The buildup: I’d joked with a barista friend once that we needed to convince the owners of Rustico and Tallula to open a coffee shop. The former has one of the best beer lists in the DC area and the latter is great for wine. Both serve delicious cuisine and have fun, warm atmospheres. Big budgets, too. Who better to create an awesome coffee shop?
So I guess I should have put one and one together when I noticed the coffee house under construction next door to Rustico a few months ago. As Amanda at Metrocurean reports:
Neighborhood Restaurant Group, the parent company of Evening Star Café, Vermilion, Tallula and Rustico, will open Buzz, a 35-seat bakery, coffee house and dessert lounge located at 901 Slaters Lane in Alexandria’s Potomac Plaza. Pastry chef Lisa Scruggs will oversee the menu, which will offer cupcakes, housemade doughnuts, and pies and cakes in two sizes (eight inch and mini four inch). Also in the plans: “drinkable desserts,” including at least 20 wines by the glass, digestifs and after-dinner cocktails, and savory items like a brioche muffin filled with eggs, bacon and cheese. Hours will run from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.
Sweet! Exciting news. Northern Virginia needs a late night coffee place and I’m sure the pastries and desserts will be wonderful. But the big question for me is, how is the coffee going to taste? If the owners apply the same refined selectiveness to beans as they’ve done for wine and beer, Buzz could become the new coffee house standard in the DC area for getting everything right. Or they could take the route of so many other high end restaurants and treat coffee as a neglected afterthought.
The letdown: As I was in the neighborhood for a meeting tonight anyway, I decided to drop by and check the place out. Finally some of the brown paper had been stripped from the windows and two big banners explained a bit about Buzz. One banner was about the pastry chefs, who sound very talented. I can’t wait to try out their stuff. The second banner was about the coffee.
Yikes! I mean, Illy’s good enough, but that’s such a missed opportunity for this place. Coffee is a perishable good; freshness matters. Illy advertises that its packing methods can preserve coffee for over two years. But why deal with that when there are so many outstanding American roasters who can deliver within a day or two after roasting? Roasters who make espresso blends of remarkable complexity and sweetness along with a wide variety of truly excellent single origin coffees. Serving just Illy at Buzz would be like serving just Stella Artois at Rustico. It’s ok, but why stop there when there’s so much more to be experienced in the world of coffee?
Buzz could have instead gone with a high-quality roaster based in the US. Counter Culture is the obvious choice, but if they’re already too popular in DC, Intelligientsia, Batdorf and Bronson, Zoka, Terroir, or any of the other big names in American specialty coffee would be good options. Any one of them could provide Buzz with a great espresso blend, interesting single origins to serve as drip coffee or paired with desserts in a French press, and consulation on how to prepare everything correctly. Or Buzz could have offered seasonal selections from a variety of providers, offering a constantly rotating glimpse of the best specialty coffee has to offer. Instead they’re giving us something blah and boring, the same brew served at every other restaurant in the United States.
It all comes down to the common view of coffee in the culinary world as something simple and easy. “It’s only coffee.” If the brains behind Buzz had tried some fresh, properly prepared American blends next to Illy, I really doubt they would have made the choice they did.
I’m still glad to see Buzz opening. I’ll go occasionally because it’s in Virginia, open late, wi-fi enabled, and offers what I expect will be great desserts and pastries. And it’s conveniently close to Rustico. I bet it’s close to perfection. But I don’t think I’ll ever be excited about the coffee.
Perhaps the tea will be good?