A New Contender for Best Coffee in Town?

A friend of mine swears by this place located at 1143 New Hampshire Ave NW. I know they are not exactly like an independent coffee house but how would say they rank compared to Qualia, Peregrine, Big Bear, Mid City, Filter etc? While we talked about the best Latte in town here for this one let’s just say a regular brewed cup.

On a side note, would you say this is the best coffee to use if you brew your coffee home?

48 Comment

  • I’ve had illy at several fine hotels and restaurants, and I must say that compared to starbucks (which tastes burnt), illy is far superior. I find it’s best enjoyed with some Zatarain’s jambalaya (which I prefer to cook in a 2-3 inches of premium olive oil). That combo really puts me into a food coma. I’m also getting into cider.

  • As a Portland, Ore. transplant, Counter Culture beans (sold at Big Bear, Sticky Fingers, etc) are the best you can find in this city for brewing coffee at home, in my opinion.

    Still searching for the perfect espresso here in DC, though.

  • Define the best coffee. I used to work near there: best cappuccino in town. period. I went by for the first morning in several months a few weeks ago. It just made all the coffee shops in Union Station depressing.

    As far as at home goes: Do you have an espresso machine, or a moka? (the little stove top espresso maker) If you do, the coffee is great – but you can get latvazza (in the black can) for about 1/2 and it’s almost as good.

    If you want drip, or french press: try M.E. Swings on G, just off 17th St NW.

  • I have to say that this particular illy store does indeed serve a fantastic latte. More care is given to the one cup vs 20 at a Starbucks. As for coffee at home, I second the stove top 3 shot percolator and use Cafe Bustelo although illy espresso at home is great as well.

  • In my experience, if you’re brewing at home the best coffee is from Timor Bodega. It’s always freshly roasted and top quality beans. The only problem is they don’t always have it so you either have to call to find out or keep checking.

    Captcha: is grimacing LOL

  • Best mocha latte in DC, hands down. Soooo smooth. Nothing like an iced mocha on a hot summer day.

  • Oh i’m going to need to go check this place out. I had no idea there was an Illy in DC, but a couple of years ago on a trip through Tuscany I discovered the joy of Illy. Over there they have both Illy standalone stores as well as Illy-licensed operations within other restaurants. Not even in the same league as starbucks. Do they sell the super thick hot chocolate?

    • yep…. i think this is the only illy store in the US… it is a tester to see if they want to expand into the bigger cities here. there may be a NY location too, cant remember.

      illy is my favorite bean hands down. i brew the beans at home and i love their lattees etc. as well. went crazy for it when i first visited london.

      they also sell illy coffee at Pete’s pizza in columbia heights.

  • Illy also makes excellent and arty home cappuccino makers, though they are very expensive.

  • Illy packages their coffee bean into metal canisters that look like those little “home” Heineken kegs. They also prepack ground espresso beans into these pods which are inserted into espresso/cappuchino machines. Good stuff and I dont even drink coffee!

  • qualia is the best! you can often buy beans that were roasted that morning and the guy is a total expert.

    • I second that… you can’t beat Qualia.

      • Qualia rocks! Just wish they had a little more seating area

        • I’ll fourth that. The coffee is great and Joel even makes sure to have nut-free muffins on weekends so my husband can take the baby out for coffee and breakfast.

          • A fifth vote for Qualia. The coffee is fantastic. That’s where I buy all my beans.

          • A 6th vote for Qualia, they rock. Amazing selection of beans roasted that day or the day before. I make all kinds of coffee at home, drip, french press, espresso (machine), toddy. I haven’t found a better bean in DC.

  • No don’t buy rancid stale coffee people. Most of these places are using stale coffee that was roasted months ago and possibly ground before it was bagged. This is bad coffee automatically. Also a lot of it wasn’t shade grown or uses robusta instead of arabica beans, or over-roasted the coffee beans. These are crimes against humanity. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Once you grind the fresh bean, you have only a day or so to use it before it spoils. It only takes a few hours for fresh ground coffee to spoil if fully exposed to the air. Whole Coffee beans go rancid – stale and nasty – only a couple weeks after they are roasted, because they are loaded with unsaturated volatile oils that rapidly oxidize and spoil upon contact with air or sunlight. The best coffee comes from high-altitude Arabica plants grown in the shade in a tropical climate with rich soil – I prefer Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hawaii, etc. Many places over-roast the bean which destroys the unique flavor profiles. Go for the lighter roasts. Also you should use an adjustable burr grinder so you can grind it to the correct grain size for the method of brewing that you are utilizing. The finest setting is for Turkish coffee, using an Ibik (only very expensive grinders can do this). Espresso machines use the extra fine setting, Moka pots and drip brewers with a cone-shape filter use the fine setting, drip brewers with a flat bottom are a medium grind, french press, percolators, vacuum pots, uses a very coarse grind – and it has to be consistently course, don’t think you can get away with a cheap chopper grinder for this it doesn’t work.

    • thats weird bc I buy a bag of coffee, get it ground, and put it in a canister. I then drink it over the course of a couple months. Not only does the taste not change, its not bad.

      Are you a bit over sensitive?

      • No. He is not oversensitive, he is absolutely right. Coffee is very sensitive to air and if you brew it wrong or treat the beans wrong, you are not going to get a good cup. But, odds are you never had a good cup, so you wouldn’t notice. Most people here in the U.S. have no idea how to make coffee. And, restaurants are the worst — even the most expensive places brew a pot at 11am and let is stew on the burner all through lunch. Yucky, yuck, yuck.

        Dr. Illy (http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/coffeeatthemoment/02-04-2008) would be rolling over in his grave.

        • coffee is maybe the best example of a food in which there is no accounting for taste… some people are like Lee Watkins who only want certain beans from certain countries, fresh, ground a certain way etc. and some people love instant folgers in a dirty mug.

    • All of that is important, but it’s also important how you treat the beans before you brew.

      If you ever want to have coffe that doesn’t suck, you need to use this method:


      • Those Chemex coffee ‘makers’ are great. Basically just a manual drip system, but with their pot and filters I think you get decent coffee even if you’re using only halfway good beans. Rodmans up on Wisconsin Ave near Friendship Heights sells them in their bizzaro downstairs ‘housewares’ section.

        As for local coffee shops – I’ve been a big fan of Mid City Caffe at 14th and Corcoran.

    • Is this why every coffee shop I’ve been to recently –Peregrine, Starbucks, Port City Java, Big Bear all have the most rancid coffee imaginable? I mean it tastes TERRIBLE. It’s consistently terrible too; like they’re all using the same distributor despite their ‘independent’ coffee house label. Fair Trade my butt, it’s not fair if I’m paying $5 and you’re giving me swill.

      My wife and I made 2 special trips to Big Bear after all the hype and I won’t go back until I hear conclusively that they’ve changed their coffee. Horrific. I avoid PCJ and Peregrine like the plague now.

      I haven’t had any coffee problems at SOVA, but my wife won’t go there because the coffee’s so strong it makes her anxious all day. So, mostly I brew at home. I splurged for the keurig machine and it’s consistently decent coffee.

      Seriously, is it the distribution chain out here that sucks so bad? I can’t imagine that everyone’s consistently screwing up coffee this bad on purpose.

      • Personally I think one of the reasons the coffee is so bad is not the coffee itself or even that it sits (because considering the amount of coffee we go though can’t be that long) but how it is brewed.

        I switched to an electric percolator from a drip. Percolator brewed coffee is ten times better IMO. I will never buy a drip again. Ever.

    • “These are crimes against humanity.”
      Might be time to switch to decaf, Lee

      captcha = fret condition

  • Yeay, Qualia is superior…

  • I think Folgers instant is the best coffee

  • Yes, Illy is hands down the best coffee in DC. Thank God it’s not a good place for hanging out or it would be packed all the time. And I always do Illy at home, too. Mmmmm, coffee.

  • Man we are a bunch of yuppies in training 😉

  • Sidamo’s beans are the best I’ve found in the city for brewing at home.

  • Cork Market sells StumpTown which is a great variety; the espresso blend is Hairbender, and its divine. For quick and easy, I just throw some Mayorga into the grinder and dripbrew away. $8 for 2 pounds at Costco; beat that!

  • Illy is excellent and consistent.

    Bourbon Coffee is up there as well, and is just a few blocks away. 2101 L Street.

  • Haven’t been to Illy, but need to show some love for Filter. Wasn’t expecting much from a basement storefront, but yummmm

  • +1 Lee Watkins and I’ll second Qualia/Sidamo. I’m not TERRIBLY picky about coffee but fresh coffee is an entirely different experience than anything that’s been roasted, ground, and sealed months ago, including Illy/Starbucks/etc. If you’re going to go that route, though, something like french press or hand pour is the best way to get all the lovely fresh, distinctive flavors of varietal coffee. Espresso is something else entirely (and I know for a fact that Joel @Qualia has struggled a bit to find a bean/roast/blend that makes good espresso).

    Also, let me put in a plug for Filter at 20th and S in Dupont Circle.

  • I get the beans from Qualia which are never more than a day or two past roast. burr grinder and manual drip with the chemex. perfection.

  • Illy is solid. Favorites are Chinatown Coffee and Mid-City on 14th. Another contender that no one seems to ever mention in the coffee wars is Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown/Burleith. They use Illy coffee, but the quality of their espresso drinks is excellent. The food’s good too.

  • I’ve never been there, but will try it. For my own personal use, I buy raw coffee beans and roast them myself! Incredible and delectable!

  • I’m not fussy about my coffee (for me, it’s the caffeine that matters), but I do appreciate a good cup once in a while. Qualia’s “happy hour” is great: you choose the bean you want, and they grind it and drip brew it for you. It takes a few minutes, but wow, does it taste good!

  • Qualia is the most legit coffee house in the city. They’re friendly (unlike Chinatown and Big Bear), clean (unlike Big Bear),absolutely have the freshest beans and the best personality around.

  • As a side note, Georgetown cupcake seems to serve Illy coffee, or atleast they do at the Bethesda Georgetown Cupcake – shouldn’t that be Bethesda Cupcake? – and it was pretty non-remarkable.

    I’m not a coffee expert, but a regular coffee drinker, and I think good coffee is a function of (1) when the beans were ground, (2) when the coffee was brewed. Filter and the Illy above get this right – haven’t tried qualia. Brew when the coffee is ordered. Starchumps gets this really, really wrong, plus their beans suck.

  • i’m not much of a coffee drinker, but i like Illy, and i LOVE THE CANS!!!

  • Another vote for Qualia, my favorite coffee place when I’m springing for the good stuff. Also, a vote for Pronto, from Annapolis. I hear Room 11 serves their beans, but haven’t tried it there (don’t usually go to Room 11 for coffee, you know?).

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