Like a Local: The Best Coffee Shops in Washington DC

by Breawna Power Eaton  |  Published October 11, 2016

Home to the White House and myriad historical monuments and museums, the United States capital is packed with sites worthy of an afternoon or more. Coffee shops are perfect places to pause for a quick, yet thoughtfully crafted pick-me-up along with a sweet or savory treat before you head off to the next highlight. Everything seems debatable in this political landscape, including which coffee shop is THE best. Below we’ve compiled a list of local favorites, each making its own mark on the growing D.C. coffee culture scene.

Compass Coffee

Compass Coffee roastery and coffee shop in Shaw (Photo: Compass Coffee)

Compass Coffee roastery and coffee shop in Shaw (Photo: Compass Coffee)

Your first sip of coffee can set the tone that guides the rest of your day – bitter, weak, bold, smooth or balanced just right. This understanding inspired Compass Coffee’s  logo along with the micro-roaster’s meticulous approach: the owners source peak-season, fair-trade beans from around the world. Baristas are happy to “geek-out” with coffee connoisseurs over the flavor profiles of Compass’s rarer roasts and equally eager to help new customers find their perfect cup of joe. If you fall for one of the nine blends or single-origin coffees, snag a bag of beans to brew at home for a tasty souvenir. The chai (all syrups and sauces are also made in-house), gingerbread latte and nitro cold brew (coffee infused with nitrogen, a creamy vegan alternative to a cappuccino) are other menu celebrities. Hungry? Choose from a variety of sandwiches, salads and baked goods, all proudly certified “Made in DC.”

1535 7th Street NW
Additional  locations:
1921 8th
Street NW, 650F Street NW and 1776 Eye Street NW


Qualia takes "fresh coffee" seriously (Photo: Qualia Coffee)

Qualia takes “fresh coffee” seriously (Photo: Qualia Coffee)

Another local favorite known for being dedicated to helping patrons find their perfect cup of coffee, Qualia sources small-lot, single-origin coffee beans from around the world. Though Qualia has grown from its farmers’ market roots (where it still maintains a presence), the micro-roaster remains committed to providing the freshest beans possible — sold within three days of roasting. If you’re not able to attend a free tasting (held on the second and fourth Sundays of each month from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.), the Poursteady robot brews coffee fresh, by-the-cup, making it easy to try a few of the single-origin offerings. Feeling fancy? Try an horchatte (house-made horchata with a shot of espresso) or upside-down mocha (hot cocoa with a shot of espresso).

3917 Georgia Avenue NW

Big Bear

Big Bear can be a bit crowded — all the more reason to check out why. On warmer days, indulge in a restorative pot of Apothekary DC tea or a pressed Counter Culture coffee while sitting on the cobblestone patio under the leafy canopy of grapevines. The vegetables and herbs blooming in the kitchen garden are evidence of how committed the Bloomingdale café is to curating a menu sourced as locally as possible, including its own backyard and the Sunday farmers’ market it helped launch. Though the menu shifts with the seasons, the quality does not. When available, try favorites like the breakfast burrito, French toast, Reuben or grilled cheese.

1700 1st Street NW


Slipstream's avocado toast Tip: add a poached egg (Photo: Slipstream)

Slipstream’s avocado toast. Tip: add a poached egg (Photo: Slipstream)

As to be expected from a modern café furnished with custom-made Amish tables and chairs, Slipstream takes toast to a whole new level. Move over butter, homemade jam is paired with crème fraîche instead. Savory options include goat cheese mousse paired with avocado or finely chopped mushroom duxelles, two poached eggs and cheese, or white bean hummus and pepper tomato confit. Along with a seasonal menu, Slipstream serves a rotating selection of mixed-batch and single-origin coffees served various ways. For a twist on your late afternoon or evening caffeine, try a coffee- or tea-inspired cocktail, like The Monk, made with Green Chartreuse, Amaro Nonino, house-made almond cashew milk and nitro iced coffee.

1333 14th Street NW

Baked Joint

A hand-delivered biscuit sammie at Baked Joint (Photo: Erin Krespan)

A hand-delivered biscuit sammie at Baked Joint (Photo: Erin Krespan)

Baked Joint’s high ceilings make the industrial space feel that much more open and inviting, as does the intoxicating scent of baking bread. Fitting for a larger group or meet-up, the café’s plentiful seating includes long, family-style tables. Don’t leave without trying a hearty Biscuit Sammie – a fried egg hugged by a spicy sausage, cheddar and cilantro biscuit or a rosemary and chèvre biscuit, depending on the selection of the day. Wash it down with a chilled nitro coffee, Tolstoy Sip black tea, dirty chai (kicked up a notch with a shot of espresso). For a fun distraction, watch the bakers at work in the exposed kitchen, behind the glass case filled with goodies made in-house at Baked Joint’s award-winning sister property Baked & Wired in Georgetown (1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW). Go ahead, give in. Grab a cookie, a bag of Hippie Crack granola, or a whole loaf of freshly baked bread for the road. You’ve got a long day of exploring ahead.

440 K Street NW

Bakers and Baristas

Fortunately, there is no shortage of glass cases filled with fresh-baked treats in D.C.. A popular work spot, evident by the tables packed with laptops, this corner coffee shop in Penn Quarter offers European-style baked goods along with fair-trade coffee and tea. As lovely as they are delectable, the line-up of confections can make choosing just one a challenge. Macaroon or Sachertorte? Chocolate caramel tart or raspberry vanilla cream? The cream-filled signature butterkuechen is surprisingly light and fluffy, topped with thin slivers of toasted almonds for a satisfying crunch. For a less sweet treat, try a flaky croissant stuffed with Gruyere and ham.

501 7th Street NW


Dolcezza's hand-crafted gelato + Stumptown espresso = affogato heaven (Photo: Farrah Skeiky)

Dolcezza’s hand-crafted gelato + Stumptown espresso = affogato heaven (Photo: Farrah Skeiky)

If you’ve had your fill of fresh baked breads and sweets, how about an affogato instead? At Dolcezza, enjoy espresso poured over a scoop of hand-crafted gelato or relish each on its own. If the thought of waiting in yet another line exhausts you, don’t worry. You may need those few more minutes to pick a flavor from Dolcezza’s arsenal of seasonal, farm-to-freezer gelatos – like salted caramel or mascarpone and berries – and sorbets – like lemon opal basil or cantaloupe — made locally at its warehouse behind Union Market. For an extra boost, double down and order espresso gelato along with your Stumptown Coffee Roasters cold brew or steamy cappuccino.

904 Palmer Alley NW
Additional  locations:
1418 14th Court NW, 1704 Connecticut Avenue NW and 1560 Wisconsin Avenue NW