“If I can’t drink my bowl of coffee three times daily, then in my torment, I will shrivel up like a piece of roast goat.” – Christian Friedrich Henrici, from J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, BWV 211
There’s no way to get an accurate count of the number of Starbucks franchises in Washington D.C. One source puts it at about 249. Not bad for a city that spans only about 61 square miles of land. I’ve been known to frequent the ubiquitous green caffeine dispensary from time to time, but for me, a cup of coffee should have personality. And the more institutionalized and formulaic the roasting and brewing processes get, the more the individuality gets filtered out.
That’s why I like local independent coffee houses. In LA, that means LAMILL, Intelligentsia, Euro Pane, Spring for Coffee, and the like. (Tangential departure: where’s your favorite place in LA to get coffee?)
On the road, that means doing a little research. With the interweb or an iPhone this is easy. Without modern technology: find the alternative print publications, usually free, akin to LA Weekly. It used to be that you could tell the quality of the coffee by the number of musical performances per week—more music, better beans. Not so, anymore. Now, the places with the best brews seem to eschew music. Look for a literary component to the presentation—a bookstore or regular poetry night on the premises is usually a good sign. An absence of free wi-fi internet access is also a plus—as if the owners are saying, “Our coffee is so damn good you won’t need to update your Facebook status while you sip. And would you please hang up your phone!” If the shop roasts its own beans, even better.
Today was a good coffee day. After the LA Philharmonic’s concert at the Kennedy Center last night, I was up until 3:00 a.m. putting together today’s features for KUSC. (Hey, those Spotlights on the Arts don’t produce themselves.) So, I was thankful that we had a free day today before hopping a train to Philadelphia tomorrow. My sleuthing sent me to M.E. Swing Company on 17th and G—just a couple blocks over from the White House. They’ve been delighting District residents since 1916. And they roast their own beans in small batches every day. The Eurodark roast this morning was exquisite.
The afternoon cup was a little harder to come by—but again, well worth it. Admittedly, I was first seduced solely by the coffee shop’s name: Modern Times. I immediately texted Alan Chapman, who asked me to pick up a mug or a T-shirt or some other logo swag for him to wear or drink from as he hosts Modern Times, Saturday nights at 10:00 on Classical KUSC. Alas, no swag at Modern Times, the coffee shop. It’s in the basement of the bookstore Politics and Prose, itself a very fine establishment—on Connecticut Avenue, just below Nebraska. An Americano, some Toni Morrison, and this blog post: the perfect way to spend a brisk, cloudy afternoon in our nation’s capital.
A Facebook fan of Classical KUSC (are YOU one, by the way?) suggested I check out Busboys and Poets (locations in Gallery Place and U Street). Looks amazing! Hopefully, I can swing by tomorrow morning on my way to catch the Amtrak to Philadelphia.
~ Brian Lauritzen