You can order an entire meal without ever setting foot in a restaurant: One service will drop off dinner at your door, another will deliver the booze and a third will supply the Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey for dessert — or even the Trojan Ultra Ribbed condoms should the evening include more than you, a TV and a "Breaking Bad" binge.
Now comes the after-dinner coffee service: District Beans will ship you whole beans from some of the finest roasters in the DMV.
Launched in December, District Beans is a partnership between Timothy Egan and Dan Crowe, with outside counsel from friend Danny Velasquez; Velasquez is the founder of Campesino Specialty Coffee, a roaster with direct relationships with farms in Colombia and Costa Rica. District Beans contracts with area roasters to source beans fresh off the roast, which the company then packages in air-tight, resealable pouches (often 4 or 8 ounces each) and ships to your home in monthly plans.
District Beans, Egan says, wants to curate the regional coffee market for customers who cannot easily visit roasters in Easton, Alexandria, Hyattsville or even the neighborhood Whole Foods where the coffees may be available on shelves. Think of it as a D.C. variation of those online companies that sell specialty beans from roasters around the country. "We're an umbrella brand for the great local roasters we have," Egan says.
To date, at least six roasters have agreed to distribute coffees via District Beans, including Vigilante, Swing's, Nagadi, Rise Up and others. Compass Coffee, the Shaw roaster that's already in expansion mode, plans to join the roster next month, says co-owner Michael Haft. Egan expects to add more, too, and perhaps introduce a guest roaster option from outside the region.
So far, only one D.C. roaster has declined to distribute coffees via District Beans.
"We have a strict policy of delivering all of our roasted coffee to the consumer within three days of roast," e-mails Joel Finkelstein with Qualia Coffee in Petworth. "[O]ur goal has always been to get our beans to customers during peak flavor, which, as a general rule, is a window of three to eight days from roasting. No third-party service we have talked to has been able to guarantee customers get their deliveries within that rather small time frame, which is understandable given the logistical hurdles."
The goal, Egan says, is for customers to have beans in hand five to seven days after the roast date. Depending on the style of roast, the beans would then need to be ground and steeped over the next week or two to enjoy the coffee at its peak freshness. This explains why the monthly installments are calibrated as they are: The "bachelor" or "bachelorette" package, for example, includes three 4-ounce pouches from a single roaster. If you used 1 ounce (or 28 grams) per serving of coffee, you'd have enough for only 12 cups.
That might last a week at my house.
Egan sent me a pair of trial-run packages to test, and both arrived nearly three weeks after their roast date. Egan said this was due to the fact my beans were sent well after the first-of-the-month shipments, not to flaws inherent in the system. The pouches were stamped with various coffee-geek information: the roast type, the originating farm, the processing method, the varietal and the altitude where the bean is grown.
What the package doesn't say: How to brew those specialty beans. This can be a particular concern when dealing with such a small amount of coffee. You have only so many chances to, as they say in the business, "dial in" the ratio of ground beans to water that brings out the coffee's best characteristics. Even though my beans were past their prime, they still expressed themselves differently whenever I added or subtracted grams of freshly ground coffee. One may have been brighter, fruitier; another may have muted the fruit in favor of chocolate and hazelnut notes.
Egan says District Beans is still tinkering with its subscription model. The 50 people who currently subscribe will, starting in June, receive e-mails that provide roaster tips and tricks on how to best brew the coffees delivered that month.
"We definitely don't think we have all the answers," Egan says.