From the early days when John Adams, second president of the United States and first resident of the White House, denounced tea as “impatriotic”, Washington, DC has been a city of coffee lovers.
Today there has never been a better time to champion the DC coffee scene. Statehood, long supported by a plurality of residents, is back on the table in a big way. A bustling political capital with no shortage of monuments, museums, and points of interest (many of which can be safely enjoyed out-of-doors), a determined visitor could stay busy for eons without running out of sights to see. In times of health, DC is one of the most visited cities in the world, attracting travelers from all over. The city is only 68 square miles, but has a permanent population of about 700,000.
All of these people milling about The District eventually have to find sustenance. Fortunately, DC’s restaurant scene has built a solid reputation, and some of the nation’s best chefs have opened up shop here. The specialty coffee scene, too, continues to up its game. From fast-paced coffee institutions to chic sit-down cafes, DC has coffee covered.
This is not the first time we've guided readers to the Washington, DC coffee scene, but much has changed since our entry published in the fall of 2019. Consider this a companion piece to that guide—taken together they paint a picture of this city's thriving coffee culture, with new stories to tell, new cups to brew.
Dua Coffee DC is the first international location of the Jakarta-based company. Located just blocks from the White House, they are looking to make an impression with Indonesian coffee in this busy international city. The cafe is bright and stylish with white brick walls, pendant lights, and dark wood floors. The counter continues this theme of light on top and dark on the bottom and is home to a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine paired with a Mahlkönig PEAK grinder. A Mahlkönig EK43S is used to grind batch brew and pour-over beans. Exclusively featuring Indonesian brews, the team at Dua Coffee relies on local businesses Nagadi Coffee and Vigilante Coffee Company to roast. The hope is to show the diversity of flavors from the many regions of this multi-island nation. They also feature a few cafe drink specials and treats on the menu from their home country.
After closing for several months, Dua has reopened with outdoor seating. Orders can be placed in person or through their mobile ordering site. A number of pre-bottled beverages have been added to their menu for easier grab-and-go transactions. They have also introduced local delivery to their options.
Swing’s Coffee Roasters
For over 100 years, Swing’s Coffee Roasters has been supplying coffee to the DC area. This storied roaster still sells its original Mesco Blend, which was patented in 1918! The company has traded hands a few times since then but is still run by passionate coffee experts. If you are interested in vintage coffee goods, the G Street location houses original fixtures and equipment from the company’s early days. As a local institution, it's worthy of mention in even the most contemporary coffee guide.
Swing’s Coffee Roasters has two DC locations, one on either side of the White House. The 14th street coffee bar has beautifully mosaic tiled floors that are almost too pretty to step on, black quartz countertops, and a walnut and stone tiled counter that is home to both La Marzocco GB5 and Strada espresso machines (it’s a busy joint). The G Street coffee bar, too, is easy on the eyes, featuring vintage coffee relics paired with quality modern tools, such as their four-group Strada. Well-worn wooden countertops and meticulously laid tile floors create the feeling of an old soda fountain, but the espresso-style has kept with the times and is decidedly not old-fashioned.
After closing both DC locations for a number of months, Swing’s Coffee Roasters has re-opened its 14th Street coffee bar. The business is cashless and has newly added outdoor seating available. Orders can be placed in person or through the company's mobile ordering site.
Located in the bottom level of a huge historic home in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, Emissary covers all your needs from morning to night. This cafe features coffee from Counter Culture, a popular option in DC, but separates itself from the pack with its creative food menu and full bar. This area is known not only for its historic buildings but also for its lively LGBT festival, Capital Pride. Emissary celebrates the inclusivity of the area and seeks to be a welcoming space to all.
From the outside, it looks deceivingly small, but inside there's plenty of room to stretch out. Old brick walls add charm to the interior, which is divided into three loose sections: cafe, bar, and lounge. Customers are greeted by a coffee counter upon entering, which serves the morning crowd all manners of espresso drinks and pastry. Patrons can find bar seating by the windows, at the counter, or grab one of the many cafe tables. As the day goes on sit-down lunch and dinner crowds become the norm, but the walk-up coffee counter stays open all day. In the evening a separate bar in the back serves up cocktails while the kitchen cranks out vegetarian-friendly delights.
After a brief closure Emissary has reopened with new safety measures in place. They currently offer both inside and patio seating, as well as contact-free takeout.
Qualia Coffee Roasters
Serving the Petworth neighborhood for more than 10 years, Qualia Coffee Roasters is a DC favorite. With an emphasis on their roasting, this cafe features single-origin coffees exclusively and aims to get beans in the hands of customers within three days of roast—no matter where you are in the country. The roaster fills each label with no less than a paragraph of information about the coffee and its source. Recently a second location has opened in the Eckington neighborhood, making their coffee more available to capital dwellers. The Petworth cafe is located just off the street up a couple sets of old concrete stairs. Inside patrons will find a compact and cozy coffeehouse with well-worn floors, a handful of comfy chairs, and some counter seating. The walls are decorated with local art and numerous community postings. The pastry and bagels are local too! Coffee is roasted in-house and espresso drinks are made on a well-maintained Slayer espresso machine. If you aren’t lucky enough to grab a seat, head out back to their patio where you’ll find a fun collection of picnic tables and benches underneath an awning and coffee bags hung as decorations.
Both Qualia Coffee locations are opened for online ordering and pick-up only.
Ellē is a multi-roaster cafe and restaurant located in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. From opening until 7:00 pm coffee, pastry, and light meals can be grabbed at the coffee counter. In the evening, the space transitions into a sit-down style restaurant. Though the extensive praise and accolades received are about the food, coffee is not just a side hustle. The cafe counter features some top-notch roasters, such as Onyx Coffee Lab, Tandem Coffee Roasters, and Brandywine Coffee Roasters, all served by a team of enthusiastic coffee pros. In-house bakery Paisley Fig offers up some great crusty options for quick bites. From the outside, the space looks diminutive, but the vintage neon sign reading “Hellers Bakery” might misdirect some (when lit, just the letters ELLE are illuminated).
Elle is open for online ordering and pick-up only. Weekend pre-orders are available for meal kits, alcohol, baked goods, and more. Some outdoor seating is available.
Located in the quickly developing Navy Yard neighborhood, SOMEWHERE® is a shop in a shop. Primarily a streetwear boutique for the hippest of hip, a good chunk of the space is reserved for a fully functioning espresso bar. The environment is purposefully sterile: a blank white space that counts on the curated racks of clothes and shelves of sneakers to add color. The coffee counter itself is the same gray concrete as the floor while the countertop is the same stainless steel as the merchandise shelves. Customers fatigued from browsing sweet kicks can take a seat at the bar and enjoy a zen moment in this minimalist space. Coffee offerings are brought to you by Vigilante Coffee Company, a local coffee roaster based out of nearby Hyattsville, MD. The staff at SOMEWHERE® admit that the space may seem intimidating to new customers, but hope that over time curious locals will call them their regular coffee shop. The clothing may be designed for the hippest of hip, but all are welcome. Whether you are just looking, planning to drop some cash, or simply grabbing a batch brew, customer service is the focus here… err… SOMEWHERE®
The Somewhere storefront remains open for in-person ordering and pre-order pickup. All items are for take-out only. They have added some outdoor seating.
In the bohemian Adams Morgan neighborhood, an area of the Capital bursting at the seams with restaurants and bars is the Line Hotel. Housed in a 110-year-old church, this hotel drips with hip and modern hospitality. They’re one of those chic new joints with a giant lobby full of plush sofas, a bar with mixologists, and overflowing with stylish guests and telecommuters. They also house a cafe in the antechamber called Cafe Spoken.
Coffee offerings here by DC coffee roasters Grace Street Coffee and Junius Coffee, and the vibe is, of course, stylish. Hanging ferns and modern lighting loom over the matte black bar and its black marble countertop. The featured siphon brewers are a nod to Japanese coffee culture. A Mahlkonig EK43 precisely grinds the beans and a La Marzocco Linea Classic paired with a Mahlkonig K30 Twin grinder are the barista’s tools for espresso-based drinks.
The Line Hotel is the sort of place you want to end up when you’re stuck in DC and have some time to fill: Bring a book or your laptop, grab a cup of coffee, and find a spot to crash. The people-watching is superb and the ambiance is elevating. It’s an exercise in self-care; a mini-vacation.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.