Monday was the grand opening of Buzz, the new coffee shop in Alexandria from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and I dropped in with a few friends to check the place out. They were still putting the finishing touches on the bright decor and waiting for the local bureaucracy to send them their liquor license, but otherwise the place was set up and running very smoothly for a first night.
As noted before, Buzz is serving Illy coffee, which is a little disappointing. To their credit, the espresso I ordered came out sweeter than I expected, but it didn’t have a whole lot of body and the taste faded pretty quickly. The Americano I had with dessert was pretty neutral, as was my friend’s latte. Not bad, all in all, but they could have been better. And given this company’s history of excellence with beer and wine, they should have been.
For the curious, Buzz is using a Mazzer-style grinder and a machine I’ve never seen before, a UNIC Rumba. It’s an automatic. I didn’t talk to the baristas much, but from what I could see it doesn’t look like there’s a die hard coffee person in charge of training. The staff obviously isn’t going to be perfect on day one, but the place seemed to have a very restaurant approach to espresso preparation. Simple things that would improve quality, like wiping out portafilters and grinding to order, weren’t being done.
In contrast, when I visited sister restaurant Rustico very close to opening, it was obvious the staff knew a lot about beer. Our waiter was able to make recommendations about what he’d tried on the menu, and if he couldn’t answer a question there was a very good chance the bartender could. If there’s anyone with similar coffee expertise at Buzz, their presence wasn’t in evidence.
OK, but what about the desserts? This is probably the area where Buzz will live or die. I opted for a very tasty chocolate cupcake, topped with icing and delicious chocolate shavings. Other people at our table had a chocolate bombe with passion fruit filling and an espresso creme brulee. The desserts are definitely tempting enough that I’ll come back sometime for more. If you like sweets, you’ll like Buzz.
I think Buzz will be a good place to stop in for dessert after dinner at Rustico or for breakfast if one lives in the area. If the limited seating doesn’t fill up too quickly, it could also be a good spot for the laptop crowd; Northern Virginia could certainly use a late night wi-fi and coffee spot. But when I want good espresso drinks, I’m going to stick to Murky by day and Open City by night.
Like many others in the culinary world, the Neighborhood Restaurant Group seems to think that while beer and wine require expertise, coffee is easy. The truth is exactly opposite. While one can become endlessly knowledgeable about beer and wine, actually serving them is simple. Don’t get cork in the glass, don’t pour the beer too quickly, and you’ve got it down. Coffee, on the other hand, is hard. If the beans are old, the equipment is off, or the preparation is flawed, the drink’s not going to live up to its full potential. Will Buzz?
[Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]