Look around the internet, and you’ll quickly determine that the coffee mantle in Washington D.C.’s post-Murky era appears to have been passed to two institutions: Chinatown Coffee and Tea and Peregrine Espresso. In my post on Chinatown Coffee, I mentioned how Nick Cho influenced that shop. It turns out, his presence is felt at Peregrine as well. One of Peregrine’s owners, Ryan Jenson, used to work for Murky Coffee, and Peregrine occupies the former Capital Hill Murky Coffee location that the IRS closed back in 2008.
This location, which actually resides on 7th street despite the technical address, turns out to be a good one. You’ll find it only a few short skips from the Eastern Market Metro station along a strip of Pennsylvania Avenue just Southeast of the Capitol (which is obvious by the address for those who actually get the DC address system). Just up the street from Peregrine, you’ll find the The Good Stuff Eatery/We The Pizza, which is run by the (seemingly) talented, but (seemingly) childish, Spike Mendelsohn, of Top Chef’s 4th season. Right next to Peregrine, actually on Pennsylvania, but seemingly under-patronized by comparison, is a Le Pan Quotidien.
At this location of Peregrine (a second Peregrine will soon be opening at 1718 14th Street NW), you have a couple of seating options. The relatively tiny space houses a handful of blond wooden tables surrounded by mostly white walls accented with splashes of snappy, apple green and accessorized by matte black menus, coffee equipment and coffee bags. There is also pastry case filled with some pretty amazing stuff (I highly recommend the egg filled brioche for breakfast). You can also sit at one of the six or so tables on the tiny patio, which works great during those small windows in D.C. that require neither heating, shelter or air conditioning.
Like Murky before it, Peregrine is a Counter Culture account. Since I never visited Murky, I can’t say which one did it better, but Peregrine certainly does a swell job and no wonder. Three of Peregrine’s baristas took first, third and fourth at last year’s Mid-Atlantic Barista Competition, and one, Jeremy Sterner, went on to place in the semi-finals in the 2010 United States Barista Championship.Of course, the owner himself is a former Southeast Regional Barista champion and former Counter Culture employee. So it’s probably no surprise then that Counter Culture turned to Peregrine, as one of three shops in the country to pilot the Apollo espresso, their new seasonal espresso blend (NYT).
Espresso at Peregrine is prepared on a sizeable four group La Marzocco GB/5. Unfortunately, my shot of Apollo appeared to be prepared by a barista in training. It was very light and delicate, both in flavor and in texture, which I’d describe as pillowy. The crema was a bit thin, but not as much as it appears in that my very delayed photograph below. I found it heavy on the citrus and floral (daisy?), with some candy-like sweetness but the shot held an acrid edge that spoke of pull quality and not potential, especially given my experience with this espresso (to be reported on soon). Given their reputation, I can only imagine that my still quite good shot was something of an anomaly (3+) and that the norm is much better.
Filter coffee consists of a happy, yet highly functional setup consisting of Fetco-brewed carafes of rotating coffees during the mornings for the customer on the go, and a Melitta pour over station operating throughout the day for customers with a little more time to linger. I like the way that Peregrine’s website cleverly refers to this as providing both macro- and micro-brewing options (I may just have to start using that). The menu lists a handful of Counter Culture coffees to chose from for the micro-brew.
Unfortunately, my first pick – the Yirgacheffe – was freshly out of stock. I opted instead for the Guatemala Los Gemelos microlot. My cup had some really nice, green apple acidity and an overall fruity character, supported by deep tobacco notes. I thought the papery taste of the brew method came through a bit strong for me and I was struggling to find a bit more depth and complexity in the coffee, even though I still enjoyed it quite a bit (3+).
In the end, Peregrine fell short of my expectations and probably of their true potential. Somewhat frustratedly, I can only rate things as I experienced them, but I do so with ample reservations. It’s quite likely that your experiences with this cafe have been or will be far better. Certainly Peregrine goes for depth over breadth compared to a shop like Chinatown. They use only a single roaster and one brew-to-order method, but they likely know their coffee better, certainly have some pretty top talent and still offer a heck of a lot of choices. Fortunately, there can be more than one. Both shops say good things about where D.C. coffee is going.