We have said it before and we will say it again: here at DC Refined, we love coffee! We wouldn't get through the day without several trips to the nearby Starbucks, so what better day than today -- aka #NationalCoffeeDay -- to share one of our favorite coffee stories with you!
This summer, we were introduced to a new-to-us local brand, Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters when we spotted one of their "Nitro Cold Brew Trikes" outside our building on one of our many daily hikes to Starbucks. The sheer uniqueness of a coffee bike and the gorgeous signage (oh who are we kidding, it was the gorgeous man on the bike) made us stop to try our first nitro cold brew. We learned that the custom-built fleet of three bikes were serving nitrogen-pressurized, cold-brewed coffee out of brass stout taps to different neighborhoods in Arlington all summer long. We started following them on Twitter to search out their location every day, which they made easy by using the hashtag "#LiveFastBrewSlow."
Turns out, Commonwealth Joe has been around since 2012 when four college friends started roasting a few dozen bags of craft-roasted coffee for pour-overs at local farmer’s markets out of a garage! Now, they are getting ready to open their first brick and mortar store in Pentagon City (opening October 10) and we got a sneak peek of the store and a delicious taste of a few pour over coffees that will be offered. In case you missed our Facebook Live chat with co-founders Robbie Peck and Chase Damiano, we are answering more of your questions about Commonwealth Joe below. Find out how this venture grew from a mom-and-son passion project into one of the best new coffee shops in Virginia!
What was the inspiration behind the brand originally?
Robbie: I worked with my mom in a coffee shop in Culpepper Virginia more than a decade ago -- she was a roaster and I was a barista and we both just fell in love with coffee. Well, I went off to college but my mom ended up buying all the roasting equipment when that business closed down. And then in 2012 we founded Commonwealth Joe so we could share our passion for small batch roasting with a larger audience. I had worked with Chase in a previous job, but we both ended up leaving our jobs to dive full time into coffee.
And is mom still involved?
Robbie: Oh very much so. She is the master roaster and has a few apprentices under her, but she's still roasting seven days a week on the original machine we started with. Most batches are less than 10 pounds a batch so we are still very much a local small-batch roasting company.
Where did the name come from?
Robbie: All the co-founders went to school in Virginia, so Commonwealth references that, and then Joe was the play on coffee. We used to be Commonwealth Joe Virginia roasted coffee, but we shortened to commonwealth joe coffee roasters since our coffee is sold in D.C. as well.
So what exactly is a nitro cold brew? How is it different than my average cup of coffee?
Chase: Hot coffee tends to be mixed with hot water and as a brew time of three-five minutes. But nitro cold brew is mixed with cool water over a period of hours, allowing for the bittering acids and oils associated with some hot coffee to actually stay locked in the grounds, which we remove. This allows for a naturally sweet coffee, which we infuse with nitrogen at the end to create a creamy, almost Guinness-like finish.
Did you do any traveling to find the beans you wanted to work with?
Robbie: We primarily work with importers that are only buying specialty grade coffee. So on a 100-point scale, we try to buy coffees that score in the high 80s or low 90s -- coffee between 80 and 85 isn't something you;re going to write home about, but coffee in the high 80s is incredible and coffee in the 90s is insanity. We are relying on our network of importers who already go through these filters to find great coffee and then we test a lot of different importers coffee to find what we like; we are very selective about the beans we purchase.
Chase: We prefer to stay focused on the roasting and brewing aspects of coffee.
Currently on your website you offer 12 roasts for sale between $11.99 and $16.99 per bag. But talk to me about your menu. What will you offer in the store?
Robbie: One of the first things you'll notice in our store is our cold brew station where we have multiple single origin varietals that we come up with recipes for and dial in as a really good nitro cold brew. We also have the pour over station to make coffee one cup at a time [Editor's note: we got to try varietals from Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia and mmm were they good!] and we'll also be focusing on our espresso bar as well. Of course, our menu is broken down into the hot coffee, cold coffee and the non-coffee sections. We have a loose leaf tea menu, chai lattes and steamers that will all be part of that non-coffee menu, and we do have drip coffee if you just want that really good quick cup of coffee. But for hot coffee, we'll stay focused on the pour overs and espresso while the cold menu will specialize in the nitro cold brews along with iced coffee offerings. The nitro cold brew is what we have spent a lot of time developing, however, and it's what we highly recommend.
Let's talk a little about the space you have here because it really is gorgeous.
Chase: Thank you. We really wanted to create a coffee experience through the shop and took inspiration from craftsman style, recognizing that coffee is a craft -- with careful time and attention it can yield something amazing.
Robbie: We talked to a lot of different design firms and ultimately decided to work with Core Architecture. They blew all our expectations out of the water. We knew they had worked with a lot of great local retail concepts -- Georgetown Cupcake, Sweetgreen, Cava -- but they were able to take all the crazy ideas we had in our head and turn them into reality. I think we wound up with a very spacious, comfortable environment.
And truly we couldn't agree more -- the 1,500-square-foot Commonwealth Joe headquarters are everything you want in a coffee shop! With seating for 31 people, plus a glass-enclosed room that will be used as an educational space for cuppings, brewing classes or as a rentable room, the shop is intimate but open enough that you won't feel packed in next to your neighbor or left fighting for work space. Be sure to hop over to Pentagon City to check it out once the store opens to the public October 10. In the meantime, click through our gallery for a sneak peek of the space and to see what Virginia notable has already visited Commonwealth Joe for a cup o'joe!
Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters, The Bartlett, 520 12th St S, Arlington, VA, opening October 10