Chinatown Coffee Co

The front of Chinatown Coffee Co on H Street in Washington DCIt’s a sign of how much I’m travelling and how many great coffee shops there are around the world that today’s bonus Coffee Spot is from one of last year’s trips, when I spent a day dashing around Washington DC in the rain. Chinatown Coffee Co is one of the capital’s stalwarts, having first opened its doors in 2009. Long and thin, it’s a cross between a corridor and a basement, a little reminiscent of the Dupont Circle branch of Filter Coffeehouse, which was my first ever speciality coffee experience in DC.

Chinatown’s stock-in-trade is the Black Cat espresso blend from Chicago-based, Intelligentsia. This is joined by a decaf espresso and four single-origins, available as V60, cafetiere or syphon, with two of them on the obligatory bulk-brew. Here Intelligentsia is joined by Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters, with a new coffee appearing on the menu every two weeks. You can also buy a range of the beans to take home with you. Finally, there’s a selection of organic tea if you don’t fancy coffee.

If you’re hungry, there’s a range of pastries and cakes, plus a small selection of chocolate. On the savory side, there are sandwiches from Broodje & Bier.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The unassuming storefront of Chinatown Coffee Co on Washington DC's H Street.
  • Another view of the exterior. It's the door on the left we want, by the way.
  • It's easy enough to miss, although there's this handy banner hanging higher up the building...
  • ... while confirmation that you've come to the right place can be found on the door.
  • Inside, and Chinatown Coffee Co stretches out ahead of you, long, thin & corridor-like.
  • A long, shallow ramp leads from the door to the main part of the shop...
  • ... which means you have to double back on yourself if you want the window seating.
  • This is in the form of two narrow bars, one against the wall...
  • ... and the other in the window at the front, the only natural light in the coffee shop.
  • Alternatively, there are two four-person tables here as well on the right-hand side.
  • Beyond that Chinatown Coffee Co is equally split between seating (left) and counter (right).
  • The seating is a row of two-person round tables against the bare-brick wall on the left.
  • Meanwhile, the counter is a multi-part affair on the right, backed by an orange wall.
  • However, right at the back, the counter ends and there's more seating. With chairs!
  • There's also a solitary bar stool by the counter back there.
  • The view from the back looking towards the front.
  • Another view of the seating opposite the counter.
  • Obligatory lighting shot.
  • So, to business.
  • The first thing you encounter are the sweet things which are at the front of the counter.
  • These doughnuts in particular looked really tempting.
  • There's also a range of sandwiches if you want something savoury...
  • Back to the sweet stuff and there's chocolate to be had!
  • I somehow ended up with this bar of Intelligentsia chocolate. With thanks to Chinatown...
  • Next up, the till and the coffee.
  • The menu is on the back wall...
  • ... which is where the bulk-brewers are kept...
  • ... as well as the pour-over boiler, grinder and kettles.
  • However, the V60 pour-over filters are at the front...
  • ... with the choice of beans on the right, along with a selection of tea.
  • The pour-over options during my visit.
  • You can also buy the beans to take home with you.
  • These were the choices during my visit.
  • There's also cold-brew, made on-site in this lovely aparatus.
  • Finally, at the far end, is the espresso machine.
  • In case you were wondering who roasts the espresso beans...
  • It was cortado Tuesday when I popped in, so I naturally had to have one.
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Chinatown Coffee Co is in the northwest quarter of Washington DC, on the northern side of H Street, near its intersection with 5th Street. I mean, who needs street names? Close to Union Station, it’s not quite within striking distance for a quick coffee while waiting for/changing trains, but it makes an excellent starting (or finishing) point if you’re doing a tour and arriving/departing by train.

My day in Washington was one for long, thin coffee shops, since I also called in on La Colombe’s Blagden Alley branch. However, other than both being long and thin, Chinatown Coffee Co and La Colombe are like chalk and cheese. While La Colombe is bright and airy, with windows all down the long side, Chinatown resembles a cosy basement, the only windows being at the front. In this respect, it was much more like New York’s Underline Coffee, although none of these quite top Edinburgh’s Cult Espresso when it comes the coffee-shop-most-resembling-a-corridor stakes.

From the street, Chinatown Coffee Co has a modest appearance, a slightly projecting window on the right, and a single, glass door on the left, easy enough to miss if you’re not looking for it. Inside, its true size becomes apparent. A long, gentle ramp leads up past some seating on the right, which is the only part of Chinatown Coffee Co to enjoy natural light. There’s a two-person window-bar, followed by another two-person bar against the right-hand wall and then two low, four-person tables with benches rather than chairs. The ramp, and the metal barrier next to it, provide some respite for those sitting at the front from the inevitable flow of people as they come and go.

The ramp deposits you about a quarter of the way into the store. At this point it widens on the right to accommodate the counter, which occupies most the remaining right-hand side. Four low, two-person tables with stools line the left-hand wall, then comes the takeaway station with lids and milk, opposite which is a solitary bar-stool by a water tap at the back of the counter. Beyond this is the remaining seating, the only seating in Chinatown Coffee Co to have chairs. On the left are a pair of normal-height two-person tables, while beyond the counter on the right is a four-person table.

The counter, also long and thin, is uncluttered, starting with a retail shelf, followed by cake, the till and the two-group La Marzocco espresso machine, with its twin grinders (Black Cat and Black Cat decaf). There’s lots of space, with plenty of room to queue when ordering/waiting for your coffee.

I was spoiled for choice when it came to the coffee, but since it was cortado Tuesday (who knew there was such a thing?) that rather settled things, particularly since it was my first coffee of the day. My cortado, made with Intelligentsia’s Black Cat blend once again confirmed that it’s one of my favourite espresso blends. It was excellent, the perfect balance of coffee and milk, the sweetness of the milk complementing the coffee, which came through the milk strongly. Unusually, it was served in a tall, thin glass, but was no worse for that. Had I had longer, I’d have tried the pour-overs, but I had other fish to fry and more corridors to visit.

475 H STREET • WASHINGTON DC • DC 20001 • USA
www.chinatowncoffee.com +1 202-320-0405
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Intelligentsia (espresso) + Intelligentsia & Heart (filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, window-bar
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Cake, Sandwiches
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 09:00 – 17:00 Power Yes (at the back)
Chain No Visits 16th February 2016

You can see what fellow coffee blogger, Bex, of Double Skinny Macchiato, made of Chinatown Coffee Co.


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