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Great Coffee Shop Hunt: Swing’s

September 7, 2011

It’s raining and a little chilly this week — what could be better than a hot cup of coffee?

As soon as I started working in a new neighborhood, friends kept telling me about Swing’s. How good the coffee was. How laid-back the atmosphere was. How I had to try the biscotti.

Since Swing’s is right across the street from my office, I’ve stopped in once in a while for a quick drink.

Swing’s has roasted its own coffee in Washington, DC (today the roastery is in Alexandria, Va.) for more than 100 years. I think that’s why it always tastes so fresh, never stale.

You can actually visit the roastery for a tour and tastings — it’s definitely something I’d like to do — but the downtown coffee shop is open weekdays only, a lesson learned when I tried coming by a few times on weekends.

Swing’s attracts an interesting mix of tourists — although not as many as you might assume, since Starbucks and Caribou Coffee are both around the corner — White House workers, World Bank/IMF-types and a cross-section of your average Washingtonian. It has the vibe of a neighborhood coffee shop, despite being at the heart of the Washington political scene.

On this most recent visit, I stuck with my typical skim cafe au lait (cinnamon, nutmeg and a little sugar stirred in for an afternoon pick-me-up) but also tried the famous biscotti for the first time.

Coffee: hot, frothy, tasty, fresh.

Biscotti: chocolate chips-nuts-cranberry. Perfect for dunking in coffee.

I’m lucky this is so near my office. The point of this Great Coffee Shop Hunt is to find a fantastic place to relax with a cup of coffee and while the search continues city-wide, I already have ‘my place’ near work.


Last week’s installment in this series featured a not-so-great iced coffee at Dolcezza. After reading the post, Dolcezza owner Robb emailed me a detailed explanation of how they make their iced coffee. It was interesting to get this ‘backstage’ look, which I wanted to share with you:

Our iced coffee is brewed daily in French Presses using the “Japanese” method. We brew an extra strong batch of coffee and pour it over a weight of ice that brings the strength of the entire batch down to where we want it. In our case the final brew strength is 8%, which means that we use 8 parts ground coffee per 100 parts water (both brew water and melted ice). A typical hot coffee is around 6%, so as the ice used in the cup with the 8% brew melts the beverage approaches the strength of a normal cup of coffee. We use 120g ground coffee and 750g hot water to brew for 5 minutes, then pour the brew over 400g ice and 350g cold water. 120/(750+400+350) = 120/1500 = .08 = 8%.

We do not cold brew for several reasons. It takes about twelve hours, whereas the Japanese method takes around 25 minutes to brew two gallons. We are a gelato shop, and nighttime, when a cold brew would need to be prepared and refrigerated, is an extremely busy time.

We do not brew iced pour-overs because of the strength issue discussed above. If we were to just brew a pour-over like normal and pour over ice, then the ice would melt and weaken the brew. It is true that we could brew the coffee extra strong and pour over ice (the Japanese method described above), but it would require an alteration of brewing method and we are still a fairly new cafe, and have chosen to minimize the number of variables in our coffee program. Perhaps as we mature, we will alter our brewing methods to accommodate this, but for the time being, we will continue to brew in French Press batches. Also, our only method of brewing coffee is pour-over, and a busy morning can push the limits of our ability. If we only brewed iced coffee this way as well, we would often not be able to keep up. It is the same reason many fantastic cafes in the city, and around the country, still offer machine drip coffee and not the timely pour over coffee.

I always intended to go back to Dolcezza and order non-iced drinks (and gelato, of course!) but this fantastic customer service makes me even more compelled to give it another shot. Thanks!

Biscotti: anyone have a foolproof method for making it at home?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. khar permalink
    September 7, 2011 10:04 pm

    I don’t have any recipes for gelato, but would recommend Chinatown Coffee Company for your search. It’s our neighborhood coffee shop over in the Mount Vernon Triangle and we love it.

    • September 8, 2011 7:51 am

      Yum, I love Chinatown Coffee but haven’t blogged about it yet — thanks for the reminder!

  2. khar permalink
    September 7, 2011 10:07 pm

    Whoops, I meant biscotti.

  3. Corrie permalink
    September 7, 2011 11:55 pm

    A coffee shop not open on weekends?? Crazy! How much business are they missing out on?!

    • September 8, 2011 7:52 am

      It’s weird, but a lot of restaurants and businesses in downtown DC (near the business area) are closed on the weekends because there are so few people on non-workdays.

  4. September 8, 2011 11:05 am

    Here’s one of my favorite biscotti recipes I make. Coffee and chocolate. Yes and yes 🙂

  5. Life's a Bowl permalink
    September 10, 2011 8:51 am

    I drink coffee on a daily basis but have never once tried a biscotti- I think it’s about time I try one! 😛


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