It's no secret that a great coffee shop is an urban necessity — it's that magic element that can make your 'hood feel like home, make your workday go by a little faster, and make your weekend just a little more productive. After all, a cappuccino and a croissant make for a pretty good reason to get out of bed on a blah morning, right?
Your local java joint is also the perfect non-committal spot for a first date with that OKCupid suitor and a go-to destination for intensive GRE studying, Sunday book club, or just people-watching with a latte in hand. And, considering the fact that we don't have the rep of Portland or Seattle, we feel pretty luck to have so many shops in Washington where we can get a seriously good cup of Joe. To spread the buzz around, we're serving up a guide to 20 of our favorite local coffee shops — plus, a look at some seasonal drinks on the menu for fall, from pumpkin spice everything to cinnamon roll lattes and apple cider. Irresistible, we know. Kafe Bohem
Take a cue from the Europeans and while away your afternoons at Kafe Bohem, Shaw's newest coffeehouse. Located right next door to sister restaurant, Bistro Bohem, this Old World-style cafe offers a Viennese take on coffee, with decadent pastries such as bacon strudel to accompany it.
Where: 600 Florida Avenue NW; 202-735-5895.
Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar
On a side street off of Dupont Circle, this unassuming shop is a coffee purist's dream. Aside from cups of single-origin coffee in French press or pour-over options, the must-try here is the flat white, an Australian take on the latte using microfoam poured over espresso. The Filter ethos is so popular, they've expanded to a second outpost in Foggy Bottom, but freelancers, take note — laptops are banned there, so don't even think of bringing your MacBook.
Where: 1726 20th Street NW, 202-234-5837; 1916 I Street NW, 202-234-5837.
Take a look inside the giant windows at Tryst in Adams Morgan and you'll see exactly what people mean by the term "creative class" — a bunch of hip people sitting on couches, sipping coffee, talking about art, and working away on laptops. Since 1998, Washingtonians have made this a go-to spot for breakfast, lunch, drinks, and coffee meetings. Stop by on a blustery day to try their two new fall specials: an orange-thyme cortado and ginger-cardamom cortado. That’s espresso mixed with warm milk and spices — otherwise known as the perfect autumn treat.
Where: 2459 18th Street NW; 202-232-5500.
Pound the Hill
Nutella latte, anyone? This cozy Capitol Hill coffee shop has 'em covered, along with new fall specials like pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin biscotti for dunking. Head here starting at 7 a.m. on weekdays for the coffee menu, brewed with beans from PT's Coffee Roasting Co. And stay the day, because at 5 p.m., Pound the Hill transforms into a bistro with a $5 wine and $4 beer happy hour, and dinner options from new chef Brad Spates.
Where: 621 Pennsylvania Ave SE; 202-621-6765.
A slice of indie spirit amid all those chains in Clarendon, this two-level coffee shop is great for a date or study session. Order a cup of Counter Culture coffee and an apricot-pistachio scone or a hearty sandwich and head upstairs or outside for plentiful patio seating. And after 5 p.m., switch out the caffeine for a glass of wine at Northside Social's wine bar.
Where: 3211 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington; 703-465-0145.
M.E. Swing Coffee House
This no-fuss coffee shop looks retro, and for good reason — Swing's has been brewing coffee in Washington since 1916. The shop changed locations in 1994 and the coffee is now freshly roasted in Alexandria, but there's still history in every cup of the signature MESCo blend of Latin American and African coffee beans, patented in 1918. The G Street location is only open on weekdays, but the company is set to expand in early 2013 with a coffee bar fronting its new roasting facility in Alexandria.
Where: 1702 G Street NW; 202-628-7601.
Big Bear Cafe
This is the kind of rustic-chic place that hosts plant sales and inspires Craigslist landlords to reference the local landmark in their ads. In addition to Counter Culture coffee and quality sandwiches and salads, new chef John Cochran is setting the bar high with dinners based on seasonal ingredients, plus sauces and breads made from scratch.
Where: 1700 1st Street NW; 202-643-9222.
With a brand-new location at Union Market in addition to the existing outposts in Logan Circle and Capitol Hill, there's now a Peregrine Espresso conveniently located near all your favorite weekend stops. Good thing, because the lattes and by-the-cup brews can get addictive. New for October: The Washed Yirg, featuring lemon, honey, and jasmine blended with Counter Culture’s Apollo 9.0 espresso. This is Peregrine's last iced drink of the season, perfect for those freak 80-degree days we're bound to have in October.
Where:1309 5th Street NE, no phone; 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, 202-629-4381; 1718 14th Street NW, 202-525-5127.
Chinatown Coffee Co.
There's not much decor at Chinatown Coffee Co., just concrete floors, simple tables, and exposed light bulbs. But the stark, industrial look fits this place just fine, since the focus here is on coffee, with brews from 49th Parallel Roasters, Heart Coffee Roasters, and Intelligentsia. With specials like Mocha Mondays and Cortado Tuesdays, this place might be a new addition to your workday routine. And don't forget happy hour — after all, how many coffee shops also own an absinthe fountain?
Where: 475 H Street NW; no phone.
Qualia Coffee in Petworth focuses on one thing: really good black coffee. That means a cup of single-origin coffee, made from beans roasted in-house. Non-coffee drinkers will be happy with Qualia's take on cocoa: a decadent Belgian dark hot chocolate with whipped cream.
Where: 3917 Georgia Avenue NW; 202-248-6423.
Sidamo Coffee and Tea
H Street's homey Sidamo Coffee and Tea covers both bases, offering fair-trade, organic coffee, as well as loose-leaf teas and chai flavored with steamed milk and honey. If you visit on a Sunday afternoon, be sure to check out the traditional Ethiopian coffee-roasting ceremony at 2 p.m.
Where: 417 H Street NE; 202-548-0081.
Photos: Courtesy of Java Shack, Northside Social, Bourbon Coffee, and M.E. Swing
Around the corner from Union Station, Ebenezers Coffeehouse’s motto is “coffee with a cause." That means serving only fair-trade coffee from One Village Coffee, with all of the profits benefiting community-outreach projects. Obsessed all things pumpkin? Ebenezer's fall menu is overrun with pumpkin-y goodness, from chai and lattes to coffee cake and muffins.
Where: 201 F Street NE; 202-558-6900.
For 16 years, this laid-back coffee shop has been a neighborhood gathering place for residents of Courthouse and Clarendon. Java Shack focuses on sustainability, using organic, fair-trade coffee from Lexington Coffee Roasters and Origin Coffees, along with biodegradable cups, recycled napkins, and 100% wind energy to power the shop.
Where: 2507 North Franklin Road, Arlington; 703-527-9556.
SOVA Espresso & Wine
SOVA Espresso & Wine is an H Street favorite for coffee and wine lovers — and bluegrass fans, too, judging from the popularity of the weekly Thursday bluegrass band night. The coffee shop serves Intelligentsia coffee and Rishi tea by day, and stays open late as a low-key wine bar, closing at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Where: 1359 H Street NE; 202-397-3080.
African artwork lines the walls at Bourbon Coffee, a Foggy Bottom shop dedicated to spotlighting coffee from Rwanda. With comfy couches, warm wood accents, and a large communal table in the corner, it's a popular spot for study groups. The specialty drinks alone are worth the trip — we're talking new fall options like pumpkin spice lattes with nutmeg, brown sugar spice lattes with white chocolate drizzle, and caramel-apple cider-maple mochas.
Where: 2101 L Street NW; 202-525-1886.
Baked and Wired
That hot-pink bicycle in front of Georgetown's Baked and Wired is a landmark for cupcake devotees. Yes, the cupcakes here are phenomenal, and fall specials include a pumpkin variety with spiced cream cheese frosting and a German chocolate option. As for the "wired" drink selections, warm up with fall favorites like hot apple cider, hot chocolate made with melted semisweet chocolate chips and Trickling Springs Creamery milk, or the "chaider," a mix of apple cider and chai.
Where: 1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW; 202-333-2500.
The Blind Dog Cafe
Pop-up coffee shop The Blind Dog Cafe makes use of Darnell's bar during the day, supplying Florida Avenue regulars with their morning croissants, macchiatos, and hazelnut lattes. Come lunch time, locals stop by for free WiFi and $10 sandwich/salad combos.
Where: 944 Florida Avenue NW; 202-290-2865.
Every dreamed of a cinnamon roll in latte form? That's a real thing, and it's on the fall menu at Bayou Bakery, a New Orleans-themed outpost in Arlington. Other creative specials include a mint mocha made with fresh mint syrup, the Captain chai — that's housemade chai with a shot of spiced rum — and the Cajun latte, with bourbon added to the specialty house latte.
Where: 1515 North Courthouse Road, Arlington; 703-243-2410.
This two-year-old Vienna shop roasts its own coffee in-house, and serves up espresso drinks, iced coffee, French press coffee, and their signature "Caffe Amouri," an espresso steamed with half-and-half. Tea drinkers can choose from 24 varieties of loose-leaf tea for iced teas, tea lattes, or a pot of tea for sharing.
Where: 107 Church Street NE, Vienna; 703-938-1623.
For an afternoon hit of both sugar and caffeine, local chain Pitango needs to be on your radar, mainly because of the affogato — a scoop of gelato combined with a shot of espresso. Beyond the frozen treats, Pitango brews up interesting coffee drinks, too. Try the marocchino, a mix of espresso and hot chocolate, or the choco-latte, which blends Italian hot chocolate with steamed milk.
Where: See full list of area locations here.
Sip of Seattle
It’s hard to imagine being so cheerful at 7 a.m., but the friendly owners at Sip of Seattle make this a beloved spot for downtown workers looking to grab a coffee on the run. Definitely stop in at this tiny coffee shop for a bagel and an inexpensive latte or yummy raspberry chai.
Where:1120 G Street NW; 202-393-5058.
Photos: Courtesy of Tryst, Ebenezers, Peregrine Espresso, and Big Bear Cafe