Coffee wars get serious


 Back in the 1700s, the hot coffee drink on the streets of Alexandria was Marthas Remedy, consisting of coffee, brandy and hot chocolate a concoction of Martha Washingtons and still a favorite on the Gatsbys Tavern menu.

Recently, the number of coffee drinks available in Old Town has become proportionate to the number of coffee shops, and that number keeps growing as the venerable Pain Quotieidien gets ready to open their doors at the corner of King and Washington Streets.

Last week, coffee connoisseurs got their first look at the Clover, the $11,000 one-cup coffee brewer thats programmed according to cup size, brew time and water temperature to flatter clarity and flavor notes for every bean and blend.

The behemoth, which is making its debut at a new wine shop and coffee bar, Grape + Bean, is believed to be the most expensive coffee-maker in the area even more pricey than the ones the Pentagon generals used to commission for those B-1 bombers.

Grape + Bean., located at 118 S. Royal Street, features Counter Culture brand coffee beans caffeine lovers crave people are crazy about.

Im excited, said Shawn Kelly, an Alexandria resident who frequents Cosi and Starbucks along King Street when its time for a jolt of of java. Kellys glad its not a furniture or antique shop. Im more into pastries, she admits.

Newcomer Kristen Becker swears by Starbucks. I know I cant go wrong with Starbucks, Becker said, bringing her taste for the double roasted bean from Phoenix, her previous residence. She is open to all options though, and was pleasantly surprised after visiting Firehook Bakery on South Washington Street. It was good, a neat little atmosphere, she said, Im always willing to try something a lease once.

As the street scene on King Street gets inundated by cafs, its a tough choice for some. There are two Starbucks, a Bittersweet Caf, Uptowner Coffee House on upper King Street, Mishas Coffee around the corner on South Patrick Street and Firehook Bakery a few blocks away.

Throw in Perk Up further south on Washington Street, the Firehook Caf, Brubakers and St. Elmos Coffee House in Del Ray and theres a cup of joe on just about every corner.

In colonial times, George Washington frequented Arrells Tavern on Market Square. Different taverns served different kinds of drinks they were known for, said Pam Cressey, the city archeologist.

Mount Vernon resident Evelyn Hambleton likes the aroma that whiffs out of Mishas Coffee. Open the door and smell it…it just sucks you in, she said, although a piece of the pound cake is really what she was after one recent morning..

Another Mishas regular, Marcus Mahanty, likes their Route 66 coffee. Hes been drinking it for 10 years. I have not found a better coffee, he said.

Back at Le Pain Quotidien, they think theyve found the right combination. The Belgian born caf specializes in green commodities, featuring organic Peruvian Single Estate Villa Rica coffee as part of their menu. Coffee is an important part of our offering, said Pat Jenkins, the companys vice president of operations. 

They are a chain, with 28 outposts in the United States and 90 worldwide. The Old Town location is the second in the area next to their store in Georgetown, and another will open soon in Bethesda. Its also certified green by the Green Restaurant Association.

Walking by, Elton and Jennifer Fontaine looked through the window. Anything thats new and non-Starbucks, Id like to take a look at, said Elton Fontaine.

Starbucks is aware of all this movement in the coffee house industry, and has set aside Tuesday, Feb. 26 as a training day in all 7,100 company operated stores nationwide to redeemed focus on espresso standards, they said. The buzz around local stores claims that Starbucks is phasing out their breakfast sandwiches by next September.

Another newcomer to the coffee scene is Fontaine Caffe & Creperie, a small creperie featuring a large cappuccino machine behind the bar. Owner Kyong Yi doesnt consider it a coffee house, claiming I dont do flavored coffees. They do specialize in sweet crepes, like the pastries in coffee cafs, and savory crepes that come with a salad, and are more like a meal.

With Edith Pilaf belting out the tunes in the background, its got a real Frenchified feel to it, and Yi, a graduate of the Culinary Institute in San Francisco, is betting on the well traveled, cultured elites for her clientele. People are very discriminating here about their coffee, she said.