Monday, March 10, 2008

Coffee/Riot: Alexandria Edition; Grape and Bean

Coffee/Riot is a DC-centric coffee shop series on The 42. However, since no DC coffee shops have purchased a Clover, I went to the closest place that has: Grape and Bean in Alexandria. Previous Coffee/Riot posts: Sticky Fingers, Baked & Wired, Dos Gringos, M.E. Swing.

Grape and Bean

Well, this is a first. I rarely cross the river in search of food, drink or entertainment. The District will almost always suffice. But clearly this is a special case. I love coffee. I love espresso, espresso drinks and coffee straight up; no (soy) creamer, no sugar. Just pure black gold. Thing is, not many places brew coffee so good that it can stand on its own. We use a French press in my home and we also own a single service machine; it makes a 10 ounce cup, but its a Black and Decker, pretty run of the mill. Those will do for the morning rush out of the door, but this weekend I had something a little more special.

If you like coffee, you may know of a new phenomenon called the Clover. Its a single service coffee machine. The Clover brews one cup of coffee at a time, with each brew bearing the specific instrutions of the customer. Whether you like fine or course grind, water at 212 or 209 degrees, coffee steeped at 45 or 60 seconds, the Rwandan, or Sumatran; its all up to you, the customer. There are only 200 or so Clover machines in operation worldwide. None are in DC. The closest are in Alexandria, then Annapolis, then Lynchburg, VA. The machines are cost prohibitive at $11,000.00 per unit. However, the steeping and vacuum extraction process produces a product far and beyond regular dip coffee offered at most shops.

Grape and Bean opened only a month ago (Feb 8) and I was quite impressed. I'm usually averse to most of the stuffy, out-of-sync establishments on King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Grape and Bean was a nice surprise. We walked in on a wine tasting and were greeted by the very knowledgeable and nice employees, one of which turned out to be the owner. As the name implies, the shop specialized in fine wines and fine coffees. I went straight to the Clover and picked up a coffee menu. Yes, get used to it. There will be menus for individual coffee servings in the near future.

I chose a Columbian Microlot (microlot means its the beast of a region; usually a limited quantity, but extremely high quality bean). I later tried a Salvadorean lighter roast. They set me back $2.35 and $1.75 respectively for 10 ounce sampler servings. The Columbian was really some of the best coffee I'd had in several years. I drank slowly, trying to realize all the flavors of the coffee indicated on the menu. The Clover allows for the full flavor of the beans to come out during extraction. All of caramel, flowery and fruity tastes come alive. The quality difference is really quite astounding. I was less impressed with he Salvadorean, but it too was far superior to most drip coffee Ive had. Oddly, we left with only a bottle of wine; no coffee. No way I'll be able to duplicate the Clover's results at home with the same coffee, so I'll have to find it in me to make the long trip to King Street and visit this wonderful place again.

Grape and Bean is located at 118 South Royal Street in Alexandria, VA. About a 20 minute walk from the King Street Metro station.