Compass Coffee

The words "REAL GOOD COFFEE" in orange on white-painted brick wall. At the bottom, in blue, is Compass Coffee's social media details.Compass Coffee was the final stop (of three) on my latest (very brief) visit to Washington DC back in February. Located on 7th Street in the north west quadrant, Compass is near the likes of La Colombe and just to the east of Peregrine Espresso and Slipstream over on 14th Street. It’s also a relative newcomer, having opened towards the end of 2014.

From the outside, the low, single-storey, brick-built building looks fairly small, but stepping inside, it’s surprisingly large, going a long way back and feeling much wider than it looked from the street. The interior is big enough to house a large counter, an even larger seating area and, right at the back, a spacious roastery, home to a 30 kg Loring roaster.

Compass is a curious mix of old and new, catering to a wide customer-base, including plenty of students. On the one hand, there are lots of blends, a wide variety of bulk-brew options and menu items such as gingerbread latte and peppermint mocha. On the other hand, there’s a fully-equipped Modbar and a choice of three single-origin pour-overs through Chemex or French Press. Naturally you can buy retail bags (or tins) of all Compass’ considerable output.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Compass Coffee on Washington DC's NW 7th Street. From the outside, it looks quite small...
  • ... but step inside and it's surprisingly big! This is the view from just inside the door.
  • The layout is very clever. You enter on the right-hand side with the counter dead-ahead.
  • The view back towards the door: a large, uncluttered space for those ordering to go.
  • However, if you're here to stay, you can sidle around to the business end of the counter.
  • You can even sit here at the far end if you want to.
  • Talking of sitting down, turn around & you'll see all the seating on the other side of Compass.
  • There are lots of tables and stools over there: tall ones, like these, seen from the front...
  • ...and like these, seen here from the back.
  • There are low level tables like these, which have chairs. And everywhere you look: laptops!
  • There are also some smaller, round tables, plus a window-bar right at the front.
  • The view from the back
  • Talking of the back, turn around and you'll see another bar...
  • ... which overlooks this, Compass Coffee's in-house roastery.
  • Obligatory shot of sacks of green beans...
  • ... and, on the other side of the roastery, the finished product!
  • At the back, this narrow passage leads to the toilets...
  • ... providing a neat view into the training room/lab at the back.
  • Time to go back to the main store.
  • Of course, since this is a roastery, there's coffee for sale all over the place!
  • You can buy bags of coffee...
  • ... and, something which seems very popular in America, tins of coffee.
  • More tins of coffee on the counter.
  • Even the pillar supporting the roof has been put to use selling coffee!
  • There are more retail shelves (and a community bookshelf) on the far wall.
  • Tucked away in amongst the coffee beans is a limited supply of coffee-making kit.
  • A neat feature is the painting of the various coffee-growing regions of the world on the wall.
  • Obligatory light-fitting (and skylight) shot.
  • Right, to business. You can order here, as soon as you come in.
  • All the cakes and sweet treats are here to tempt you.
  • The menu is also here, on the wall to your right. An interesting mix of old and new.
  • A view of the counter from the other end.
  • Meanwhile, this is the view head on, showing off Compass' full range of coffee gear.
  • At the back, the bulk-brew kit. There's a lot of bulk-brewing going on!
  • Meanwhile, at the front, there's a fully-equipped Modbar with all the modules: espresso...
  • ... steam...
  • ... and pour-over.
  • I put the pour-over into action, my coffee served in my UpperCup and a glass (don't ask).
  • I ran into the owners while I was there, who had me try the nitro cold brew! Very smooth.
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Compass Coffee’s brick store front has four openings, two windows on the left and a door and a window on the right. If you fancy sitting outside, there are benches in front of the windows, but otherwise, head inside, where the layout’s quite clever. Compass is effectively split into two, with counter/retail/coffee-to-go on the right and seating on the left. The counter occupies much of the right-hand wall, although there’s a large space between it and the door/window, which houses much of the retail section. If you’re ordering to go, you need venture no further since the till faces you as you enter, as do the cakes.

The remainder of the counter faces the seating on the left-hand side. You can sit the counter’s far end on one of three stools or take your chances in the main seating area. Several high, six-person tables run the length of Compass, effectively delineating the seating area from the counter. Beyond these is a mix of low four-person tables and smaller, round tables. There’s a window-bar at the front and, against the left-hand wall, are two bays, each with a wooden wall-bench and more round tables. Right at the back is a third (second?) space, roastery on the left, storerooms on the right. A counter looks into the roastery, seating provided by four bar stools.

Compass is a really bright space, with light from the windows at the front supplemented by two skylights on the left, plus plenty of lights. In look, feel and branding, it seemed to me a traditional American coffee shop, but one that has a Modbar and offers single-origin pour-overs (which are tucked away on the menu). It’s almost speciality coffee by stealth, something I was to encounter again in Providence.

I was fortunate enough to meet the owners, Michael and Harrison, plus the architect, George, who designed the store. Not your typical coffee geeks, Michael and Harrison met when as infantry officers in the Marines, drinking terrible coffee. A desire for better coffee led to an ever-growing obsession which, in time, turned into Compass.

From the start, they wanted Compass to be a roaster as well as a coffee shop, George designing the store around the roastery. It was also their intention to build a community, which, judging by how things were while I was there, seems to have been achieved. The decision to install the Modbar  (just the second in Washington DC after Slipstream) was part of this ethos, removing the barrier of a traditional espresso machine and encouraging interaction, engagement and transparency. The pour-over module was a little controversial at first, but it has proved to be consistent and reliable, freeing up the baristas to do other things (such as talking with the customers).

I tried a Chemex of the single-origin Ethiopian. Although a full sit-in café, Compass only serves in takeaway cups, so I wanted to use my Upper Cup. However, the standard pour-over volume is 16oz and the Upper Cup is 8oz, so we compromised, with half in the Upper Cup and half in a glass. This worked out really well, since I used the Upper Cup as a carafe and drank from the glass. My coffee matured and evolved as it cooled, turning into a very subtle and fruity brew by the end.

Monday 07:00 – 20:00 Roaster Compass (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 20:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 20:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 20:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 20:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 07:00 – 20:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 07:00 – 20:00 Power Limited
Chain No Visits 16th February 2016

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

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