Friday Question of the Day – Best Coffee/Cafe in DC?

Photo by PoPville flickr user MrTinDC

It’s been a long time since we talked best coffee in town and with new spots seemingly opening left and right, I thought it was worth an update. Just looking at the number of good spots on the poll below is kinda amazing. I’m guessing a lot of the responses will be geographically based – like I’ll say Qualia because it’s the closest really good coffee to where I live – so if there are coffee spots that you travel to just for the coffee I’d be especially interested to know of those too. So where’s your favorite coffee cafes in town?

159 Comment

  • Vigilante? I know they don’t have a space right now, but you can still find their coffee around.

  • randomduck

    The Coffee Bar is my current favorite: great baristas, high quality beans both locally sourced and sourced from afar, and a superlative building with ample outdoor seating in the warmer months.

  • *Gash* No option for Baked and Wired?! Unacceptable.

    • An option was added some time in the 9 hours between Lindsey’s post and when I voted for B&W. I haven’t had the coffee at most of the other places, but the combination of the excellent coffee and baked goods at B&W makes it tough to beat.

      • jburka

        Actually, go give the baked goods at The Wydown a try. They’ve got a tiny pastry kitchen crammed in to a corner behind the bar and the pastry chef is turning out pretty extraordinary stuff. The lavender blackberry scones are a classic, and the pumpkin muffin I had last Sunday was the best I’ve ever had. The coffee cake, the cheddar corn muffin with smoked paprika, the chocolate chip cookies…it’s pretty great.

  • The Coffee Bar is good; Filter does a good job; La Colombe is tasty, although their recent price increases were cheeky.

    That said, coffee drinks — espresso-based drinks, mainly — in DC are about 200-300% more expensive than in the finest cafes of Italy — as long as you are drinking your coffee at the bar, but even sitting down in Italy (where you also get served by a waiter in a tux), a coffee is often cheaper than a cappuccino in a paper cup in DC (yes, I’m adjusting for the exchange rate.) It makes me laugh to hear people speak about “espresso” as if it’s some kind of luxury product — no, absolutely not; it’s just a different method of preparing coffee. A shot of espresso should cost no more than $1.30 (including tax), absolute maximum — but, here, it often costs $2.50.

    For fear of sounding arrogant, I think I could put a lot of these coffee shops out of business if I opened a true coffee “bar” where customers standing — and drinking — at the bar paid close to cost, and those sitting paid a higher price.

    • Well stated and reflects much of what I too experience when in Italy. And the actual bar format creates a social dynamic not yet found in one if the DC spots.

      • Thank you! Agreed on the social dynamic and pleasant nature. Much nicer than waiting in a line around a machine.

    • Sig Oth and I were just fantasizing about doing that exact thing – opening a true Italian coffee bar in DC. It’s one of the things we miss the most about life in Italy.

    • jburka

      This was my experience with gelato in Italy — no better than what I could get at Pitango or Dolcezza, but significantly cheaper. Which is why I typically have gelato from one of DC’s premium shops roughly once a year.

      But coffee? No. I drank plenty of coffee and espresso in Italy, and none of it compared in quality to what’s being poured and pulled by the third wave shops here in DC. And the price of the drinks here is worth every penny more.

    • A flight to Italy is pretty expensive. I’ll spring for the more expensive coffee and save some time.

      • If you keep drinking $4 (+tax) cappuccinos in DC, you’ll have a flight to Italy — in the off-season — really quick. And you can enjoy some Euro 1.20 cappuccinos all day long — well, not after 10 AM, per Italian cultural rules 😉

    • I’d love to know where you all had good coffee in Italy. I lived there for 8 months and even though I actively sought out good espresso in a number of cities, I can honestly say that I never had an inspiring shot in those months. The roasted flavor seemed to always dominate the flavor of the beans. I would take an espresso from Peregrine any day over the coffee I had in Italy.

      • From Venice to Rome, I don’t think I ever had a bad coffee there, unless it came from a vending machine. Which city were you in? Pick the busiest bar, it’s usually the best.

    • I’ve always dreamt of opening a bunch of espresso trucks. $1 shots that people drink standing at a bar that wraps around the truck, as a quick pick-me-up throughout the day. I think that’s the only way to infiltrate DC with Italy’s espresso culture.

    • What’s your point? Espresso-based coffee is expensive in the States, we get it.

      • My point is that the coffee culture in DC — while offering some high quality in places — is silly on the pricing side of things.

    • I’ve had espresso at quite a few cafes in Italy, and although your espresso drinks in DC are very expensive, you simply get lower quality in Italy. Generally speaking, at US “third wave” coffee shops (which describes most in this poll), you have higher-quality, fresher beans than you’d find in Italy, prepared with more care. So the comparison is not quite equal in my opinion.

      The business model you describe re: charging a premium for seated, as opposed to standing, service is interesting, but I don’t think would be successful in DC – too many people want their coffee “to go”, even espresso (which is insane and should be outlawed, but that’s another matter).

      • Two additional thoughts…my favorite espresso ‘experience’ in DC is at the standing bar at Filter on Eye Street, which is just great. Also, I’d love to see DC get a few coffee carts like you see in London, which are essentially just an espresso machine attached to a glorified scooter and set up at farmers markets, churchyards, etc. – see

      • Billy, I don’t think you get lower-quality. It is true that many “bars” use, say, Illy or Lavazza instead of single-sourced beans from a tiny Guatemalan coffee plantation (or wherever), but as prior blog posts here have shown, people in DC seem to rave about the little Illy shop in Dupont Circle/Foggy Bottom, which leads me to believe that even the prosaic coffee experience in Italy is superior to a lot of the shops in the States. (I’m not saying that’s unilaterally true, but just that, from the start, Italian coffee bars often start from a higher level in terms of product and in terms of barista skill/training.)

    • You clearly aren’t an economist. A simple exchange rate does not an equality make.

  • No Swing….Seriously??

  • Don’t forget about Bakehouse and Wydown!

    • Wydown is good, but dear god are they expensive. My small coffee there was 5.50 the other day! Is it just me, or do they charge even more than the other third wave places in the area (aka Peregrine and TCB)?

      • The espresso also tasted very sour. I’m no coffee connoisseur, but I’m assuming even the most refined among us would not appreciate bitter, sour espresso.

      • Agreed, Wydown is stupidly expensive. $18 for a tiny bag of coffee beans? No thanks.

  • La Columbe. Duh!

  • Why not the Paul Bakery option?

  • No Swing’s? Blasphemy.

  • No Java House? 🙁

  • Qualia has the best beans and Filter has the best iced coffee.

    • Qualia’s coffee is good but the employees are straight dicks. They harken back to the 90’s when it was a thing for a barista to act like they were more important than their customers. I’ll drive down to Harrar from Petworth rather than walk to Qualia and be treated like an a-hole for asking for skim milk.

      • I prefer Qualia. The baked goods at Harrar are pretty bad and my latte was so hot I ended up dumping 75% of it because I didn’t have an hour to spend sitting there, waiting for it to become drinkable. I would think Room 11 would be a good compromise between the two though, awesome baked goods, good coffee, and an easy atmosphere.

        • I love Harrar, but their baked goods really are bad. On the bright side, it helps me avoid a whole bunch of carbs I’d otherwise indulge in.

      • I have been to Qualia probably 10 or more times, and I personally have never been treated poorly, or gotten that kind of an attitude. Just wanted to throw that out there.

        • I did, years ago, and it was enough to keep me from going back. Which is probably silly, because that guy is probably long gone now, but that’s the way it’s gone. For what it’s worth, the Qualia people at the CH market seems friendly enough.

  • Peregrine.
    Also that latte as the picture of this post is sad looking

  • Java House at 17th and Q can’t be beat for a cup of coffee and a bagel without all the pompous.

  • I just hafta ask – who are the Starbucks voters?

  • I’ve lived in a lot of different cities, and I have yet to find a place that makes better coffee than Sidamo. The owner there is a true master of his craft.

    • I don’t think that Sidamo has the best coffee in the city. But they might have the best owner. He’s a fantastic person. I moved away for over a year after being a regular at Sidamo for about 15 months. When I made a trip back to the shop he immediately recognized me and asked how my time away was, even remembered where and why I moved.

  • binpetworth

    Granted, I haven’t tried a lot of these places, but I’m fond of another not on the current list: Bourbon on L.

  • That One Guy

    I believe the real question is not just which store has the best coffee but which store has the best coffees and baked goods. Am I right?

  • I love whatever brand of coffee Grassroots Bakery sells. Yum!

    • Not quite a cafe, but serving one of the most progressive coffee menus in DC is Mockingbird Hill on 7th. Go there. And no, I don’t work at nor have a stake in the business.

      • What do you recommend? This is right on my morning route and I have to admit I usually pass by it and go into Uprising instead, because ‘progressive coffee menus’ intimidate me :). If you recommend something, though, I’ll definitely stop in next week!

    • They use M.E. Swing!

  • I love three-fifty bakery on 17th st and U. They’re the closest to my office and I probably go at least once a week. Such good snacks, man.

    • More love for Three Fifty! The coffee is solid and the baked goods are delicious! Moreover, it’s a really nice space and atmosphere, and the staff is wonderful.

  • Dear Pop,

    Are you gonna list the results? I’d like to try all of these but listing the top 10 or 5 would suffice.

  • Aglets

    why no love for Zekes?

  • No Pleasant Pops? Love their space/coffee.

  • Coffy Cafe! Can’t believe it’s not on the list! It’s the best place for all-day work/study.

  • pablo .raw

    Why is Starbucks on the list? They are popular but they ruin coffee.

  • Can I vote for — my kitchen? Close, cheap, good quality, no lines, and I can go there in my boxers.

    • What time are you serving?

    • I was looking for this option! Coffee just the way I like it, every morning. Free refills, wi-fi, the morning paper, NPR or my choice of ambient music, cute resident pup…

      • Keurigs at work on the weekdays, or French press at home on the weekends.
        When I do go to a coffeeshop the primary objective is something other than coffee, so it just needs to be conveniently located and have the right ambiance. So for me that usually means Pound (if I need to do work or also want food) or Peregrine (if I want to chill with a book/knitting and people-watch). The quality of coffee doesn’t really factor into it.

  • don’t go to Big Bear unless you want to wait 10 minutes for overpriced coffee made by some white kid with dreadlocks and no shoes.

    • Have to agree. I really like Big Bear at night for a good meal and a glass of wine, but in the morning it’s just… ugh.

      • Completely agree. Their morning issues kept us away entirely, but they added a great dinner service while we were gone. Now we love evenings there, particularly weekdays. Weekend mornings are absolutely out of the question.

    • austindc

      Not sure what the problem is with having a white kid make coffee, unless we need to use the staff’s skin tones to help illustrate how dark we want the roast. That being said, shoes would be nice.

    • That vine covered terrace though…

  • Not a coffee person, but Bakehouse has the best, well, baked goods around. Yum.

  • jburka

    So impossible. I live within a block and a half of TCB, Peregrine Mid-City, and The Wydown. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite among them, and when you throw in the others I go to regularly (especially Filter in Dupont) it’s even harder.

  • I voted for Kafe Bohem because it’s the only spot in DC I’ve tried (although admittedly I haven’t tried several on this list) that is small, cozy, comfortable seating, but not overcrowded. I’m not even that picky about my coffee. Any place else with a similar vibe I should check out? I almost voted for Peregrine but I have to admit I’m largely swayed by how much I love their sweet potato biscuits.

  • Best coffee, hands down, is Zekes! Best coffee cafe is Big Bear.

  • Harar Coffee at Georgia and Harvard. No frills; best coffee in town.

    • Seriously! Harrar is amazing and their bags of beans/grounds are a great deal. Super nice staff too. Can’t believe they were left off.

      And Sakofa a few blocks down makes the best iced coffee in town.

  • Baked and Wired! They make the best lattes in DC. La Colombe and Peregrine are tied for second place.

  • I’ve always loved Soho Coffee and Tea on P St. They serve good lattes in adorable mason jars, great black and white cookies, and late hours weekdays and weekends.

  • Emmaleigh504

    The coffee in this town is gross, I’m judging all of you.

    • Trolling? Sorry, but if you haven’t figured out how to order a decent cup of coffee anywhere in DC that says way more about you than about the coffee here. In other words: it’s your own fault.

      • +1. I don’t care if you’re Juan Valdez, if you think every cup of coffee in the whole city is gross, you’re incredibly biased or arrogant.

    • Lady, you are on a roll this week…I really hope you get some rest and relaxation this weekend.

    • That One Guy

      Maybe it’s DC water, not the coffee which makes it takes bad. What do you say to that?

      • Emmaleigh504

        Surprisingly the water is not an issue for me, it tastes the same as water I grew up with. I like chicory in my coffee and that’s difficult to find here. The few places that had it made terrible cups off coffee. So yeah, I find terrible coffee in this town.

        • That One Guy

          Assume you’ve gone to Bayou Bakery in Courthouse? They have chicory coffee plus their beignets alone are worth a trip there.

          • Emmaleigh504

            I never go to Courthouse, so I have not. I’ll make a trip over there to check out the coffee. Not a huge beignet fan, so I’ll trust you that they are good. Thanks for the rec.

          • There’s another Bayou coming to Capitol Hill, not sure when though.

        • Ew. Hickory coffee tastes like someone mixed coffee with cigarettes and blended into a cup. No thanks. I prefer my cigarettes in the side.

          • Yeah, man, it’s impossible to get a decent cup of hickory coffee around here. Never found a good oak coffee either.

  • On a regular day here in DC, I never go into a coffee shop just to get coffee. I always brew my coffee at home. About the only time I ever go into a coffee shop is when I’m on vacation and want some fresh brewed coffee or it’s a place like tryst that has quality food as well and I’m there for a meal.

  • Port City Java isn’t an option but I like it much better than Peregrine/Pound the Hill, which are the nearest options

    • I don’t like PCV’s coffee, and they close way too early, but it’s nice for people watching and doesn’t get nearly as crowded as Peregrine. The owners are good neighbors, too– whenever it snows they have the entire corner of sidewalk completely cleared by 6am.

  • heard good things about the coffee bar. One of my faves is the mini tryst that’s in the Phillips collection in Dupont circle. It’s kind of hidden in the art gallery but its actually really cute and very peaceful. They have good coffee and sandwiches. Also like the firehook in cleveland park which has a really nice garden patio in the back that’s great for getting work done or hanging out.

  • Azi’s!!! I liked La Colombe but some of the people working there have such miserable attitudes I don’t even want to spend money there.

  • because of the baked good accompaniments, I say Le Caprice.

  • For anyone in Petworth/Brightwood, I recommend checking out Manny’s Cafe at 5320 Georgia Ave. She is doing a great job in an under appreciated stretch of Georgia Ave. Her coffee is hot, strong, and fresh, and the type of local business that this stretch needs.

    • Yes! I stopped in there the other week. Food was good, place was cute, and the people there were really nice. Hopefully they can stay in business with the lack of foot traffic up in that area.

    • For anyone else trying to picture where on Georgia Avenue this is: It’s between Ingraham and Jefferson.

    • jim_ed

      +1. The owners are incredibly nice, the coffee is good, and the $8 chicken tibs is a steal. Owners are super cool as well. Also, they do traditional ethiopian coffee ceremonies there.

  • I’m glad to see the Illy cafe on New Hampshire in the poll. I’m not much of a hang-out-in-a-coffee-shop kind of person, but I love Illy coffee. The people who work at this shop are very nice and make great coffee drinks. If I need a caffeine fix and I’m in the area, I make sure to go there. You can also hang out in the hotel lobby which has a lot of comfy couches if you want to spend more time there with your drink.

    • With you on the Illy. If you’re north of Dupont, Three Fifty serves Illy and has excellent baked goods as well.

    • I love their coffee. But I can never go in the AM, because their service is tremendously slow and I am always running late.

  • Flying Fish should be down for the worst coffee… great atmosphere but only go there if you want to drink burnt water (pretty sure they can’t call that coffee) and eat stale baked goods.

    • Troll much?

    • Yeah, I think this is uncalled for. Their coffee isn’t the greatest, but perfectly adequate–certainly better than Starbucks and co. (and this coming from a serious coffee snob). And all the baked goods I’ve had there have been delicious!

  • Mug of Glop

    If you don’t want to read all my nonsense below, Compass Coffee is my all-around best in show at the moment, I think.

    Since Columbia Heights Coffee closed, I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding a place I can go to just sit down and do some reading or writing or something. Everywhere I’ve found is either too trendy and industrial to be calming or way, way to busy (La Colombe?). I really do have to try The Coffee Bar, though, since I discovered it exists a couple weeks ago and is only like two blocks from my house! Maybe you all can offer some suggestions!

    For just grabbing a cup, I like:
    Dolcezza – because it’s so close since I moved to Logan
    Qualia – depending on the bean of the day, as I’m a darker roast fan
    Harrar was my go-to place on the way to work from Columbia Heights and was a really good value
    Peregrine was good the couple times I’ve been there
    I didn’t like Wydown because it was way more expensive for way smaller a cup than it should have been, and I didn’t like Tynan at all.
    La Caprice is okay, but usually I’m concentrating too much on the croissant to even notice!

    For beans, I’ve gotten Qualia, Harrar, and right now I’m drinking Compass. I like dark roasts, which Qualia doesn’t do, so they’re a little hit and miss with my preferences, but Harrar has been reliable and this pot of Compass is pretty good.

  • I don’t drink coffee, but everyone in my office seems to love Juan Valdez. Just throwing it out there. I personally voted for DD, where I can get basically a gallon of iced tea for $1.

  • Sankofa on Georgia btw. Fairmont and Girard—really tasty spiced coffee plus awesome croissantwiches. Outdoor seating in a garden set back from the street.

  • Had to vote for TCB because of the cardamom latte, but I love Wydown because they sell Kaldi Coffee’s beans. They are the best espresso beans around IMO and I’ve tried them all, though I’ve yet to visit Kaldi’s flagship in Silver Spring.

    • I believe the Kaldi’s they serve at Wydown are Kaldi’s from St. Louis, not Kaldi’s of Silver Spring. They’ve got a Midwest thing going..PT’s, Kaldi’s, Intelligentsia

      • Thanks- that explains why the slick design on the coffee bags is nothing like the messy website I found for the local Kaldi’s. You saved me a disappointing trip to SS.

  • Please add Mockingbird Hill and Slipstream to the list..

  • That One Guy

    Pardon this non sequitur, but does any one still have a disloyalty card and are coffee shops still participating? Curious to find out.

    • em

      I have a disloyalty card! The trouble is, I’m too loyal to Swing’s – or rather that I don’t venture to the other places when I’m in the coffee mood – so that’s the only mark I have so far.

    • If you can find a disloyalty card, any shop on there will still participate. However, there were only two small printings of the cards so good luck finding one.

  • I love TCB. Great coffee, awesome people and wonderful space. I spend entirely too much money there. I will also do Peregrine, Bakehouse, Wyndown and Dolcezza, but TCB is the best. I wish they had a kitchen or some more food options, though.

  • Room 11! They are the only one in the region to carry Four Barrel Coffee and they have the best baked goods (though I think they supply Dolcezza with their baked goods too). Wish they opened at 7am instead of 8am though… I have to be at work at 8am

  • I used to love going to Qualia, but it’s too cramped. Too small.

  • Peregrine also has Union Market location not listed

  • Lots of great options on this list, but I have to show some love for Little Red Fox. Great cappucinos and iced coffees

  • Some people actually chose Starbucks? (Headslap)

  • I would prefer any coffee shop that offers one– and one-size only — of espresso-based drinks (e.g. TCB, Colombe, Filter, etc.)

    Places, like Compass, that offer three sizes of cappuccino are behaving in a silly fashion — and showing that they are placing profits ahead of adherence to authenticity in preparation of Italian coffee drinks.

    • A place of business putting profits ahead of authenticity?!? Nevvverr!

      • Well, being authentic can also lead to more business. Nobody complains that Two Amy’s doesn’t offer mega-monster-size pizzas.

    • Lol. Clearly you don’t own your own business! Should they also stop serving after 10am? If this logic was to rule the day, there would no food at Irish restaurants, Indian restaurants would have no western toilets and Chinese restaurants would let you spit on the floor.

  • I wonder how much this poll correlates to where Pop-readers live. I live in Bloomingdale, so voted for Big Bear–which is my go to but also the nearest fancybeans near me…

    • I was thinking the same. I think Baked & Wired has great coffee drinks, but never think about them because I’m rarely in Georgetown when I want my morning coffee. I totally voted for a place near my house.

  • randomduck

    The other thing that annoys me about most DC coffeehouses: they close ridiculously early! I love places that are open late, as I don’t always want a beer or liquor late at night – sometimes I want to have coffee and a baked good (or soup), hang out with friends at a café, and just chill.

    You can do this all over Europe.

    You can even do this in Salt Lake City, fer the love of Pete!

    But in DC? Almost nothing. Tryst is über crowded, though they are open late. SoHo on 22nd and P NW is open late, though the outdoor area is just a sea of smokers most nights (and the coffee isn’t great – it can be, but it depends on who is manning the espresso machine). Bakehouse stays open somewhat late. But the other great coffee places in DC? Closed by 8pm, if not earlier.

  • Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown !

  • i only buy Le Columba coffee unless I’m out of town then I’m forced to drink starbucks

  • Where is Uprising on this list?

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