeveloped when I was at college, so although my collection of books grew, my coffee experience stalled (although a friend of mine and I did experiment with roasting our own coffee). The coffee shops in downtown Ithaca (but not on campus) were an improvement, but I didn’t have much opportunity to hang out in them. What I hadn’t realized, during this decade, was that a new movement in coffee was taking shape, calling itself the “third wave.” In a sense I kept missing it: Intellegentsia Coffee opened in Chicago just after I had left, and Gimme Coffee opened in Ithaca just as I was entering the intense dissertation-writing last year of my graduate school career.

Characteristic of third-wave coffee firms a never-ending pursuit of sensory quality, a bean-to-cup acknowledgement and appreciation of everyone in the coffee industry, and an ideal that everyone along that chain, from coffee farmer to barista, can make a comfortable living and have a successful career in their crafts. (Whether that last one is actually feasible remains to be seen.) Barista competition, travel “to origin,” direct-trade relationships, and critical cupping are part and parcel of the third wave. It seeks to move beyond the diversions that plagued the specialty coffee industry that I grew up with, such as flavored coffees and “sell-by” dates on coffee beans that are months after the roast date. It stands in marked contrast to the strategy adopted by Starbucks, which in order to keep up its relentless pace of expansion, replaced its La Marzocco espresso machines, which need a trained barista to operate, for push-button super-automatics, that any fool can use. That’s my take, anyway, on the third wave.

Nick brought third wave coffee to Washington. I met him once, when I took the espresso skills class he taught at his Arlington shop. Nevertheless, like many coffee aficionados, I feel as if I know him well, primarily because I listened to his podcast.1 The podcast, which Nick does with friend and Baltimore-area coffee shop owner Jay Caragay, is aimed at those working in the coffee industry. It’s heavy on insider gossip, often long and rambling, reliably entertaining, and occasionally brilliant. In part because of the podcast, Nick has (had?) been a rising star in the specialty coffee business, notably including a successful run for a seat on the board of directors of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Murky coffee was first closed by the DC government for failure to pay taxes, then evicted by the landlord. A controversy has erupted in online forums: is this, as Nick claims, the result of financial mismanagement spiraling out-of-control, or is murky trying to cheat on its taxes?

I’m convinced Nick is being honest. The picture one gets of him, from the podcasts, is of someone completely committed to quality coffee, with a purist streak that often puts his vision of great coffee ahead of business sense. He won’t, for example, sell you a straight espresso to go, and he wasn’t interested in selling the big-name soft drinks that the previous incarnation of a coffee shop had sold. And one also gets the sense that he’s prone to bouts of bad judgement: see podcasts 64 through 70 to see what I mean.

But please, don’t let those be your only sample of podcasts. Some of the most interesting ones:

53: An interview with Temple University historian Bryant Simon, who is working on a book about Starbucks.

27: Once you get past the first hour or so, which is mostly insider gossip, there’s a fascinating interview with Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans, revealing why Fair Trade is a far more complicated subject than one might think.

26: Interview with Rob Stephen, then ascending president of the SCAA board of directors, on his vision for the SCAA and his experience working on Dunkin Donuts’ coffee program.

56: Interview with the directors and producers of the film Black Gold, which examines Ethiopian poverty in the context of coffee.

I suspect that the next podcast will go into tremendous detail about the shop closing; Nick has never shied away from discussing his personal difficulties. While his account of the events might leave a few things out, I really do think he’s being honest.

  1. The “explit” warning on the podcast is an understatement: several episodes become vulgar in a manner reminiscent of An Evening with Kevin Smith. []

March 25, 2008   1 Comment