The first thing you notice about M.E. Swing's new coffee bar in Del Ray is that the roaster sells cups brewed from single-origin beans only. It's a total blend-free zone, which is a radical concept for a historic roaster, founded in 1916, that built its reputation on coffee blends such as Mesco and High Mountain.
Owner Mark Warmuth has remade the historic M.E. Swing into a company that can compete in the modern coffee marketplace. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
But owner Mark Warmuth, who bought Swing in 2006, has been slowly aligning the company with the modern coffee culture of single-origin, micro-lot beans and precise, properly timed pour-over brewing methods. Under Warmuth's watch, M.E. Swing, the grandpappy of coffee in Washington, has finally traded in its DeSoto for a sleek new Prius. The company now hopes to show the ink-stamped generation of baristas that this old man still has many miles left in his tank.
"Right now, I want to showcase some of the good stuff that we're doing with single-origin [beans], because it seems to me that the biggest criticism we get as a company is that all we do is blends," says Warmuth as he stands in his new shop,formerly home to Gold Crust Baking building at 501 E. Monroe Ave. in Alexandria. The coffee bar officially opened to the public last week.
"If this is the way the industry is going. . .then we're going to do what we can to stay current," the owner adds.
Take a look at the photos below and judge for yourself on how well this old-timer has made the transition into the 21st century world of gourmet coffee.
You won't find a single blend on M.E. Swing's new coffee bar menu. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Warmuth and his team have built these custom-made pour-over stations. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The baristas at M.E. Swing pre-portion roasted beans into small tins to ensure the right amount for each pour-over. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
M.E. Swing serves cold-brewed iced coffee from a nitrogen tap line. "We don't use CO2 because it [adds] a little bit of carbonation," Warmuth says. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Some of the fixtures and tables have been constructed from reclaimed materials, including pieces from old Baltimore factories. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The cast-iron tub came from the shuttered Hershey chocolate factory in Hershey, Pa. Warmuth uses the tub for his leftover burlap coffee sacks, which customers are free to take. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The coffee bar, which celebrated its grand opening on Saturday, has already attracted a line of customers. (Tim Carman/The Washington)
The modern M.E. Swing retains a touch of retro-cool with its vinyl-based sound system. "What's interesting," says Warmuth, "is that a lot of new artists are cutting vinyl now." (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Warmuth decided it was wiser to move his 1980s-era roaster to the new facility instead of buying a new machine. "It's a good roaster," says Warmuth. "It's got real great control, so we opted to just move it over here. Let me tell you, that was a big undertaking to get this machine moved." (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The new facility has a separate room for cuppings and trainings. "We've been running Friday cuppings for the past month and a half," Warmuth says. "At some point I imagine the neighborhood is going to want to use this space for little private functions." (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The Swing coffee bar sells sweets baked at the Alexandria Pastry Shop. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.