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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thing 54: murky coffee

This was breakfast Sunday morning:

murky: still life at breakfastSunday morning at murky coffee on Capitol Hill. Ben Folds singing merrily on the stereo. The happy chaos of a coffee shop, the calling of drinks, the whir of milk steaming, the click of the espresso grinder's lever and the dull thud that empties the espresso holder after a shot has been pulled. The aroma of truly fresh, complex, bittersweet black coffee.

murky is a community gathering place.

There is a screaming toddler, his mother consoling him. There is an ancient, disheveled-if-not-homeless woman, with a bag of nick knacks, who shuffles slowly, so slowly, between her seat at a table, and the water pitcher on the counter. Students with laptops are using the free wi-fi. Fitness folks fresh from the gym, still in sweaty gym clothes. And then me, meeting a new friend for coffee before we explore the sensory delights of Eastern Market.

I order a classic cappuccino and a scone. The shop is filling up, and I snag a seat at a table for four that is occupied already by a father and his young daughter. The girl, her skin the color of the latte her father is drinking and blue eyes searching everything curiously, is asking her daddy why mommy isn't there with them. "Because you kept her up all night! She is home sleeping." He gently chides her. She sips from a small paper cup of steamed milk, until, urgently, she informs her daddy that she needs to go. Now. He scoops her up and runs to the bathroom with her.

It takes awhile for my cappuccino to be ready. They don't hurry coffee here. I'm in no hurry, either. I nibble my cranberry scone, reading about world history and salt. My friend has been delayed, but on a lazy Sunday it's hard to get anxious about time.

After about ten minutes, my coffee order is up. May I draw your attention to the exquisite detail of my cappuccino?

murky coffee's classic cappuccino
murky baristas compete in nationwide barista competitions. They are repeatedly proven to be the best barristas in the metro area, the mid-Atlantic, the East Coast. It shows.

Care and passion has gone into every drop of every drink served at murky. Their training process is rigorous. They have partnered with a roaster in North Carolina that allows them to guarantee that no coffee served in the shop has been roasted more 14 days before. They are obsessive about where their coffee comes from, how it was grown, how it was procured and how it tastes in your cup. They have thought about everything.

And so I enjoy my cappuccino, savoring it slowly, sip by sip. You know that dry cappuccino foam, where you feel the bubbles on your tongue, and you never understood why people even like this drink? Forget it. Leave that memory behind as you drink milk foam that is thick, rich velvet on the tongue. It mixes with the dark bitter coffee, no sugar necessary, slightly sweet in its own right. Yes, this is what all of the fuss is about.

Like all the very best local, independent shops, murky cares about the product and the process in ways you just won't find at the bigger chain stores. The familiarity of a Starbucks logo in a strange city has its place, but it can never compete with a small local enterprise that cares about the quality of its coffee to an obsessive degree.

Sooner or later, my friend arrives. She orders the same thing, and we are equally taken with it. We laugh, loudly, as she tells me she may write a book, and I tell her chocolate angel food cake and buttermilk pie. Our laughter mixes in with the buzz of the shop, the sounds of Sunday city living. Everyone in the place enjoying the very best cup of coffee they have ever had.

7 comments:

DC Sarah said...

What a lovely post. And what lovely coffee it was, indeed! I'm so glad that we went there together-I think marketing and meal cooking will have to be come a tradition-it was absolutely a blast :)

C said...

what happened to my comment?

dc365 said...

dc sarah - We will do it again and again. So many new recipes to try, always.

c - I don't know! There aren't any left in my 'moderate comments' page, so I didn't forget to post it. Try posting it again?!

Anonymous said...

awesome. i'm glad you enjoyed it. try out arlington too sometime!

SciWonk said...

While I appreciate Murky for the same reasons as you, I am sad that they somehow char or over-roast their beans. The result tastes bitter to me.

From a local: the best coffee in the Eastern Market neighborhood is at Port City Java. Hands down. Though I'm more of an aficionado than connoisseur.

Anonymous said...

As a [partial] murky barista, it is so gratifying to find people like you who *get* what we do every day. I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself at the shop. We hope to serve you again soon!

dc365 said...

Sciwonk - Thanks for the tip. I always enjoy murky, but I'm happy to try out new places. I'll report back here when I've tried Port City Java, so keep an eye out!

Anonymous - Paul, is that you? If it's not, then you can tell Paul he has helped me to "get" and appreciate all the work and effort that you guys put into each and every drop!