Filter Cafe



Filter Cafe was second on my “outliers” tour.  It was near a train stop, but one that was relatively out of the way- Dupont Circle on the red line.  After a lovely train ride and eventual departure from the air conditioned bliss that is the D.C. metro, I hoofed it a few blocks to Filter Cafe which is situated in what amounts to a back alley off of the main street.  It is bizzare street- just back entrances to buisnesses (dry cleaners and the like) with people smoking on them, then a small coffee shop.

Filter Cafe would be at home on Newbury Street in Boston.  It shares a lot of architectural themes that you find at places like Wired Puppy or Sofa Cafe, which is to say it is a garden level shop with a few patio tables out front, with a long, brick lined interior containing few tables.  It even has a bay window as an entrance.  Unlike Boston, it was still insanely humid and hot and I arrived to find it full of people seeking air conditioned asylum there, so I had to sit outside.  Also, Newbury street is not a back alley.

Since I got there in the afternoon, I was compelled to order a pour over (no drip coffee is available in the afternoon).  Like Newbury street, this was expensive.  I opted for what I hoped would be a fruity African blend, which was served in a small cup with the Filter logo silkscreened onto it.  It was black on the outside, with orange enamel on the inside.  The coffee was acidic and smoky, without much fruityness to balance it out.  It had a lingering minty aftertaste, but your milage may vary.  Overall not a bad cup of coffee, just not my favorite flavor.

Since all thirteen indoor seats were taken, and I didn’t want to sit on a windowsill, I ended up sitting outside pondering the insanity of drinking 10 ounces of hot coffee in the brutal DC heat.  Fortunately, this gave me a chance to assess the patio situation.  The options were two faux-cedar folding tables accompanied by pop-orange plastic molded chairs, or a weathered white oak bench.  I opted for a chair at an empty table, and hoped that someone left the inside before I finished my coffee.


That’s the whole thing!  13 seats, weird lights, coffee bar

At some point, I noticed  few people leaving so I swooped in and took their seat in the refreshing air-conditioned room.  The indoors is your typical long brick room, on the right there is seating, including a bench with five tables and five chairs (10 seats), as well as a small 3 seat bar with stools.  The left is occupied by the coffee counter, including pour over station, espresso, and pastry area.

The chairs are red, which matches their custom printed vinyl-wrapped La Marzocco, and the bricks.  The rest of the place is made of various kinds of wood stained in slightly mismatched walnut colors.  The low ceiling, air conditioning, and dark wood give it a cool, underground feeling, although I bet in the winter this turns into a cozy, warm space quite easily.

The lighting was dim, contributing to the cool cave-like feel, but the upside-down glass light shades projected crazy (but totally static) patterns on the walls.  The light temperature was warm from bouncing off all of the walls, which definitely put some points in the warm/cozy column.

I think one of my favorite parts was a printed poster (on plain A4 paper) that declared “My body is like a filter, coffee goes in and sarcasm comes out”.  That and they also have a bathroom (possibly a legal requirement in DC).


Purveyors of “Functional Objects For All Surface”

On the way back to the train I stopped at “Tabletop” to pick up a new notebook- I had filled up my last page and I needed more space for the rest of the shops!



Dolcezza next to the bus stop

On my way from Slipstream to a bus stop, I ran into yet another cafe!  As I mentioned, part of the rules of coffee travel is that if you see a real cafe, you have to go.  And so I went.

Dolcezza is a gelato bar and espresso shop.  It is spotlessly clean, and extremely cold inside.  All of the places in D.C. have some kind of air conditioning, but only here was I verging on uncomfortably cold.  As in, bring-a-jacket winter-is-coming cold.  but it was also a relief from the humid and hot outdoors, so it was bearable.

I had an espresso shot.  Unlike the rest of the country, all the esprsssos I got in D.C. were actually single shots- not double shots.  Typically in Boston/LA/SF I see an “espresso” being pulled as a double shot for americanos and espressos, but in D.C. they were all just single shots.

The shot was served in a brown, thick walled espresso cup with matching saucer.  Surprisingly, there was no sparkling water to go with it, although other people seemed to get some.  The coffee was very acidic, with a fruity finish and a sweet aftertaste- I think it was stumptown hair bender roast.


The interior

The cafe is laid out around a long bar with gelato and coffee.  A doorway protrudes into the space in the middle of the bar, creating to bays for small tables and chairs (pictured).  The floor is white tile and is quite clean.  Overall, it reminds me of a very clean ice cream parlor or train station.  The tables are marble-esque, and the chairs are stained red wood upholstered with red leather, or wood stained to match the chairs.  Both are comfortable enough.

I believe this is supposed to be an Italian styled place, and it does seem like it would be at home in the north end in Boston.  It does seem like a place where you could come and comfortably read the paper or meet up with someone, but I think the gelato (which I did not try) is their real strength, not coffee.  If I went back,  I would have to try it.

Northside Social


The approach to NoSo

Northside Social, or “NoSo” is out in what might be considered the suburbs of Washington D.C.  It is a huge building, boasting ample patio seating, a huge first floor, and a second floor which is a wine bar (with an espresso machine).  It is certainly the biggest coffee bar I visited on my trip, and it is open late because of the wine bar- this made it the ultimate destination for my day 1 trip, since I could arrive at just about any time and still expect the place to be open.

I had a cup of drip coffee, roasted by intelligentsia.  I may have been a little exhausted and buzzed at this point, but I would describe the coffee as smoky and acidic, with a fruity aftertaste.  It is worth noting that there are two options for drip coffee- a regular cup, and a “mug” of coffee which is two 10 oz mugs of coffee (one refill).  I am impressed by how considerate and innovative they are with this offering- this is the only place I have seen something like this on the menu, almost explicitly inviting you to stay for as long as possible.


2nd Floor/Wine Bar

The inside of the cafe is tastefully decorated in coffee-drip paintings of famous actors and personages.  The tables are wooden, and plentiful.  Towards the back of the cafe the tables get  little less uniform, but they is still a ton of seating.  The second floor wine bar is decorated with more paintings, and is furnished with light wood tables and bar stools.  If you look carefully, you can see Clint Eastwood in the photo above.

The wine bar was equally as inviting and as accommodating as the coffee bar.  I ordered a highly modified and delicious grilled cheese for dinner, while I made some notes on my trip so far (pictured above).




Slipstream was not on my original list, but as I was headed to compass coffee on day 2, I passed it.  One of the rules of coffee travel is that if you come across a decent looking cafe, you must go- so I went!

It turned out to be a great decision.  First off, I was hungry, and their breakfast food options were much better than any of the other coffee shops I visited that day.  Second, they have good coffee, as well as coffee cocktails-  not something you see everyday (or ever, in MA).  I was sorely tempted to try one of the coffee cocktails, but it was 8 A.M. and I had a long day of coffee ahead of me, so I opted for my gold standard of coffee comparison- a cup of black drip coffee.


toast for breakfast

The coffee is apparently roasted by “Madcap Coffee” and it is balanced between sweet and acidic.  It is not unlike el gallo blend, but it is balanced instead of acidic.  It was served in a notneutral lino coffee mug, which is actually a fairly normal looking white mug.

The bar stools and chairs are a light colored wood, while the tables are stained a dark walnut color.  I think this brings attention to the weighty tables, over the chairs, which are comfortable but unremarkable.


The back, under the skylights

The lighting is interesting and worth noting, since the place is a single large chamber that serves as both a brunch spot, a bar, and a coffee shop.  It is modern and clean, with lots of glass, wood, air and light.  Most of the light is provided by the floor-to ceiling windows at the front of the cafe, as well as the skylights at the back of the cafe.  The rest is rather dimly lit by reflected light from the outdoors, and more indirect lighting from large domed reflectors on the ceiling.  This means that there is little in the way of direct lighting, making the inside seem soft.  In the daytime this gives it a cool, shady feeling, and I imagine at night it gives it a nice bar ambiance.

I am very happy that I made the stop at slipstream.  I ended up with a full stomach and plenty of time left to explore the rest of the city.

Compass Coffee


Compass Coffee

Compass was my first planned coffee stop for the day.  The location I visited was just a few bus stops from the Dolcezza.  It is a single-story brick building packed to the gills with coffee products, seating, and what appears to be the compass coffee roasting operation.

I ordered a small drip coffee, which was made with their cardinal blend, and a saag-paneer filled pastry, similar to a bao.  The pastry dough was sweet, and the sag-paneer was spicy and bizarre, but in the best way.  The coffee was smoky and sweet, a little acidic but not very fruity.  The coffee was served in a paper cup.


Roasting operation

I sat at a bar in front of their coffee roasters.  Like slipstream, light was provided mainly by numerous skylights and windows rather than with artificial lighting.  This, combined with the brick, gives the place a warm glow.  The place was pretty packed, with a long line when I arrived.  But there was plenty of space inside, and I think pretty much anyone who wanted a seat got one.


Sitting area

As you can see in the photo, they have pretty much every kind of cafe chair, ranging from various heights of 4-legged metal stools, to orange and white metal chairs.  The wood was mostly light colored pine and veneer, which was complemented by the white paint and tile.  The somewhat high ceiling and skylights give it an airy, clean, and open feeling.  this feeling conflicts somewhat with the general cramped mess and busyness of the floorplan.

Chinatown Coffee Company


The unassuming entrance

The CCC lacks the usual signage out front, but once you get inside, it is clear that it is a coffee shop.  They seem to serve intelligentsia coffee, but they also sell retail heart coffee.  As one would expect, the coffee is good. The coffee was balanced, with a smoky aftertaste.  It was served in an hourglass shaped diner mug, like the ones that Diesel sold before switching to intelligentsia-ware.


This shop is long!

The interior of the shop is long.  The grey bulkhead that comes out of the ceiling, the rail, and the long coffee bar all help make it seem even longer, emphasizing a far away vanishing point.  Their logo is three cups over two bars, which is similar to the flag of the District of Columbia.  Definitely clever.

On the left side, there are small four legged stools mixed with creamsicle chairs- white on the outside, orange on the seat.  These seats face each other over low spool tables.  In the front of the shop there is a bar at the window, and two very expensive looking tables with matching benches.  These feature a dark wood tabletops, metal frames and narrow benches.  It was a surprisingly comfortable spot to sip my coffee and read my book.

Peregrine Coffee



Peregrine next to NOT Peregrine (La Pain Quotidien)

Peregrine Coffee was the first stop on my coffee tour.  It seemed easy to get to form the Hirshhorn and it would be my only stop out on the east side of DC.  I arrived at about 4:00, drenched in sweat from my two-block walk over from the East Market stop on the Blue Line.  Say what you will about the heat on the west coast, but at least it is a dry heat!

This location is located right next to a non-peregrine cafe.  I was almost lured into buying coffee from them but the brew-o-matic and lack of coffee menu made me think twice, and check outside.  Sure enough, Peregrine was right next door.

Since it was about 90 degrees and humid, I opted for a smaller espresso instead of my usual small black coffee (the real standard for judging a coffee place).  I also ordered a ham and cheese pastry.

The pastry did not inspire any real confidence in me, with its single roll of ham and sparse cheese, but I devoured it anyway since I was hungry.  It was decent-edible but not a reason to come back.  Eventually my espresso was up (after a mix up that almost landed me with a macchiato).

The coffee on the other hand, was short- by that I mean it was a single shot of espresso.  One unusual thing I learned is that in DC, espresso is normally a single shot instead of the doubles you find in Boston and LA or SF.  Overall I was happy with the coffee.  It as fruity and the acid was fairly balanced.  They clearly have some idea of what they are doing over there with their machine and their counterculture coffee (they also have a house peregrine brand).  It was served in a standard white saucer/espresso cup/spoon, along side what I assume was supposed to be sparkling mineral water in a libbey druatuff glass.  Unfortunately this turned out to be lukewarm water, which was trumped by the free ice water they were also serving.


Pear Eh Grin

The decor was cute, but not in a way that stands out.  It felt like it was new and nice, and organized.  Inviting, but not too exciting.  They did have a funny rendition of their name on the wall (pictured above).  There is interior and exterior seating available.  The inside consists of a small square of tables in the front (about 4 people/table), a bar for seating for three, and another line of tables going back to the back of the cafe, each seating two.  Next to the line of tables is the coffee bar, including a pastry case, espresso machine, and retail area.  This cafe (like the rest of the ones in DC) also boasts a restroom.  Outdoors there are five tables that can probably seat three people each.


Nice, clean, but not exciting

The tables and chairs were a light blonde wood, probably pine.  The outdoor furniture is metal painted that rustoleum-lawn-furniture-green.  The counter echos this theme with a light wood and glass construction, giving the whole place a friendly (but not enlightening) interior.