Great Coffee Susan

Appreciating Great Coffee or Helping Fellow Coffee Lovers Keep Their Standards High

Category: Cafes

Gelato & Coffee

Yes, I did put “coffee” and “gelato” together in the title of this post.  If you cringed when you saw this, I completely understand.  Usually such places offering ice cream and coffee, frozen yogurt and coffee, cupcakes and coffee, XYZ and coffee don’t offer really good coffee and really good ice cream, really good frozen yogurt or really good XYZ.  Well, I am so excited to tell you I found a place that offers luxuriously delicious gelato AND amazing coffee.  It’s Dolcezza – a local treasure!

First the gelato.  The flavors are so creative and decadent.  My favorite is Valrhona Chocolate Amargo.  Other flavors are pretty good too:  Salted Caramel, Thai Coconut Curry.  You can check out all of Dolcezza’s flavors by selecting “stores” and then one of the three locations.

My husband and I knew about Dolcezza’s gelato shortly after we moved to D.C.  However, we didn’t realize this place serves great coffee until we actually looked for an alternative to Quartermaine’s.  (Dolcezza is just a block away from Quartermaine’s.)  I admit to being selfish and enjoying the fact that Quartermaine’s is always packed with folks but Dolcezza isn’t.  We rarely have to wait long for our coffees and lattes.  (Sometimes, though, we have to wait a little because the gelato is quite popular.)

Not everyone who works behind Dolcezza’s counters can make coffee and espresso drinks.  Before one can take on this duty, an employee has to go through extensive training.  Only after s/he passes a test which Dolcezza’s owners administer, themselves, can an employee take on the title, barista.

Dolcezza serves different roasters.  Right now its espresso beans are from PT’s Coffee Roasting.  For coffee it serves Madcap, Intelligentsia, Ritual & Counter Culture.  The Pour Over is the method of choice.

I’ve been to only two of the three Dolcezza locations so far.  I visit its Bethesda shop at least once a week.  It has more of an ice cream parlor feel. Lots of families stop by for a scoop of gelato or sweet pastry. And yes a handful of enlightened Bethesda residents visit for a cup of divine coffee or cappuccino.  The baristas are highly professional and pretty friendly.

Over the past week I checked out the Dupont Circle store which has more of a cafe atmosphere.  In fact the gelato is in the back; positioned almost as an afterthought.  A communal table is the centerpiece of the store.  The baristas here are also friendly but they seem to embody a hipster vibe which is appropriate for this location.  Based on two visits to this location I’ll go ahead and say it attracts a more diverse crowd (including tourists, diplomats, lobbyists, students and a couple of retirees) which shouldn’t be a surprise given its in the city.  (Bethesda is a suburban town.)  My absolute favorite thing about the Dupont Circle shop is it’s right next door to a Starbucks.  I asked one of the employees about this.  Without hesitation and in a very professional manner she said Starbucks really isn’t competition for them. Actually Starbucks helps Dolcezza.  The familiar big, green awning attracts people who are looking for coffee, but once they walk cross the street and approach Starbucks they see Dolcezza.  What a smart co-location strategy!

I realize telling you about Dolcezza is risky for me and my husband.  We may find ourselves having to wait a bit longer for our drinks as more people stop by for amazing coffee and espresso.  Sharing this little secret can be my good deed for the day.

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“LA”MILL Mornings!

A couple of dear friends of mine gave me a pound of Panama Birdsong Honey from LAMILL Coffee for my birthday.  (Yes, I recently had a birthday.  No, I won’t disclose the date or my age.)  I love this gift for several reasons:

  1. LAMILL is based in Los Angeles.  These friends, who still reside in LA, know how much I miss LA.  (My husband and I lived in Santa Monica until about 18 months ago.)  In the mornings when I have a cup of this coffee I feel as though I’m enjoying a little bit of LA again.
  2. LAMILL will always be special to me because in 2008 I was allowed to tour its roasting facility.  (This was my very first facility tour.)  John, who gave me the tour and was the Director of Coffee at the time, was generous with his time and knowledge.
  3. The last time (which was before I moved away) I visited LAMILL’s Boutique, I found it doing an amazing job pairing coffee with food.  If you find yourself in LA, make your way to Silverlake to experience this for yourself.
  4. LAMILL strives to incorporate beautiful design into everything it does.  Again, visit its Silverlake boutique.  If you can’t make your way to LA soon, check out some of the photos here.
  5. The Panama Birdsong Honey (which is a Limited Lot) is a welcoming bean.  It has a light body roast so I’m not jerked awake but more like I’m being gently nudged to open my eyes.  I taste a hint of citrus, a light combination of brown sugar and honey with a woody undertone. The coffee leaves a smooth yet satisfying aftertaste.  What a delightful way to begin my workday!

To my friends who are responsible for my numerous wonderful LAMILL mornings, thank you!

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Quartermaine Coffee Roasters – So Hard to Like

I have a like-dislike relationship with Quartermaine Coffee Roasters.  Quartermaine and I go way back to my American University undergraduate days when I worked at Davenport Coffee Lounge, the on-campus coffee shop.  (Side note: Davenport  is where I began to learn about great coffee.  Another side note: Davenport has changed a lot since my college days.  Final side note: At some point I’ll write more about Davenport.)  Quartermaine roasts great beans.  I remember looking forward to receiving a new batch at Davenport every week.  And I love how it roasts locally in Rockville, MD.

When I moved back to the Washington, D.C. area a year and a half ago, I was so excited to learn that a Quartermaine coffee shop is near my new home.  Unfortunately this fact damaged my relationship with the roaster.  (I visited the coffee shop a few times before deciding to find another place for good coffee.)  The service there is horrendous.  The folks behind the counter don’t know how to communicate with its customers when it comes to paying for an order or even serving a drink.   And learning about their beans is like pulling teeth.  I guess obtaining assistance for a bean purchase is a lot to ask of a coffee roaster.  Ok, ok, I know working at a coffee shop may not be living the dream for lots of people.  I’m sure several of these folks would rather be elsewhere.  I get that.  I get that many of these baristas work there to pay rent, buy food, support their writing — basically help fund their real dream.  That’s fine.  My issue is this poor customer service damages the Quartermaine brand.  I still like Quartermaine coffee but I don’t consume it a lot because I don’t want to deal with poor service nor encourage it by giving this place anymore of my business.

Well I was delighted to learn that Addie’s in Rockville serves Quartemaine coffee.  (Interestingly it serves Illy espresso though.)  Last week my husband and I went there for first time.  First of all, Addie’s is a great find.  We both really enjoyed our lunches.  (It’s part of the Black Restaurant Group.  I’m a fan of one of the Group’s other venues, Black’s Bar & Kitchen.)

While we both agreed ahead of time to not order dessert, we ended up buckling.   We shared the Chocolate Toffee Pecan Cake, and I ordered a cup of Quartermaine decaf coffee.  The dessert did not disappoint – completely worth the extra calories!  However the coffee did.  It tasted stale, bitter and like it’s been sitting on the burner for a long time.  Sigh.

What a shame.  Quartermaine roasts great coffee.  I wish I didn’t experience such disappointment when trying to enjoy it.

Coffee & Vinyls: Such a Hipster Combo…but Rook Coffee May be a Truly Cool Find

A couple weekends ago I was in Brooklyn for a bridal shower.  After the shower the bride-to-be and few of the guests walked around the neighborhood, Carroll Gardens.  We stumbled upon Black Gold Records.  It’s a coffee shop and record store!  Someone mentioned how it’s such a hipster place. The group agreed.

Black Gold Records sources its beans from Rook Coffee Roasters based in Ocean, NJ.  It’s a very young roastery with a sweet story.  We each ordered a cup of the decaf coffee with almond soy milk.  It was not bad at all.  I think it definitely has potential.  I’d like to try the coffee at an actual Rook location before I draw true conclusions though.  I hope to visit them in the near future.  In the meantime if you do, let me know what you think.

Bad Service is Not Worth It

On a flight to Boston, my husband and I decided to grab some coffee and a snack in Harvard Square.  I knew just the place, Crema Cafe.  I stumbled upon it when I was in Boston last.  This place serves George Howell Coffee.  I was so looking forward to a wonderful cup of coffee before we officially began our day in New England.  Well, we may have gotten great coffee but our experience there was disappointing thanks to the woman who took our order and rang us up.  She clearly did not want to be there.  She was so focused on giving us attitude and essentially trying not to do her job that she didn’t charge us for the pound of beans I explicitly showed her so she in fact wouldn’t miss it.  Well she did.  Before we even took a sip of our drinks, we already had a bad taste in our mouths.

Why do some cafes still think it’s acceptable and even cool to provide bad service and attitude?  I’m willing to pay a premium for great coffee but like paying a premium for a superb meal at a restaurant, part of what I’m paying for is the service that delivers it.  When service is bad and the cafe employee is flat out rude, I’m no longer willing to give the place more business.  Thankfully, especially in most major U.S. cities, the number of cafes that provide amazing coffee along with good service is growing.  (Over the next few months I’ll share examples of such places.)  And even if I’m in an area where my options are very limited, I’d rather wait until I return home to have a great cup of coffee — I usually drink Blue Bottle — than give someone money for bad service.

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