I’ve been working from home for more than six months now, and that really means I’ve been spending a simply insane amount of time in coffee shops near my apartment. I’m a creature of habit, but I also enjoy variety, so I’ve gotten to know almost all of the bonkers number of coffee shops in the Shaw/Logan Circle area. In this post, I provide you with my top picks in a variety of categories, all leading up to my choice of the Best Damn Coffee Shop Near My Apartment™. If you disagree with any of these choices, please leave me a comment describing what it’s like to be wrong.
Before I begin, an opening statement about the general quality of coffee in the area: it’s fantastic*. You really couldn’t go wrong with any of these places – which is part of why I happily flit between them depending on my mood, the weather, astrological conditions, etc. There’s never been a better time for people who like caffeinated beverages to hang out near Logan Circle. But, as in sports, politics, and religion, there can be only one winner, so let’s get started picking our champion.
* Related: you should always drink your coffee black.
Here are the coffee shops I’ve considered in each category:
- The Coffee Bar (1201 S STREET NW)
- La Colombe (Blagden Alley, 924 N St NW)
- Compass Coffee (1535 7th St. NW)
- Mockingbird Hill (1843 7th St. NW)
- Peregrine Espresso (1718 14th St NW)
- Slipstream (1333 14th Street NW)
- Uprising Muffin Co. (1817 7th St. NW)
For a variety of reasons, I’ve left some area coffee shops out of consideration. Here they are, with my explanation for their omission in parentheses:
- Big Bear (Bloomingdale, while great, is not in Shaw/Logan Circle)
- Dolcezza (I’ve only had coffee here once – it wasn’t good, or bad, enough to form any real opinion)
- Filter (Dupont, while hit-or-miss, is also not in Shaw/Logan Circle)
- Kafe Bohem (even though it’s around the corner from Mockingbird Hill, I’ve never been)
- Starbucks (it’s #fine)
- Whole Foods (they have a coffee station which seems popular! But it’s not a coffee shop)
- The Wydown (I’ve just never been there, somehow)
- Anywhere else that I didn’t include (tautology)
For me, this is the least important category – so unimportant that I’m not even going to pick a winner. There are some price differences between these places (especially when it comes to food), but it’s all in the same ballpark. In brief, a cup of coffee is always way more expensive at a coffee shop than making and drinking it at home – but you’re not really paying for the coffee as much as you’re paying for the real estate (a biggie if you, like me, spend a couple of hours working) and for the service. Which brings me to…
For me, this is the most important category. As mentioned above, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, often sitting at the “bar” area. I interact with the lovely people behind the counter all the time. So it really makes a difference to know I can walk in and know whoever’s on duty will convincingly fake being in a good mood, know how the POS system works, and make a good cup of coffee for me. When that’s true of everyone who works there, it means whoever’s in charge is doing something right.
I have no complaints about any of the contenders on this score (in particular, I want to recognize Mockingbird Hill, the best place if you want to go deep on coffee nerdery), but the clear winner for me is The Coffee Bar, where everyone knows their stuff, and manages to keep everything under control during the morning rush or stranger high-pressure circumstances.
Best Coffee on Tap
We all love a good hand-crafted pour-over (see below), but sometimes you just want a quick cup, often to-go. The key here, I think, is sales volume. You want a place that starts with great coffee and sells it fast enough that the current batch is always fresh. That’s easy enough in the morning, but Compass Coffee has a constant stream of customers all day long.
This is a tough call. By definition, any place offering pour-over is demonstrating deep interest in great coffee. So I’m going to the tie-breaker: interesting service vessels! Here, you’ve got to give Slipstream the edge. I mean, take a look at this beautiful tableau:
You get your own little carafe and an adorable stoneware mug, all on a wooden tray. The only way this could be any more on-brand is if it came with a sleeve tattoo and a moustache.
At any rate, when it comes to pour-over, the more intricate the ceremony, the better – and Slipstream doesn’t skimp on pomp and circumstance. Also it tastes very good.
Best Espresso Drinks
I mostly order americanos, and if you prefer those, macchiatos, lattes, cortados, “flat whites” or other high-falutin coffee drinks, you want a place that knows how to make a really good one. Again, hard to really go wrong here, but my favorite is The Coffee Bar. They know what they’re doing!
Best Iced/Cold Brew Coffee
We’re living in a golden age of cold coffee. Every single one of the contenders offers a very solid iced coffee. My favorite comes from Compass Coffee, where it’s cold-brewed, then served on nitro tap. This makes for a smooth, kind of nutty, ice-free cup of coffee. Perfect for savoring while you write an insanely-long blog post about DC’s coffee scene. Compass Coffee isn’t the only place to get nitro tap cold brew (I think I first had it at Slipstream), but in my opinion it’s the best.
Honorable mention to Uprising Muffin Co., which has the best “normal” iced coffee. On the way home from a run on a hot, humid day, this is a great place to stop.
Best Cocktails (tie)
Slipstream is rightfully known for its bar program – helped to no small degree by Tom Brown’s recent assistance. They have a full bar, a good happy hour, and an array of interesting cocktails on the menu. This means that it becomes a terrible place to get work done after 5pm, but I look at that as an excuse to stop working at 5pm.
— Slipstream DC (@SlipstreamDC) April 24, 2015
And if you’re looking to drink sherry or sherry-based cocktails, I can’t recommend Mockingbird Hill (owned by Tom Brown’s equally-talented brother, Derek) highly enough. You don’t see much sherry on offer around town, and Mockingbird Hill is a great place to learn a lot about it.
You can get a satisfying breakfast (by which I mean a bagel or pastry) anywhere. So the real question is where you want to go for something more substantial, interesting, or, for lack of a better word, lunch-y. And although you can get prepared sandwiches and their ilk at a few of these coffee shops, a cornucopia of very good sweet or savory muffins at one (guess which!), and good ham and other tapas-like snacks at another (Mockingbird Hill), there’s really only one option for something you might describe as a meal: Slipstream. They don’t have a real kitchen, so their main gimmick is good, fresh ingredients, in various combinations, put on plates (and often topped with avocado and/or a poached egg). It’s not complicated, but it’s fairly sophisticated, well seasoned, and satisfying.
Sometimes you just want to go in, buy some coffee beans, and bring them home. For times like these, I recommend Peregrine Espresso. They’ve been doing this a long time and offer the best coffee for the price (which is relevant if you, like me, never manage to use up the whole bag in the 2 or 3 weeks the beans are fresh). Also nice is that you get a free cup of coffee when you buy a bag of beans. Who doesn’t like free coffee?
The surfeit of coffee places in the area means I almost never walk into a coffee shop, see no empty seats, and leave. This is really nice (and very different from the bar and restaurant scene, which remains a post-apocalyptic horror show despite the insane number of places in the neighborhood). But the best coffee shop to find a seat (or even, sometimes, a table), is Compass Coffee. Why? Because it’s big and it has a lot of chairs. That’s why.
Do you even want wi-fi? You’d probably be a lot more productive without it. Plus you can always tether it to your phone, anyway, so who really cares? In case it’s important to you, though, here’s the deal:
Has it: The Coffee Bar, Compass Coffee, Slipstream, Mockingbird Hill
Doesn’t have it: La Colombe,
Mockingbird Hill, Peregrine Espresso
I’m not sure: Uprising Muffin Co.
Most Attractive Clientele
I have no idea where all these good-looking, fit people come from (a secret yoga studio just for the idle rich?), but there’s a steady stream of men and women who make me feel just terrible about myself at Compass Coffee. It’s like the cast of every single show on the CW is constantly dropping by for that famous cold-brew.
I’m partial to La Colombe, which looks like this:
It’s a mockable combination of industrial loft/natural wood/vintage porcelain, but who cares? It’s very nicely done, and the wall of glass looking out on Blagden Alley is picturesque.
Best Place to Be a Regular (i.e., the Favoritism Award)
This is an odd category, but basically the question is whether they remember their frequent customers and make them feel special (or, put differently, like human beings and not just sources of revenue). I have no complaints about any of the coffee shops in this list, but I love the folks at The Coffee Bar, who are friendly and remember my name and my usual drink order.
Anyway, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing (If I went somewhere else as often as I go to The Coffee Bar, would they know me so well? Do I go to The Coffee Bar so often because they know me so well?), but there’s only one coffee shop on this list where I’ve left my apartment keys for an out-of-town guest – so they win and it’s not even close.
Taking all of the above into account, let’s hand out some superlatives:
Best Weekend Coffee Shop (tie)
(AKA the best place to meet a friend and talk about other friends behind their backs.)
The answer here is Mockingbird Hill. As you may have noticed, Mockingbird Hill doesn’t appear much in the specific categories above. This is because they aren’t open during the day on weekdays*, so on those days they’re basically disqualified from consideration for most coffee shop functions (drinking coffee in the morning, drinking coffee in the daytime, etc.)! This is a damn shame, because their coffee program (when they’re open) may just be the best in the entire city. Great iced coffee, amazing and varied coffee options for pour-over, a knowledgeable and friendly staff, and – best of all – seats basically always available (when they’re open).
So okay, they’re only open during the day on weekends. So obviously that’s why they’re the winner of this category. But wait, it gets more frustrating. They’re also not open until 10am on weekends!!!!!
Are you serious?! Yes, I’m serious. If you wake up early and want a fancy cup of coffee or three, you’ll have to go somewhere else.
So okay. Mockingbird Hill is my pick for weekend coffee after 10am on weekends. Better pick somewhere else for the early risers.
Congratulations, Compass Coffee! You have my favorite cold brew coffee, you’re filled with attractive people in workout gear, and perhaps most importantly, you’re open!
* Technically, they’re not open during the day on weekdays anymore. As I recall, they used to open at 8am every day of the week. I went all the time, and I was usually the only customer in the entire place. Hmm, starting to understand why they stopped doing that…
Best Place to Work
Slipstream has wi-fi, lots of available seats and tables (during the week), and good food. If you need to spend a few hours banging out a press release or amortizing capital spending or whatever, you’re in good hands here.
Best Place to Hang Out Alone, Read a Book, Browse Twitter, and Drink Some Coffee
If I hadn’t mentioned Twitter up there, I might just go with La Colombe here, but they don’t have wi-fi. I guess you can just use your phone, or maybe your iPad has cell data, though. If so, okay: La Colombe is a solid choice. It’s a pretty small place, so better to be alone for seating purposes. But it looks great, is well lit, and has great coffee. Great place to while away the hours.
But for me, the winner in this category is also the overall champion…
The Best Damn Coffee Shop Near My Apartment™
Emphasis on the “Near My Apartment”. For all of the reasons I’ve already enumerated, The Coffee Bar is my favorite coffee shop in DC, rivaled in my esteem only by the ghost of the much-loved, long-mourned Mid-City Caffé (whoa, I’m pretty sure that’s me in the photo!?!)(ETA: never mind, it’s not me – just some other really good-looking guy). More than anywhere else, The Coffee Bar is where I go to read, write, and drink coffee.
And I like it just the way it is, so please don’t mess this up for me, people.