Perched above the U Street corridor (where much of DC’s coffee scene is nestled) is the northwest neighborhood Adams Morgan: a bastion for irreverent retail, food, and nightlife. In mid-April, AdMo welcomed Sweet Science Coffee, a cafe with a prominent focus on manually-brewed offerings.
Owner Sandra Wolter, who came to DC by way of hometown Berlin, Germany, has struck the right balance of Third Wave cool and Gemütlichkeit to suit this part of the city. The seating area is decked out with a blue crystal chandelier, light streams through big windows that overlook 18th Street, and ‘80s Euro-pop pipes through the speakers. Wolter also loves Polaroids and keeps an instant camera behind the bar; photos of regulars dot one wall in the shop, next to a Yama cold brew tower. The overall effect is lighthearted and sweet.
Behind the bar, though—pure science. A La Marzocco GB5 and Curtis batch brewers allow for, as the menu calls it, “Fast Fuel” quick service, but the single-cup brewing devices are the stars of the show. A syphon, V60, French press, Chemex, and Karlsbad dripper are lined up front and center; the first things that catch your eye when you walk up to the register.
At first glance, the Karlsbad dripper looks like a tea pot. Wolter grinds a dose of Texas roaster Cultivar‘s Colombia La Esperanza on her EK 43 and adds water to the grounds in the dripper, watching for the right numbers on the Hario scale but also for that tiny, telltale stream of coffee in the upper chamber of the Karlsbad to know when it’s done. “Black coffee is definitely my preference,” Wolter tells me, mid-brew, “but I’m more interested in the connection; whatever I’m serving,” she motions to her wall menu, which is headed with the phrase “Enjoy Being Awake”.
“The capitol ‘B’ is on purpose,” she says. “Yeah, you’re awake when you have coffee and caffeine, but you’re also enjoying who you are in an alert state. I have high respect for coffee and all the processes it went through to get in my cup, but ultimately it’s about sharing that. So I’m interested in sharing the best tasting coffee possible.”
A multi-roaster setup, including Ceremony, Intelligentsia, and Cultivar allows Wolter to pair the right coffee with each brewing device—a table menu and aromatic vials of each offering sit in front of the Square register stand to guide customers in their choices. The hand-lettered everything—walls, menus, labels, tags—adds warmth to the precision of Sweet Science’s mise en place.
Though she’s a DC newcomer and had a quiet, neighborhood-focused opening, Wolter’s no newcomer to coffee. She’s a third-generation coffee professional in her family; her grandfather (who was also a boxer—the inspiration for the shop’s name) owned a roastery in Berlin where her parents also worked. A once journalist and newscaster, Wolter has returned to coffee. She is an SCAE-certified barista and has taught coffee brewing classes in Germany.
This small coffee shop, this coffee room, really—Sweet Science shares a converted row house with gallery and design boutique Skynear Designs—is home base for Wolter to dream bigger. To forge more connections with the neighborhood and DC’s coffee community at large, teach brewing classes, and get back to writing—this time, about her adventures in coffee and cafe ownership.
Dawn Shanks is an American coffee professional based in Washington DC. Read more Dawn Shanks on Sprudge.
All photos by Danielle Joray for Sprudge.