From Jonathan Riethmaier @DistrictBean or email him at jonathan[AT]borderstan.com.
I remember when I first heard that MadCap Coffee — a rising star in specialty coffee — had its sights set on DC to open a cafe and roastery, only the second such location for the company. That kind of addition to the city’s coffee scene would certainly add some heft and help separate DC from its regional peers in terms of coffee clout.
I was particularly excited because I knew about the company’s reputation as an innovator and some of the interesting concepts that had gained notoriety at its cafe back in Grand Rapids, Michigan. MadCap promoted concepts like Sunday Service, a table service that includes horizontal and vertical flights of coffee (think, espresso, macchiato and pour over using the same coffee, or espresso-only using three different coffees). And hell, if that was happening in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just imagine what MadCap would bring to DC.
That was just more than a year ago. And to point out the obvious, there isn’t a MadCap cafe or roastery in DC. But that’s not to say the company doesn’t have a significant presence here. The MadCap DC team, which consists of owner Trevor Corlett and barista trainer Colin Whitcomb, have been plugging away over the past year, integrating the company’s coffee and brand with both professional and consumer sides of the city’s coffee scene.
Bringing MadCap to the District
It started with a deal with Buzz Bakery back in May 2011, even before MadCap’s intention to move to DC was made public. MadCap was selected as the roaster of choice for Buzz’s Arlington location and subsequently held training sessions with the bakery’s barista staff. Buzz is owned by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group that operates a number of food service businesses in the area, including ChurchKey and Birch and Barley, as well as the soon-to-open restaurant in the now closed Yola space in South Dupont.
But what about the cafe? The roastery? What about our regional supremacy over all things coffee? Over the next several months I’d gotten to know Corlett, mostly through coffee events that he and Whitcomb frequently attended, including Thursday Night Throwdowns. These are monthly barista competitions, and the MadCap crew fared exceedingly well. On occasion I’d ask Corlett about his plans for the cafe, whether ground would soon break and so on. Always coy, he’d tell me things were coming along well, but there weren’t details to share at the moment.
“We have a lot of exciting things we’re working on for the DC area and hopefully one of those is going to happen sooner rather than later,” he said during a recent exchange.
MadCap Becomes a Favorite in DC
Meanwhile, MadCap has been busy nurturing relationships beyond Buzz and Neighborhood Restaurant Group. You can currently find MadCap coffee at Dolcezza Gelato, Baked & Wired and Bean & Bite in DC. The company has also ventured into the beer scene. It’s collaboration with local favorite DC Brau yielded a coffee-backed porter that infused MadCap’s Colombian San Sebastian coffee with the brewer’s Penn Quarter Porter for a limited release firkin.
But one of the more interesting developments for MadCap to date has been a slate of coffee tastings held each week at its temporary work space, Canvas Co/work in Dupont. There, around eight participants each week attend a free, but exclusive (you must RSVP), tasting with Corlett and Whitcomb. A mix of folks attend, from seasoned coffee pros to foodie types and coffee enthusiasts seeking a more nuanced and intimate coffee experience.
The focus of each tasting is often different, from region-specific tastings to brew method training. I recently attended a tasting that included an array of coffees from Guatemala and one from both Costa Rica and Ethiopia, for good measure. The passion with which Corlett and Whitcomb talk about coffee is, in itself, engaging and their tasting format is incredibly accessible and free of the kind of professional rigidity that one may expect in such a setting. As I was passed a sample of MadCap’s Ethiopian Ardi, I received tasting instructions from Corlett, who said, “Think Double-Bubble.” Sure enough, the description was simple and dead on. Corlett and Whitcomb expressed their desire to create conversations with consumers and that often means connecting with people on terms they relate to.
“The industry has gotten so far ahead from where the consumers are that we have to find a better way to connect that,” says Corlett.
But what was even more enthralling than drinking coffee — which, to be clear, was a treat — were the people behind the coffee, their remarkable stories and the relationships that have been cultivated. The Rodriguez family, I learned, had grown coffee in San Pedro Necta in Guatemala for years, yet the owner, Gabino Mendez, had never tasted his coffee after it was roasted elsewhere. After hearing this, the MadCap team arranged for a delivery of the finished product to be delivered to Mendez. It was also the first time he’d been able to see his estate’s name on a bag of coffee. The relationship grew and the coffee from Mendez’s estate is now back for a second season in MadCap’s offering.
In a more evening-appropriate version of their tasting concept, the MadCap crew held a coffee cocktail event back in late-August. It included a discussion and sampling of three cocktails, each using a different coffee to compliment and bring out a certain quality in the drink. My personal favorite was the Bourbon Kochere Sparkler that combined MadCap’s Kochere Ethiopian coffee with honey bourbon, orange juice, orange bitters and a splash of club soda. The result was a sweet and refreshing cocktail that I’ve diligently sought to replicate at home (with success, I might add).
But when will I enjoy a coffee cocktail inside MadCap’s cafe? And when will that Double-Bubble flavor come from beans roasted here in DC? I cannot say for certain, but if good things truly do come to those who wait, there’s a lot to look forward to.
Learn more about MadCap’s weekly tastings by visiting www.madcapcoffee.com or by sending an e-mail to dc[AT]madcapcoffee.com.