Chinatown Coffee Company
475 H Street, NW
(between N 4St & 5th St)
Washington, DC 20001
After roughly two weeks of trying, I finally made it to Chinatown Coffee Company (CCC) at the outskirts of Chinatown in Northwest DC. I went on a Sunday afternoon with a friend of mine who was a bit curious about my passion for specialty coffee. It wasn’t very busy when I arrived but nearly every seat in the place was taken by people using laptops (free wifi) or staying out of the blistering DC heat/humidity. It was nice and cool inside and had a nice gritty feel to the ambiance that gave the impression that the focus was over at the coffee bar.
I took the engineer designed ‘hint’ and wandered up to the bar to order two double shot espressos that were to be made with the Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso blend. The menu appeared simple enough, but with plenty of variety for above average prices for people unacquainted with specialty coffee (i.e. Intelligentsia prices). The espresso was produced on a beautiful Victoria Arduino Adonis WBC edition machine with a sleek white gloss design.
I’m not sure if the humidity was a major factor, but I suspect it was, but the espresso was rather flat and left much to be desired. I wasn’t willing to give up because the baristas were very nice and the quality of all of the inputs was undoubtedly of the highest quality. I encountered similar problems with humidity when training baristas at a warehouse in Nicaragua in 2008. The incredibly muggy rainy season led to a plethora of quality control problems with the resource constraints we were facing. Nevertheless, CCC is surely not getting a bad review for espresso – it just wasn’t the best day.
I followed up the espresso order with a cortado since my friend claims half-Cuban heritage yet she was not familiar with the famous Versailles Restaurant(s) in Miami, Florida…meaning she had never sampled their delicious cortadito drinks. Luckily for me, with a little sugar this little drink saved the visit for my friend who admittedly does not like espresso much regardless of the quality. The establishment is pretty proud of the fact that is chooses to break the DC paradigm of mostly sourcing strictly Counter Culture coffee (roasted down in North Carolina and shipped up the eastern seaboard) in favor of Intelligentsia.
Another major plus was that the baristas were not only proud of the around town competition helping put DC on the specialty coffee map but enlightened me to shops that I have never even heard of. I also was fast to learn that the very helpful and pleasant David Flynn of Peregrine Espresso was in the building diligently working on his laptop. Talk about cross-town support. Furthermore, my barista informed me that he was indeed David’s roommate – I somehow doubt cut-throat competition between Peregrine and CCC. I guess coffee geeks like me like to surround themselves with other coffee geeks.
Shortly after sampling the aromas of all of the whole bean coffee that they were carrying for retail sale I decided to go with the Guatemala. I’m sort of ashamed since the competition included El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. I felt some allegiance to the Estelí region of Nicaragua after having spent considerable time meeting producers and exporters from throughout the country in 2008 but, at the end of the day, went with what my nose told me. I have nothing but positive experiences with Guatemalan coffee in the past and after brewing this up today, it is no different.
Specifically the coffee I purchased was 12 oz and cost me US$12 plus tax. It was the Itzamna, Guatemala: La Soledad.
Intelli’s description is as follows:
“Surrounded by peaches and inherently sweet with an animated acidity. Finca La Soledad finishes with vanilla, yet sails with its zesty nature.”
I would agree with the sweet acidity and moderately agree with the vanilla finish. I would add that it has a modest fruity taste (apparently that’s the peach) but it’s barely there. Overall it’s a mild coffee with less ‘animation’ and ‘zest’ than it claims. It’s very pleasant though, and a great coffee for pour over brew. Blending it with something that has a bit more flowery flare, such as an Ethiopia Sidamo or a Rwanda Burundi, would really balance it off well. This is similar to what Kris and I decided to do with the first edition of Kris/Maher Blend using 80% Guatemala and 20% Ethiopia. Again, that is just a matter of taste preference.
I’ll be returning in the near future to talk with the owners and get some more coffee. Thanks for stopping by and leave any thoughts you may have.
– Maher Hound