When Derek Brown decides to create a coffee program, he doesn't take half measures. His goal is not just to offer Washingtonians a high quality cup of joe, but to help change the culture around the morning drink.
The bartender who transformed the cocktail (something executives once pounded down at lunch as mindlessly as bar nuts) into an object of art, science and history at the Columbia Room wants to do similar things with coffee. Brown wants locals to slow down and smell the hand-pour coffee, which he's officially introducing to Mockingbird Hill on Wednesday after a short soft opening on Monday and Tuesday.
"We didn't want to just set up any coffee shop," says Brown. "As we started thinking about it, we considered the energy and effort we put into our understanding of sherry . . . and we're like, 'Well, why wouldn't we put that into the coffee as well?'"
"In the long run, we never opened this place to get rich," Brown adds about his sherry, ham and (now) coffee bar. "We opened it because we wanted to change culture."
Brown's first move toward changing the District's coffee culture was hiring Cory Andreen, who has been running his own shop, Cafe CK in Berlin, for the past five years. Andreen, 2012 winner of the World Cup Tasters Championship, is a Northern Virginia native who has been cultivating his knowledge in one of the most unlikely places: Germany, where specialty coffee remains in its early stages.
"We were trying any way we could to kind of get out of this coffee rut that Germany was in,"Andreen says. "I was working with roasters, tasting roast profiles, working with them to try to get something we liked. When it got to the point where I realized their green coffee wasn't quite what we wanted it to be, then [I] was cupping through lots of green coffee to pick out stuff for the shop."
Andreen, in short, was not just tasting coffee for his shop. He ultimately was cupping coffee to help German roasters select better green beans and then roast them to the level that brings out their finest characteristics.
"These are roles that are normally fulfilled by individual people," Andreen says.
At Mockingbird Hill, Andreen can focus more on the consumer. He will prepare coffees rarely, if ever, seen in the District: Mostly direct trade beans from such respected roasters as Tim Wendelboe in Norway, Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland and Five Elephant in Berlin. Most will be hand-poured coffees prepared from grounds tucked into a metal Hario v60 dripper; one coffee per day will be prepared via a batch brewer. There will also be iced coffee on tap, prepared hot and cooled down for the draft system.
Only the iced and batch-brewed coffees will be prepared to-go. Andreen and Brown want all other drinks to be consumed on site, like you would a craft cocktail. And, yes, they'll have WiFi, in case you want to pair your specialty coffee, a cup you're supposed to analyze and savor deeply, with BuzzFeed's list of 24 reasons a panda can never be your BFF.
The goal of Mockingbird Hill's coffee program is not to cater to all drinkers, Brown says.
"There are plenty of places that serve every single person," he says. "In fact, the person who waits in line at Starbucks ... and wants to get it with caramel cream and whip cream or whatever, that's a different person [than one] who wants to figure out what coffee is and sit down and enjoy it."
To help customers enjoy it, Andreen will pour a couple fingers of coffee into a whiskey glass, placing the remaining hot liquid in a small accompanying glass carafe. Brown says the service helps separate coffee from its fast-food and quick-service environments. It's also a psychological ploy.
As Andreen explains, many folks follow a morning ritual with their coffee, whether conscious or not. Like dumping cream and sugar into that $18 ceramic mug stamped "Thug Life." Switching out the glassware to something aligned with alcohol shakes people out of their ritual. Many will at least take one sip of unsweetened coffee when it's poured into a whiskey glass, Andreen notes.
And if they ask for half-and-half or two heaping spoons of sugar?
"We'll do it for the customer," Andreen says. "They're the ones that will be paying the money for these coffees. While I would encourage everyone to enjoy them for what they are, if somebody really wants a bit of milk and sugar, that's fine. I'm not here to change the way they drink coffee forcefully. I'd much rather that it comes naturally."
For those who do like their coffee cut with sweeteners or milk, Andreen will try to steer them to his "mixed drinks menu." These non-alcoholic drinks are all coffee-based, like the Addis Tonic, a mix of Ethiopian coffee from Heart and tonic water.
Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St. NW. Coffee bar open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The draft coffee and tea menus
Rotating coffee of the day, batch brewed, $3 per cup.
• Buzira from Five Elephant; mixed bourbon, washed. Flavor notes: blackberry, rosehip, vanilla. $4.50 per cup; $15 per bag.
• Chire from Heart; heirloom, washed. Flavor notes: currant, honey, lime juice. $4 per cup; $14.50 per bag.
• Dumerso from Tim Wendelboe; heirloom, washed. Flavor notes: jasmine, bergamot, citrus. $6 per cup; $21 per bag.
• Kanzu from Heart; bourbon, washed. Flavor notes: toffee, plum, mandarin. $4 per cup; $14.50 per bag.
• Nova Canaã Obata from Five Elephant; obata, natural. Flavor notes: cashew, cherry, melon. $5 per cup; $17 per bag.
• Sítio Canaã Red Bourbon from Tim Wendelboe; red bourbon, semi-washed. Flavor notes: sugar cane, malt, caramel. $7 per cup; $24 per bag.
• Sítio Canaã Yellow Catuaì from Tim Wendelboe; yellow catuai, natural. Flavor notes: dried figs, berries, dates. $7 per cup; $24 per bag.
• El Desarollo from the Coffee Collective; caturra, colombia, typica, washed. Flavor notes: heather, mandarine, fresh figs. $6 per cup; $21 per bag.
• Finca Tamana from Tim Wendelboe; caturra, washed. Flavor notes: citrus, red berries, sugar cane. $6 per cup; $21.5o per bag.
• La Pradera from Heart; castillo, caturra, tabio, washed. Flavor notes: vanilla, fig, nougat. $4 per cup; $14.50 per bag.
• Candelaria Peaberry from Heart; bourbon, caturra, washed. Flavor notes: red grape, cocoa powder, molasses. $4 per cup; $14.50 per bag.
Equator: Dumerso, La Pradera, Novo Canaã Obata; $10.
FAF: Sítio Canaã Red Bourbon, Sítio Canaã Yellow Catuaì, Novo Canaã Obata; $13.
Huila: Finca Tamana, El Desarollo, La Pradera; $11.
Africa: Dumerso, Buzira, Kieni; $12.
Addis Tonic: Chire, tonic; $7.
Kenia Cola: Kieni, sugar, bitters, soda; $7.
White Colombian: La Pradera, sugar, cream; $7.
• Bai Mudan, white; $3.50 per cup; $14.5o per bag.
• LaKyrsiew July 2012, black; $3 per cup; $21 per bag.
• Kaede, green; $2.50 per cup; $25 per bag.
• Unoxidised Rooibos, tisane; $2.50 per cup; $8 per bag.
• Jun Chiyabari, oolong; $3.50 per cup; $25 per bag.