Happy National Coffee Day! We originally ran this piece on January 15, 2016.
Photos by Jeff Martin, Words by Compass Coffee Founders Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez
Compass Coffee is right down the street from the illustrious BYT office, so you know we mean it when we say our staff has spent a decent amount of time there. However, proximity isn’t the only factor. Compass offers some of the best coffee and tea in the entire District. They’re a major player in our cities coffee scene, and have recently expanded to North Shaw’s The Shay. That being said, the co-founders, both of whom landed themselves in Zagat’s 30 Under 30, are goofy as hell (and we mean that in the best way). So we knew right away that they would be the perfect people for the first Drink Diary of 2016. Let the caffeine jitters commence. -ed
The days blur together.
Wake up. Turn off alarm. Roll out of bed. Toothpaste with no sulfates. Head to Compass.
The barista calls out, “2 shots of espresso on the bar!”
The routine. We’ve been doing this together, every morning, for nearly five hundred days since Compass Coffee first opened its doors. It’s an updated version of the same ritual that started this whole adventure six years ago, back when we were infantry platoon commanders in the Marine Corps, choking down caffeinated swill that had only a tenuous relationship with what most people would call coffee.
Nowadays, our morning brews are much better.
Espresso. To the Italians, it is the pure essence of coffee. The intensity, the bitterness, the sweetness, the rich, caramelly, complexity, all mixed together in one delightful, 2oz shot. Each morning, this is how we start our day.
Seven A.M. at Compass is the most peaceful hour. It’s the calm before the morning rush, an opportunity to collect yourself as the first people start trickling through the door. The music is soft. The café is warm. The whirr of the grinders and the faint hiss of the steam wand are almost harmonic.
While the café comes to life, we finish our espressos and then start on a French press, slowly becoming more alert as the caffeine takes effect. This week, we’re launching a line of “Make Americanos Great Again” tshirts, because we’re a Made in D.C. coffee company and it just feels like the sort of prank a D.C. coffee company should pull. Maura Judkis, over at The Post, is on the story, and in the hours before the article comes out, we’re discussing whether people will get the joke.
“You think people will get it?…I hope we didn’t just piss off half the city… Harrison your last name is Suarez. You better be careful or Trump will deport your family…”
Overall, we’re optimistic. Our customers tend to be nice folks who have a sense of humor. What’s the worst that could happen?
By midmorning, it’s time for coffee with butter and coconut oil. The recipe is something we picked up a few years ago while searching the Google for “weird things to put in your coffee that will make everything bigger.” (That’s not the real story.)
The concept behind butter coffee is that the human body does better on a diet that’s higher in fat and lower in sugar, so by blending butter and coconut in our coffee each morning, we’re able to meet our nutritional goals more efficiently. And yes, we know this might sound ludicrous if you’re hearing about it for the first time from two guys on BYT, but fortunately, you don’t have to take our word for it anymore because the government agrees with us. #ThanksObama
So it’s espresso and a French press first thing in the morning, coffee with butter and coconut oil for breakfast, and a fourth cup as we hastily launch our new super PAC, Americans for Real Good Coffee. Fortunately, people are laughing with us, not at us.
Of course, we don’t launch Super PACs every day. Or ever, really. Most days, after finishing our fourth cup of coffee, we focus on what’s really important: figuring out our next source of caffeine.
It’s not exactly a difficult task.
The left wall of our coffee lab is filled with sample tins of coffee, which we use when guests visit or when we’re meeting with a chef. Each of the tins contains one of the nine original blends that our head roaster, Brandon Warner, has meticulously crafted. He makes the blends with great coffee from all over the world, so whether you’re in the mood for a light roast from Africa (Ed. note: not a country), or a dark roast from East Asia, there’s always a good option.
One of the things we focus on at Compass is making great coffee accessible and easy for people to understand. We remember how it felt during the early days of our own coffee journey when all the options were so confusing. That’s why we came up with the Flavor Matrix. It’s a 3 x 3 chart that categorizes our blends by degree of roast on one axis and region of origin on the other.
People always ask us “what’s your favorite blend?,” and to tell the truth it’s a little like picking between your kids. You always go with the best looking and smartest and then you mercilessly game the system to rig the odds in their favor. Everybody loves a winner.
In all seriousness, we both prefer the Waypoint Blend. It’s a dark roast, with nuanced flavors of cacao and brown sugar. Light roasts have been getting a lot of coverage lately because they contain more caffeine, but the difference is so small that it really doesn’t matter. Dark roasts are also less acidic, which is probably a good thing when you skip breakfast in favor of coffee.
For that matter, we usually opt for a liquid lunch too, although this week we’ve decided to skip food altogether. Alongside some of Compass Coffee’s key leadership and our favorite espresso tech / wholesale trainer, we’re going three days with only coffee, tea, or water. As Hemingway wrote, “hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.” We’re calling it our firstannual, noncult fast. Hopefully by next year we have a better title.
One of the best parts of Compass is the people we meet. Coffee is about community. We see ourselves as the neighborhood’s living room. You come in, you have a cappuccino, you spend time with friends, you make a new one. Even at the Shay—the small café we just opened a few blocks from our first location—we’ve installed really fast WiFi and floor plugs so you can sit and stay awhile. If coffee shops are campgrounds, we’re the Grand Canyon.
After not eating lunch, it’s time to start winding down on coffee. The halflife of caffeine is about eight hours, a fact which you can deploy at happy hour tonight to impress your friends if they have low standards and are easily impressed. Essentially what that means is you have to cut yourself off sometime in the afternoon, or switch to decaf, if you don’t want to ruin your sleep.
Our go to alternative is green tea, usually Moroccan Mint but sometimes Jasmine. On any given day, by two or three in the afternoon, you’ll find one of these two teas in our hands. That’s all we have to say about that.
Winding down the day, we behave like most twenty-something D.C. residents and vie for a table at one of Shaw’s hottest restaurants. Because the truth is, for anyone who knows anything about small plates and craft cocktails, there’s no place better than Ivy & Coney. There’s usually a line, but we’re lucky that we have connections because they’re our neighbors on 7th Street. What the three gentlemen behind this establishment have managed to pull off is nothing short of brilliant. Josh, Adam, Chris—if we wore hats we would take them off to you.
Our day ends as it began, with two shots on the bar.
Only this time, it’s whiskey.
And as the liquor takes effect, the hamster wheel begins to spin…
“Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”