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A Good Cappuccino is Easy to Find

February 24, 2011

The Internet has failed me. It’s a great tool, but the problem is that for many things I’ve become too reliant on it. Driving directions are a great example—I blindly follow Google Maps wherever it decides to take me. But I also use Yelp extensively when trying to find certain kinds of tasty things to eat.

I’ve learned my lesson.

For the past couple of visits to Washington D.C. my Yelp research has revealed Illy Café to be the best place for an espresso or cappuccino in the district. And while it may have been better than anything else I could get in Albany (prior to the arrival of Café Vero) it was certainly no Blue Bottle. Ultimately this led me to conclude there wasn’t truly great coffee in D.C.

Part of the problem was that I wasn’t talking to actual human beings who love coffee, like my old friend Brent for starters. The other part of the problem was that I was lacking an adequate term to describe exactly what I was looking for.

I learned the solutions to both of these by talking with someone who was incredibly passionate about espresso at an amazing new café in Philadelphia. By amazing, I mean I was there twice in three days, and if you live in the area, you should drop what you are doing and get yourself a cappuccino to drink at the bar.

First, I owe a great debt to my cousin for introducing me to Elixr.

After leaving the café for the first time, I couldn’t shake the lingering impression the espresso left. It was great, but I got a bit lost in my thoughts, and barely avoided clipping another vehicle on the highway.

While I was there, I learned that indeed there are good espresso bars in Washington D.C. Three were recommended to me: Peregrine Espresso, Chinatown Coffee Co. and Big Bear Cafe. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to any of these places during my visit, but I did check into them and indeed they all seemed to be very impressive.

Next time.

More importantly, I learned about a stunning resource: a limited but national directory of many of the best espresso joints in the country. It is called simply the espresso map. And that is exactly what it is. Hopefully the absence of Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe, Arizona is merely an oversight and I suspect Elixr is just too new to have proved itself worthy of inclusion.

My original strategy was to put search terms into Yelp that might suss out these kinds of places. But none of my early attempts worked. And fussy coffee places like these have their detractors, so they also don’t necessarily appear when just ranking an espresso query based on overall stars. Can you believe that some people don’t want to pay a lot for coffee, or patiently stand in line as each drink is lovingly crafted?

It turns out there is a term for the kind of coffee experience for which I am searching. Really it’s not terribly new. But if like me, you aren’t part of the coffee cognoscenti, it’s unlikely you have heard of it.

These cafés are all part of coffee’s Third Wave.

It the broadest and simplest terms, the first wave was when Americans started drinking brewed coffee. The second wave was the national love affair with standard espresso based drinks. The third wave is all about the coffee bean, and learning to love it for what it is, not what we would like it to be.

We can get more into the specifics of the wave later. I find it especially interesting when second wave people dig in their heels and try to counteract the rising tide of the third wave. I’ve encountered that twice recently. Once in print, and once in person.

But for now I’m just contemplating whether my day trip to Providence on Friday can include a pit stop in Newton.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2011 1:00 pm

    Well whatta ya know! Elixr is but a 5 minute walk from my office, and it’s right up the street from a couple of my favorite bars (Good Dog, Fado, Monk’s, Misconduct Tavern, etc). I’ll have to try this place out. Thanks for the tip!

    Not sure how often you make it to Philly, but since you’re well acquainted with Center City, you owe yourself a trip to Capogiro ( for some of their fabulous gelato. And definitely go to Good Dog for a burger or any of their other fabulous dining options.


  2. February 24, 2011 3:24 pm

    What an excellent resource! Are you going to contribute any from this area? I see there are a few near Cornell. Maybe I’ll try one out the next time I visit my friend in Trumansburg.

  3. February 27, 2011 11:02 am

    San Diego: I found Java Stop and E Street Cafe dramatically over-rated, however I had a fantastic cappuccino at Zinc Cafe. FWIW.

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