Tag Archives: DC Coffee

Cafe Hounding: Azi’s Cafe – Washington, D.C.

1336 Ninth St. NW
Washington, D.C.
20001-4208
http://aziscafe.com/index.html

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?client=safari&rls=en&oe=UTF-8&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=washington+dc+nw+1336+9+st&fb=1&gl=us&hnear=Washington+D.C.,+DC&cid=12196182154941226661

Azi’s Café is a wonderful place to grab a coffee and a meal in one of DC’s most diverse and dynamic neighborhoods – albeit not very commercial.  The charming owner, Azeb Desta (nicknamed Azi), hails from coffee’s disputed birthplace in the Horn of Africa.  Before opening Azi’s in 2005 she worked for eleven years in food and beverage with Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Her location at the corner of 9th and O streets is smack in the middle of a rapidly changing area of the Shaw area of DC, where an improving standard of living and an aversion to the normal “Starbucks” options appear to partially drive traffic to Azi’s Cafe. Perhaps more important, Azeb and her staff are some of the warmest and most dedicated employees in the business and their service clearly helps with customer loyalty. Furthermore, for the time being, there is very little direct competition in the immediate area.

The menu of light food fare boasts decent pastry, soup, salad and panini (the roasted turkey breast, tomato, cheddar, and garlic spread goes for $6.50) options.  Personally, I often find myself succumbing to the flavorful biscotti displayed in large glass containers in front of the cashier – it perfectly compliments a warm frothy cappuccino on a cold day.

Generally, the coffee is above average for Washington and I’ve grown fond of their cappuccinos.  They use Illy coffee and have a stand of retail Illy for sale proudly exhibited in their front window.

Having sampled an Illy espresso across town at the Illy shop at the Renaissance M Street Hotel, I was excited to see how Azi’s compared.  The coffee itself was definitely up to par, bold and complex from start to finish.  The cup they used in my case was a designer Illy cup – of my choosing – that was plenty warm from sitting atop the French-made UNIC machine. The quantity of crema was less than sufficient, though, and I would have to wager the guess that the machine could be the problem. I’ll undoubtedly try another espresso here before making a final judgment on the quality of their coffee and ability to make drinks.  It also appears that they keep a pretty steady line of customers asking for both specialty drinks and regular cups of coffee during this time of year.

I’ve never visited this locale without a pleasant and eclectic mix of music weaving through the small locale.  The southern wall is littered with a few electric sockets for those who tote laptops and have a use for their free wi-fi. Others may choose between a few tables in the middle of the shop and a couple two-seater tables squeezed in between columns with plenty of natural light on the northside of the shop (sorry, no electric plugs on this side of the shop).

Whether for a hot bowl of soup, a freshly made salad, a steamy latte or a shot of espresso – Azi’s is quickly becoming an institution in the Shaw neighborhood and – with over five years of business in this locale – Azeb Desta seems satisfied that things are going in the right direction.  Although, she thinks that the last five years have gone by quickly, and that both the neighborhood and the clientele have changed equally quickly.  Azi’s Café is one of very few businesses thriving in this section of NW and it will be interesting to see how much/little she changes in the next five years in order to maintain a successful enterprise.

Café Hound will undoubtedly continue to frequent her shop and wishes her the best in growing her business.

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Cafe Hounding: Cafe Don Pedro – Bogota, Colombia

Carrera 11A # 89-48
Bogota – Colombia
http://www.cafedonpedro.com/primera_del_Cafe.htm

Don Pedro's interior from the back room looking out towards the adjoined bakery run by Pedro's wife.

Cafe Don Pedro is one of those places that began Maher Hound’s entire journey into the coffee world.  An exercise in objectivity would be senseless in this post considering my first encounter with the wonderful Colombian grown stimulant known as Cafe Don Pedro began in the late nineties after my father received a pound as a gift from a friend stationed at the US Embassy in Bogota.  At the time my family did not find the coffee particularly amazing and I was too young to have taken up the habit of coffee drinking full-time yet.

Several years later, after being reintroduced to Colombian coffee through a chocolate covered experience with Oma coffee, I found my way down to Colombia and into the storied retail location of Cafe Don Pedro on Calle 90 where it intersects Carrera 11A.  Beyond having one of the most folkloric, traditional coffee themed interior designs I have ever seen in a coffee shop; Cafe Don Pedro had very well trained and highly knowledgeable staff that were able to describe everything about the entire supply chain process of a coffee plant/bean and how to prepare beverages with care and with style.

My first visit to Cafe Don Pedro in the flesh was in 2006.  This was before I had been properly introduced to cupping and understanding the careful and lengthy process of training one’s palate to distinguish subtle discrepancies in the flavor profile of different beans and brews.  Even at this early juncture of my coffee loving career, I knew I had come across a truly amazing quality of coffee.  Upon my departure from Colombia several months later I carried several pounds of the delicious substance with me (beans were packaged according to their Department (a national sub-unit similar to a State) of origin). The most well-rounded beans sold by Don Pedro were probably the Cudinamarca blend – taken from the region immediately surrounding Bogota.  The most unique and distinctly (although quite mild) beans were those from Huila, found south of Neiva heading towards the Colombia-Ecuador border on the 45 highway. The Huila beans – last time I tried them in 2008 – had a vanilla and nutty undertone in the finish that was preceded by bright orange acidity in the initial sip.

Upon my return to Colombia in 2008, I made another stop at Don Pedro and enjoyed the comfortable ambiance and coffee of the shop.  Did I mention that, because they roast coffee every day right in the front of the shop, there is an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma of fresh roasted coffee that greets each customer upon entering the shop?

In 2008 I sat down and discussed the business – both the beauty of owning one’s own specialty coffee retail location in a country dominated by the Juan Valdez and FEDERCAFE image AND the problems associated with trying to leverage the international recognition of the Juan Valdez label while trying to directly export one’s own brand to international markets.  It appears that Pedro de Narveaz is still wrapped up in a legal dispute with the National Coffee Growers Federation in Colombia and this will likely – due to the political clout and financial resources of the Federation – end badly for our beloved Don Pedro.

Despite these facts, his business does incredibly well just by selling to the  Bogota equivalent of Washington, D.C.’s ‘Embassy Row’ with high praise coming from the US Embassy in Bogota and his own product positioning in Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport for those hoping to grab a bag of Don Pedro before hopping on the plane. I returned yet again to Don Pedro in July 2010 to grab five pounds and sample a delicious espresso with my girlfriend.  As she enjoyed her cappuccino with ‘fluffy foam’ and delicious coffee cookie treats, I reminisced about the more than four years of coffee patronage at this wonderful location in downtown Bogota.  Now, with the store moving down the street into a smaller shop on Calle 89 with 11A, I am both saddened and excited about the future of the Cafe Don Pedro experience.  The new commerce brought to this neighborhood by the incoming Mall will definitely boost foot traffic in and around Cafe Don Pedro, but it will also dramatically alter the quiet and charming experience that this neighborhood offered the older Bogotano crowd looking for an elegant cafe to discuss Colombian culture, society, politics and – most importantly – coffee.

 

Gently kissing this cup of C-marca espresso blend goodnight on my last evening in Bogota in July 2010.

Cafe Hounding: Chinatown Coffee Co. – DC

Chinatown Coffee Company
475 H Street, NW
(between N 4St & 5
th St)
Washington, DC 20001

http://chinatowncoffee.com/blog/

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.

The moment of ordering truth

The moment of ordering truth

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.

Espresso

Victoria Arduino Adonis WBC edition (sexy!)

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.

A CCC take on the Cortado

A CCC take on the Cortado

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