I like to spread the wealth, as one might say, when it comes to my daily latte. I stick close to home and office and make my way through the homegrown places I’ve found on my routes. Compass Coffee has the most bite of the five, with Java Shack and Baked & Wired on the other end with a smoother espresso. I don’t know the ins and out of coffee and espresso beans, but I know what I like in a latte experience. It’s a way of finding local color and being social, without having to be too social. You’re immersed in warm nutty aromas in a comforting environment, even if you’re getting your latte to go during the weekday morning rush. It’s my way of easing into the work day or welcoming a Saturday morning.
Northside Social on a weekend morning (or weekday holiday afternoon) is in constant movement. There’s never a good place to stand – you’re always moving out of someone’s way, whether it be kitchen staff, baristas, or other customers – while waiting for your latte to be made. Half the people are plugged into their tablets and laptops clicking away at the rows of tables and the other half in animated conversation with their table mates. It’s all ages here. It’s an energetic atmosphere. The slight sweetness of my latte pairs well with one of Northside’s egg and spinach breakfast sandwiches on buttery slices of Italian loaf. The egg is poached, but you can ask for it hard cooked, if you’re like me and like your egg yolks a nice pale yellow and dry as a bone. Easing into a seat at one of the outside tables on the triangular shaped patio you can sip and eat in the warmth of the sun.
Baked & Wired, on the side of a hill heading down narrow Thomas Jefferson Street in Georgetown, is my favorite girlfriends’ meet up or hang out. Rarely have I escaped the long line for coffee drinks on a weekend morning, and stalking a seat on the curved couch or random chair is necessary if you’re not taking your latte to go. But, oh, does that latte have the right touch of sweetness and creaminess! And, there’s no judgment here if you sit down to a morning Peanut Butter and Chocolate cupcake with your latte. Baked & Wired is also a joy to get to. I’ll take the metro just a few stops to Rosslyn and enjoy the 20-minute walk across the Key Bridge and down M Street, or if the weather encourages a not-so-sweaty-run, it’s just shy of 3 miles, all down-hill, to meet C and catch up on what’s happened in our lives over the last month or so. It’s the perfect spot to meet M and S for a latte to-go and head down to the Potomac River with our cups for an active walk along Georgetown’s waterfront and up to the Lincoln Memorial and across Memorial Bridge, and then back.
When I head to the Saturday farmer’s market at Courthouse Plaza in Arlington, I’m first visiting Java Shack , which is my ultimate laid-back latte experience. I heard the strains of Hotel California playing behind the coffee bar this morning. Java Shack is unpretentious in the extreme; it’s been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades. It doesn’t intend to change, and that’s been honored by Virginia’s Commonwealth Joe, who took over in 2015. This is why I love it. It’s reliably shack-like and the baristas are easily warm and friendly. Even when there’s a line in front of the coffee bar, it moves. No one feels like they’re in a rush. There’s no sense of pushiness here. And while there are plugged in folks leaning over their ipads, it feels like they’re a part of the background. The outdoor patio is a known hang out for dog owners and their dogs, older and younger and all sizes. Get the Java Shack card if you’re a regular and with 10 stamps your 11th drink is free.
I walk in and each time there is a very different soundtrack playing in the background at Compass Coffee. Diagonally across from the Farragut West metro, Compass is fresh-faced, young and efficient. The Farragut Compass is in the environs of George Washington University and its baristas seem like college or graduate students, or just-out-of-college and just-out-of-graduate school students. They always make sure they spell your name correctly on your to-go cup. The space is bright and clean in orange and blue and white. The coffee bar is low and the coffee-making visible. The baristas stand four-across and work an assembly line from espresso machine, down to milk frothing, to cold brew. Leaning on the slice of natural wood bar in the middle of the space, I check my email and ready my podcast selection for the satisfying 20-minute walk to work, latte and comfort in hand.
I alternate Compass Coffee with Swing’s Coffee Roasters on 14th and G streets. My shoulders relax when I enter this soothing place where the latte is one of the smoothest. The baristas are confident and unhurried. The coffee is serious but not pretentious. The small space with high ceilings reflects its more than a century-old DC origins and downtown office location. This is where suits and heavy wood mingle in a coolly serene place. This is where coffees carefully spiced for the holidays are announced quietly on a card in an unobtrusive lucite block placed by the register. I not only gain an espresso here, but a reflective start to the workday.