Waiting for good joe

April 10

How long are you willing to wait for a really good cup of coffee? We timed a handful of local shops to see how long it takes to serve a cup using these different techniques.


Ian Thompson agitates the coffee grounds while using a siphon brewer to make coffee at Chinatown Coffee Co. (Photo by Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

Drip

Prep time: 8 seconds.
Even as they adopt more slow-brew methods, boutique coffee shops have deployed large-batch, easy-to-pour canisters to dispense single-origin brews. (Yes, the same ones used - gasp! - by your Starbucks.) With a flick of the tap, Bean & Bite customers fill their cups with coffee brewed from an eclectic selection of beans from roasters, including the local Vigilante Coffee and the bicoastal Blue Bottle Coffee. So, how does an eight-second coffee taste? Bold notes of chocolate and caramel seem best-served by this method, which yields a relatively nuanced, no-fuss cup (underscoring the point that good beans make a difference). Convenience, however, doesn't always equate to great coffee: The stout and fruity Three Africans blend by Blue Bottle pours from Bean & Bite's tap more flat and one-dimensional than the Guinness of coffees. $2-$3. Available at Bean & Bite, 1152 15th St. NW. beanandbite.com. Zeke's Coffee, 2300 Rhode Island Ave. NE. 202-733-2646. zekescoffee.com.
-- Lavanya Ramanathan

Espresso

Prep time: 3 minutes, 20 seconds.
Remastering the original slow brew was the first task of new-wave craft coffee shops: They chucked the soup bowls of milky cafe mocha and began revising everything they knew about beans (now ground to order), water temperature and "extraction," the term for how long your espresso must be pulled to be palatable without sweetener or cream. The baristas at Tryst have been pulling such precise shots perhaps longer than anyone in town; combine that with the several tablespoons of raw sugar in Tryst's Cuban coffee and it's easy to sip on the punchy double ristretto - that's coffeespeak for super-concentrated espresso. $2-$5. Tryst, 2459 18th St. NW. 202-232-5500. trystdc.com.
-- L.R.

Pour-over

Prep time: 4 minutes, 8 seconds.
The pour-over is a simple, efficient way to let flavors of coffee shine through. Mechanically, it's not much different than what your old Mr. Coffee machine did years ago: Hot water flows over freshly ground coffee, and the resulting blend trickles through a filter and into a glass vessel. The difference is the care that goes into the brewing: Water is swirled into the filter before coffee is added. Skilled baristas evenly saturate the grounds with hot water, allowing them to bloom and release more flavors. This is the baseline for what a good cup of coffee should be. $2.50-$3.50. Available at Peregrine Espresso, 1718 14th St. NW. 202-525-5127; 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-629-4381. 1309 Fifth St. NE (Union Market). peregrineespresso.com.
-- Fritz Hahn

Chemex


Emily Codik, a barista at Dolcezza's Coffee Lab and Gelato Factory near Union Market in Northeast, prepares coffee using a Chemex. (Lavanya Ramanathan/TWP)

Prep time: 5 minutes, 24 seconds.
The glass Chemex system is essentially a pour-over method but with a proprietary "bonded" filter designed to block bitter compounds from flowing into your coffee. It typically makes for a rounded cup of joe, though sometimes at the cost of other flavors you do want. At Chinatown Coffee, my Anjilanaka Bolivia, roasted by Intelligentsia Coffee, was a case in point: It was sweet and slightly chocolatey but had none of the "cranberry-like acidity" promised at the coffee bar. In fact, it had little brightness at all. $3-$4. Available at Chinatown Coffee, 475 H St. NW. 202-320-0405. chinatowncoffee.com. Also at the Dolcezza factory, 550 Penn St. NE. 202-333-4646. dolcezzagelato.com.
-- Tim Carman

Siphon


Ian Thompson mixes in the coffee grounds while using a brewing siphon to make coffee at Chinatown Coffee Co. on Friday, March 21, 2014. (Photo by Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

Prep time: 8 minutes, 17 seconds.
No technique exudes coffee geekdom quite like the siphon, a glass device that recalls the meth-making equipment from "Breaking Bad." Baristas pack coffee into the top chamber of the beaker-like instrument, pour hot water into its lower one and heat it over a Bunsen burner. Whoosh, science does its work, pushing the liquid up and through the grounds with bubbling force. When the burner is turned off, the water - now fully steeped coffee - is sucked back down, separating from the grounds in the process. It's kinetic. $7-$8. Available at Chinatown Coffee, 475 H St. NW. 202-320-0405. chinatowncoffee.com.
-- L.R.

Steampunk

Greg Smith says that La Colombe was one of the early adopters of the innovative Steampunk brewing system. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
La Colombe's Steampunk brewing system. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Prep time: 4 minutes, 20 seconds.
Just weeks after La Colombe's February debut in Washington, the baristas acknowledged they were still in the discovery phase with their electronically controlled Steampunk system, which combines the full-immersion brewing of a French press with the vacuum function of a siphon brewer. My cup of Doi Chaang Peaberry from Thailand, for instance, was thin and underextracted. Some chocolate notes lingered, but none of the advertised stone fruit or tobacco. But the crew also admitted they had reinforcements: A team back at the chain's Philadelphia mothership works with manufacturer Alpha Dominche on proper brewing techniques, while baristas here and in Philly work to develop the perfect coffee-to-water ratios for all La Colombe single-origin beans. $3. Available at La Colombe, 924 N St. NW, in the back of Blagden Alley. 202-289-4850. lacolombe.com.
-- T.C.

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