There are few things more beautiful in life than a good cup of coffee. Many of us wouldn’t be at work right now without it. Many of us wouldn’t even be alive without it. Coffee fuels our career ambitions, brings friends together, and more often than not, it allows you to become the horrible bougie self absorbed hipster you actually are deep inside (the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem). Below, you’ll find a bunch of excellent coffee shops handpicked by overly caffeinated BYT contributors. If you just want to get your fix through the path of least resistance, then please feel free to whip out your phone and use Yelp to find the nearest Starbucks. There is nothing wrong with that.
Coffee brings out the best of us and the worst of us. It drives our creativity and turns us into terrible people who destroy Starbucks bathrooms, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still get your caffeine fix without yelling at a 20 year old who makes $8 an hour. Follow the guide below, and not only will you be flush with fantastic coffee, you’ll also learn how to become a better person. Seriously. Now, go out and enjoy that damn fine cup of coffee (and please tip your baristas).
- 1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW
Most of the time (to be honest, almost all of the time), Baked and Wired is not the kind of coffee spot you want to hang out in. It’s crazy busy, seating can be downright competitive, and spending too much time in Georgetown can be bad for the soul. However, Baked and Wired is fantastic if you’re just stopping in to grab a quick cup. Service on the coffee side never takes as long as grabbing a cupcake does, and it gives you the opportunity to feel superior to everyone still waiting in line (because you’re a terrible person). -Kaylee Dugan
- 2016 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA
Bon Vivant has good regular coffee, but I go there for the bulletproof stuff. Bulletproof coffee is an actual thing and that is its actual name. What makes is bulletproof? FAT! Butter and coconut oil are added to fresh brewed coffee, along with a touch of cinnamon to cut the thickness. The idea is that the oil and butter will coat your stomach, not only prolonging the buzz you get from the coffee, but also stopping your body from craving fats for the rest of the day. It won’t make you feel disgusted by fat or anything, like if you want to eat a huge greasy burger later that’s totally doable, you just won’t crave it so much. It’s actually pretty effective, if not super strange. You don’t need to add sugar or creamer to it either. I initially tried it because of the novelty of drinking butter coffee, but now I’m thinking about adding it to my diet a couple times a week. -Melissa Groth
- 475 H St NW
Tucked neatly away on H St., just East of Gallery Place’s hustle and bustle, is a shotgun coffee bar with no frills and excellent taste. There’s one long bench (which, if I am not mistaken was originally a church pew), a handful of tables and chairs, exposed brick, and tungsten bulbs. No, this is not another Eric Hilton venture. This place feels more like a shop that’s trying to keep itself hidden from busy streets outside. It’s about forty decibels quieter inside. Customers’ heads are usually bent over tables together, talking quietly. I like this place best in the winter. Their mocha will make you forget the cold. -Jonny Grave
- 1201 S St NW
- 1200 17th St NW
When I first moved back to DC there were SO MANY NEW COFFEE SHOPS that had popped up while I was away at college. So naturally I decided to embark on a mission to try as many as I could. So I ran around trying soy lattes from all these new places and hands down the best one I had was at The Coffee Bar. I’m not sure what they do to their espresso, but it’s amazing. Their space isn’t huge and seating is fairly limited but they also have a great patio (with wifi!) that somehow always manages to have an adorable dog laying patiently out front. They also win points for possible having the most interesting menu of any coffee place (you’ll know what I mean when you visit). Get a large soy latte, and if you could grab one for me as well that’d be great! –Marissa Rubenstein
First of all it’s location tucked away in Blagden Alley basically forces any visit to this Philadelphia-based chain to feel like you’re stumbling upon this super cool, secret coffee shop. That only you (and about 6 or so random strangers) know about. The fact that there’s no official posted menu only adds to the feeling that you’re on an elite coffee adventure. Seriously though, La Colombe is absolutely fantastic, with some of the highest quality coffee on the east coast. They put a lot of thought, money, and time into their coffee and it shows. Everything is fairly good here but you should definitely try one of their pour overs (despite the price!), even if you don’t like your coffee black you’ll still be astounded by the amount of flavor in their coffee. Expensive, but as an occasional treat? Completely worth it. – Marissa Rubenstein
- 1535 7th St NW
- 650 F St NW
I’m not a big fan of the word “ambiance”, it’s always just sounded kind of cheesy to me. However, when it comes to Compass Coffee it’s hard to describe this place without mentioning its wonderful ambiance. From the moment you walk in you just want to not ever leave. Maybe it’s the colorful coffee cans scattered around, the bright and warm lighting, or the giant coffee roasting machines in the back that basically assure you that you never have to leave because they have the capability of supplying you with a constant stream of fresh brewed coffee. It’s hard to come here before work because I’m always so tempted to just grab a seat at the counter and completely forget to head into the office! Great lattes, and arguably the friendliest baristas in town. I’m a fan. – Marissa Rubenstein
- 1726 20th Street NW
- 1916 I Street NW
One of the great things about Filter is that there’s a different location to suit every mood. If you just want to run in and grab delicious drink, go to the downtown location. If you want to hang out with a friend or study for some terrible test your going to take, go to Dupont. If you want to grab a coffee and then spend an absurd amount of money on awesome high end biking equipment, check out their brand new Brookland location (which shares a space with The Bike Rack). No matter which location you frequent, the coffee is always delicious and the staff are cool as hell. – Kaylee Dugan
- 1702 G St NW
I love that M.E. Swings Coffee Roasters treats coffee as a craft. The baristas are highly trained coffee brewers (and drinkers) and everyone involved puts obvious effort into presenting a great cup to the customer. Plus they’re straightforward about it. The focus is on the coffee, not the pastries (though they do have a good almond croissant) or things that end in -uccino. M.E. Swings Coffee Roasters has two area locations, one in DC, and another in the suburbs of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood off Monroe Avenue near Route 1. The Del Ray location is awesome. The coffee bar is a wide open space with floor to ceiling windows, located within the roasting facility. It’s a relaxing setting to go to get your coffee buzz on. Maybe that sounds counterintuitive. Anyway, try the cold brew iced coffee, which they have on tap. It’s delicious and gets the job done. -Melissa Groth
- 3211 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
Northside Social is like Trader Joe’s in that I will only go between the hours of 9-5 Monday through Friday while everyone else is at work/school. Go on the weekend or the evening and don’t expect a seat. The large outdoor seating area is now open so that helps a little, but people flock to this place, and descend upon it like vultures. That being said, they flock with good reason. The coffee is great, the atmosphere is relaxed, the building is cool, and the coffee is great. I already said that. But it really is. The espresso drinks are perfect; they know their milk-to-froth ratios at this place. If you can get there during the day when there is less of a rush, I highly recommend it. -Melissa Groth
- 1658 Columbia Rd NW
The oldest storefront on my list. I’m about 90% positive my father played here back in the late 70’s. After being closed for a year, the combination coffee/bookshop is newly renovated, smelling vaguely of paint and new-book ink, and strongly of coffee. The couch and chairs are comfortable enough for laptop work, but the giant bay windows and tables offer a spot for conversation, first dates… or, I don’t know, maybe reading a book. Don’t forget, coffee and natural sunlight pair well. -Jonny Grave
- 2714 Georgia Ave NW
In D.C.’s ever-changing climate, Sankofa café’s Adinkra meaning: “going back to our past in order to go forward,” rings truer now, more than ever. I live in a neighborhood where there are a half-a-dozen, amazing coffee establishments to walk to, but I’d gladly walk the extra mile plus to Sankofa to get some of their “rocket fuel” coffee. It’s no wonder that owner/filmmaker Haile Gerima’s café would steal my heart, with a spacious patio, fresh juices/smoothies, fresh-baked goods, and vegan friendly salad and sandwich options this place is more than a place to get a coffee. It’s a place that’s meant to spark a discussion and leave a lasting impression on a city that seems to forget Adinkra’s meaning more so now than ever. -Seannie Cameras
- 1333 14th St NW
Slipstream is the best kind of coffee shop because the best kind of coffee shop also serves booze. There is nothing better than drinking two different diuretics at once. Sure, it’s not really the kind of place where you could get a lot of work done (since all the cocktails are distracting), but it has a more fun atmosphere than most dour and quiet coffee shops. Plus they have a pretty good happy hour that allows me to drink more old fashioneds than I should be allowed to drink in one sitting. And they have avocado toast, which is the best kind of toast (I don’t care what your opinions on toast are, avocado toast is the best toast). The coffee is good too. -Kaylee Dugan
- 2459 18th St NW
- 1600 21st St NW
This is an obvious choice for the laptop-and-headphone crowd, but it’s so much more than just a series of squishy armchairs near a power outlet. This place gave me my first redeye (that would be a coffee with a shot of espresso), my caffeinated beverage of choice for the past five years. While they are the biggest shop on this list, they also stay open the longest (6:30am to Midnight). Who wants to go to a coffee shop at night? Obviously, you haven’t seen my friend Wytold Lebing play. -Jony Grave
- 1924 14th St NW
It is truly staggering to see and taste what they can put out in such a tiny space. I watched this place open in 2013 as a pop-up on U St., in between 12th and 13th. When the staff told me that it was only temporary, and there would be a new, cool space down the block, complete with two espresso machines and a full kitchen, I was skeptically optimistic. Once their new space opened, I tried one of their cinnamon rolls, and I became a believer. Leave the laptop at home for this space. It’s better if you come here to grab coffee on your way to or from somewhere. -Jonny Grave
I spent my day at work yesterday making espresso at the National Restaurant Association conference in Chicago. It was at Mccormick Place which is FUCKING HUGE. It had all types of stuff for restaurateurs: Points of Sales Systems, hot dogs, deep friers, macarons, sausages, and tofu. And some coffee. I was there to make espresso because I work for a coffee distribution company. And was one of two legit espresso makers amongst the thousands of booths. Here was my work space:
For the most part, restaurants have no idea how coffee is supposed to be good. Because coffee is hard to make good. You gotta source good green coffee (which is a pain in the ass), roast it not too dark to ruin the taste but not too light to make it taste vegetal (which is a pain in the ass), use the coffee within two weeks of roasting it (which is, like, for sure a pain in the ass), know how to properly brew espresso or drip coffee (which is def a pain in the ass). Add all those things up and throw them in with the billion other things you gotta do to make a restaurant work (things like keeping the cheese fresh, shaving the tomatoes, fingering the bread, killing the rats and putting them in the stew, etc) and coffee falls by the wayside.
I understand why most restaurants don’t have good coffee and I mostly don’t care. I’ve worked in specialty coffee for the last 8 or so years, mostly as a barista in a high end cafe that rhymes with SmintSmelliGentsia and my current position which is mostly customer support at a wholesale company. When I make coffee for myself or go to a good cafe I always drink it black. If I’m ever in a restaurant I just toss some G-D cream and sugar in there because I assume the coffee is going to be dark roasted (tasting like an exhaust pipe). And honestly? That’s fine. Being a good barista is actually tough to do and even then not many people give a shit. So I don’t expect my local diner to worry about how to make great single origin cappuccinos. Keeps those good cafes in business, I think. -Goodrich Gevaart
They say working in retail or service is a good motivator for moving on up in the career world. Truth be told: my non-coffee-making duties as a barista were enough for me to fix my resume and get a real job right quick. On the surface, a college barista is a dream job. I got to play all the Deja Entendu my heart desired and I could mask my awkward flirting as providing stellar customer service, all in a pool of free caffeine. But it’s not all emo and Americanos on the other side of the La Marzocco.
Coffee is a diuretic. I don’t really know what that means, but the bathroom next to our student-union coffee shop sure did. You remember the finals-week scene, but I’ll remind you anyway: quad-shot lattes + cheap Chinese food + cigarettes + any illicit pick-me-ups = something shittier than the latest Godzilla remake. If those lids could talk, the second half of this adapted cliche would be pretty gross.
We had a sheet in the bathroom with a line for each barista to sign after the cleaning duties were done, but it really just felt like a way of documenting our shame. We needed the little reminder that someone fucked up the bathroom in 15 minutes as much as we needed the reminder to wash our hands before exiting the space; the scrubbing never ended.
Finally, I had a reason to finish that cover letter. -Peter Lillis
Straight out of undergrad, I did six months of hard time at the local Starbucks. Like most jobless graduates of the great recession, I was delighted to earn a whopping $7.35 an hour slinging overpriced sugar-coffee to the calming soundtrack of instrumental Radiohead covers. Not only did those highly lucrative six months teach me how to apply for food stamps, I also gained some serious insight into humanity and the world, in general. Now, more adequately employed, I can offer some former-barista tips for common folk who may experience coffeehouse anxiety (or for those people who care about things like manners, social protocol, etc.).
- Know what you are going to order before getting in line, for fucks sake. Look behind you, look in front of you. There are fifty people waiting for their morning crack, all feedback and static. Now take a look at your barista, its 8am, and we are on our 9th shot of espresso (for real) and we JUST DO NOT HAVE FUCKING TIME FOR THIS. So tell us what you want and to quote the wise sage, Ludacris, “Move bitch, get out the way, get out the way bitch, get out the way.”
- Tip the barista, damnit. First, see pay rate above. Second, if you do not tip, you get decaf. Period. In all seriousness though, my fellow baristas consisted of college graduates, single moms pulling double shifts and some of the most hard-working, sincerely wonderful people around. We are busting our asses to get you your daily fix. We memorize your daily order, we know about your drama, and when you are clearly having a bad morning, we hook you up with an extra shot of caffeine, no charge. Also, jokes aside, one of my coworkers relied on weekly tip share to supplement formula costs for her newborn. We appreciate it, for really real.
- If you are a newbie, stick to the KISS principle. Keep it simple, stupid. Before working at the ‘bucks’ I was ignorant of multitude of caffeine combinations available. What syrup should I get? How much is too much espresso? Iced or Hot? Mocha Loca choco frappomachino? 9,000 calories, WHAT?! If you are ignorant of the lingo, just get a straight regular cup of coffee. Then walk your happy ass over to the condiments bar, add some milk, add some sugar and call it a day. Make this a habit for a while and then as you get used to the menu, slowly start integrating options. A good time to do this is mid-day when the chaos has calmed. Around 10:30AM, we will be happy to walk you through it.
- We do not give a fuck about your personal life, unless you leave a good tip, in that case, we still don’t but thanks. Also, creepy old men, do not sit at the bar and stare at us for four hours while you ‘run your business’ using our free wife. We know you don’t have ‘clients’, we know you are poor just like us.
I think that about covers it, if you have experience in the coffee-serving industry feel free to add on to this engaging discussion via the comments section. -Maddie Clybourn
Being a barista is fun. It’s like being a bartender but instead of helping people wind down (or turn up) after a long day, most of what we do is help them simply wake up to start the day. Unless they order decaf and I will never understand why anyone would order decaf. We love our regulars like bartenders love their regulars — not because knowing what you are going to order makes the job easier, but because we know our drinks are the reason you keep coming back. And it makes work a little more fun seeing a familiar face every day.
Behind the bar, we might look calm and collected, but most of the time we’re not. Especially during a rush. What makes us even less calm is when customers curve their heads around the counter like an impatient child while their drink is being made. Yes, we know how to make your drink. No, we aren’t taking forever to make it on purpose. Here’s a fun fact: a good espresso shot takes about 27 seconds to pull. If you’re wondering why your drink isn’t ready 20 seconds after you ordered it, that’s probably the answer. We know what we’re doing and we’re trying to make your drink as pretty as possible so you can Instagram the heart on top of your latte or the rosetta on your skim-extra hot-double shot-cappuccino.
Every barista has a different technique. Odds are your Starbucks cappuccino is made a little differently than the cappuccino you had that one time when you were in a small Paris cafe eating a fresh croissant and staring wistfully at the Eiffel Tower. Please don’t yell at your barista for making it differently. It will taste the same — it’s just espresso and steamed milk and foam.
Contrary to popular belief, coffee shops are loud, really really loud and not the best place to come chill and do some quiet work. Between the espresso grinder, the coffee grinder, and the hiss of the milk steamer, it’s really never quiet in a coffee shop. If you can stand all the noise in exchange for the free WiFi, by all means, camp out as long as you like. But please order something other than “a cup of ice water.”
We’re not judging your drink unless you just order a cup of ice water. Or decaf espresso. Again, what’s the point? Espresso doesn’t taste good by itself and if you’ve convinced yourself that it does, I feel bad for your taste buds. Espresso is good for one thing and that one thing is caffeine. But sometimes people order decaf espresso and it really freaks me out. Here’s a real-life story of a customer I served: He comes into the shop, rubbing his face and yawning so I ask him how he’s doing. “I’m still trying to wake up.” It’s 3 pm. He goes to order. “I’ll have a double espresso – decaf.” WHAT? Order your skinny ½ pump sugar-free vanilla latte with two ice cubes and I’m not passing any judgement. But plain decaf espresso? Please just don’t.
When you do order something and you’re paying with cash, please please please tip. Just throw your change in the jar. If you like us enough, maybe even toss in a dollar. The cashiers are working hard, the baristas are working hard and they all split the tips that they add to their minimum wage paychecks. Tips pay for things like Metro fare, bus fare and gas so that we can get to work and make your beautiful drinks the next morning. And if there’s one thing baristas love, it’s making beautiful drinks. -Emily Holland
“I’m from rural Virginia. Great coffee wasn’t an important thing growing up in the country back in the day. The only thing I knew about coffee was the little baby sip of Folgers my grandma would sneak to me when my mother wasn’t looking.”
“With the advent of websites like Spotify and Pandora, we have more music choices at our fingertips than ever before, but with that comes great responsibility. Three places in Northwest Washington, D.C.—a coffee shop, a bar, and a restaurant—appreciate how a playlist can make or break an atmosphere. Here’s how they break it down.”
“Cory Andreen is the 2012 World Cup Coffee Tasters Champion. A longtime DC resident, Andreen headed to his favorite city Berlin and unintentionally wound up creating a substantial scene for his favorite thing– Coffee. Not only is Andreen a champion taster– he’s the co-owner of Café CK, and a sought after coffee expert seeking to improve brewing, cupping, and the general understanding of this fascinating beverage around the world. Between work and conferences, Andreen found time to talk to us about the world of coffee, and we have to admit– we never thought it’d be this cool.”
“Counter Culture Coffee had a small event to celebrate their new beer with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Called “No Middle Ground,” it’s a coffee IPA, nicely served alongside pizza and pour over coffee.”