Coffee House

Wine Not: Beer and Cheese Pairing at Sova Tomorrow

Wine_cheese When it comes to cheese pairings, most of us automatically reach for wine.  It's hard to deny the complementary effects that wine and cheese have on each other, and the idea is reinforced throughout the media.

But wine is not the only adult beverage that can be paired with cheese, and the folks at Sova Espresso & Wine are hosting an event tomorrow evening that will demonstrate just how well beer and cheese can go together.  They will be pairing five distinctly different cheeses with five complementary beers as part of the Atlas District's First Thursday celebration on H Street, NE on Oct 2nd.

The event will run from 7 to 9 PM, and it costs $25 per person.  The tasting is being conducted by Jessica Wurwarg, a teacher at that cheese-lover's Mecca, Artisanal.  I had a chance to speak with Jessica, and she informed me that beer and cheese pairing events are a growing trend that can be attributed to the natural relationship that exists between the two fermented products.  "While wine and cheese can be either super-delicious together or the other extreme, beer and cheese are more easy-going."

Unlike wine and cheese pairings, which are often chosen for their contrasting yet complementary flavors, beers are most often paired with cheeses that offer similar characteristics.  The effervescence of the beer can cut through the fat in the cheese to allow a greater appreciation of its flavors - hence the need for a beer that won't clash with the cheese.  An example is the pairing of a sharp cheddar cheese with a crisp IPA - a situation where both are dry and tight on the tongue.

Beer_cheese Wurwarg warned that the main thing to keep in mind when pairing beer and cheese is to seek balance - don't let a heavy beer like a porter overpower a lighter, milder cheese.  The hardest pairings, she said, were for cheeses with complex flavors - washed-rinds and blues are particularly difficult to pair, but guests can expect one such pairing at Thursday's event.  Other likely pairings include a lighter goat cheese with a fruitier Belgian beer and a sheep's milk cheese paired with an amber ale.

First Thursdays are an opportunity for the bars, restaurants and entertainment venues of the Atlas District to showcase their own interpretations of specific themes.  This month - surprise, surprise - the theme is Oktoberfest, which inspired Sova owner Frank Hankins to put together this beer and cheese event.  Other venues' offerings include German specials and 'traditional Oktoberfest clothing' at Granville Moore's, a Beer & Brat special at the Argonaut, $3 Harpoon Oktoberfest beer at the Red and the Black, and $1 wursts (while they last) at the H Street Martini Lounge.  These evenings occur monthly, and each month brings a new theme.  Although this end of H Street is not served by the Metro, there is ample parking in the surrounding neighborhood.  But if you're coming for a beer tasting, you might consider picking up a cab at Union Station or riding the X2 bus line to avoid the need to drive home. 

SovaSova has been open on H Street since the end of last year, and Hankins has been slowly but steadily developing it into exactly the kind of place he first envisioned.  A relaxed neighborhood coffeeshop serving quality Intelligentsia coffee and espresso on the ground floor shares space upstairs with a laid-back wine bar featuring ten or twelve wines by the glass that go beyond the usual cabernet, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc.  His latest addition is a range of gourmet panini and salads.  Sova is located at 1359 H Street, NE.

Murky Coffee - Last Time (We Hope)

In terms of "Internet Time," at this point I might as well be talking about the Crimean War; however, I feel this little scuffle deserves further consideration. (You can skip the following paragraph if you already know the details).

Over this past weekend (Sunday, July 13th, to be exact), local blogger Jeff Simmeron walked into Murky Coffee in Arlington, VA, while his girlfriend was in a dance class nearby. He ordered a triple espresso over ice (his "usual summertime pick-me-up"), and was met with a shake of the head: "I'm sorry, we can't serve iced espresso here. It's against our policy." In the face of this, Jeff took a moment, apparently saw "corn," then ordered "a triple espresso and a cup of ice." The barista "rolled his eyes," rang it up, and served Mr. Simmeron, but not before instructing him that what he was about to do "[was] Not Okay." Yadda yadda yadda, things got a wee bit out of control: certain people threatened to burn certain establishments down, others threatened to punch said persons "in the dick," etc. You can read a summary account from all involved parties here.

Murky Coffee's fortunes have not been the greatest, of late, considering the recent closure of their Capital Hill location, and copious woes and grief regarding credit card transactions at their continuing locations. Though no publicity is bad publicity, this most recent affair puts this much beleaguered local chain in an ambivalent light at best. Aspersions have been cast and deflected, and the matter remains unsettled as to who was right and who was wrong.

To me, this point is uninteresting: Mr. Simmeron admitted to "acting like a total dick," Nick Cho is welcome to defend his business as he will, and until the barista in question speaks for himself, he is immune to real criticism. More intriguing in all this to me is the underlying question of policy versus service, and where and who should be meant to bend.

Murky Coffee's business model has always been one of craft over compromise. To quote their website vis-a-vis Cho's impetus behind opening shop:

"MURKY coffee?  Why would I want to drink something called MURKY coffee?"  Our response is, "Walk on. Go find yourself something that is boring enough to make you happy. Go find something that is nice and mediocre and has a safe-sounding name."

With the defiant statement, "Walk on," Cho built a string of successful stores, catering to an elite clientele who know their coffee, and know how it should be properly served. But wherefore the philistines?

Speaking from a wine retail point of view, I understand the appeal of the "piss off" school of gastronomical sales. I cannot number the amount of time when I have bit my tongue in the face of a truly vile food and wine pairing, nor the number of times a desperate plea to a White Zinfandel drinker to try something new has fallen on deaf ears. But the credo of the wine sales, "the right wine is the one that your customer will enjoy," must and will win out, lest I lose a customer, and in the end, my job. This is not to say that all customers who fail to heed my advise are fools, as the whole point of wine is enjoyment -- their is no wrong wine, so much as a "good" and a "better" wine.

My questions, then, are numerous: Does coffee, that gray area between consumer good and prepared food, best fall under my guidelines, or that of the chef who refuses to compromise his vision? Is Murky to be lauded for its commitment to serving coffee towards the beverage's preference, over the customer's? Is Murky an example of an antiquated business model which, in the face of such "customer first" outfits like Starbucks, is condemned to stagnation and failure? Does Murky have the right idea, but lack the willingness to educate new customers? Does the traditional wine sales model fit that of the progressive coffee shop, or, despite my desire to educate my customers, does my dearth of conviction make me a skeazy sellout?

I leave this open to you, as I am truly torn. While I love the people at Murky for their wonderful coffee, and I truly appreciate their dedicated commitment to its proper service, I totally understand that not everyone quite gets it. What do you think?

A Coffee Buzz: The Scoop on What's Become of Murky Coffee

Img_4593 Like many people, has been following the situation surrounding Murky Coffee and its tax difficulties with some interest.  And although we promised not to mention it again for at least a week, there are some times when we learn things that are just too good to keep to ourselves.

Walking by Murky this afternoon, I noticed a panel truck parked outside and a pair of workers wheeling handcarts in and out of Murky's Eastern Market location at a steady pace.  I walked up to the truck and took a look inside, where I saw much of what endeared Murky to coffee lovers (and aspiring novelists) - the espresso machine, a large refrigerator, assorted tables and chairs.

As sad as I was to be witnessing this dismantling of a Sunday morning favorite, I had the presence of mind to introduce myself to the gentleman who appeared to be supervising the operation.  I asked him a few questions, to try to learn what I could about the future of Murky's equipment and the location itself.  Later on, when I came back to take some pictures, the truck was gone but an employee of the building was there and he helped to fill in some additional details.

Img_4595 And if you're not sick of this story yet, here's what we know:

  • Despite the published opening bid price of $10,000, the Office of Tax and Revenue ended up selling the contents of Murky Coffee for $7,000.  Included in this figure were the espresso machine, which retailed when new for more than $12,000, and a water purification system whose estimated cost was between $3,000 and $4,000.
  • Thankfully, the equipment was purchased by a local man who plans to open The Big Chair, a coffee shop located near the famous landmark in Anacostia.
  • Of the more than 30 groups that have submitted proposals to occupy the space that will be vacated once Murky Coffee is formally evicted this month, the list has been winnowed to four contenders - and it sounds like most, if not all of them, are proposing new coffee shops.  These bids are under consideration and a winner is likely to be selected shortly.  It is going to be more than a few months before a new shop is open for business, though.

Img_4597 So what started out as a blow to small, local business has actually resulted in opportunities for two separate local businesses.  I, for one, think it's great to see Murky's equipment going not only to someone who is eager to get started, but who is also going to be expanding the District's coffee culture into yet another neighborhood.

And those of us who relied on Murky Coffee for our java fix on the way to work or after a trip to Eastern Market on the weekends will have to settle for Port City Java (a North Carolina-based chain with franchises in seven states, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and the District) or - gulp - one of the Big Boys (Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks) who sit at either side of the entrance to Barracks Row on a direct sight-line from Murky's front door.

Greenberry's Coffee

I recently came to the realization that that I'm completely addicted to Greenberry's coffee. My addiction is the result of a long, boring story about how my coffee taste is maturing, but I'll sum it up in about two sentences.

Up until about two months ago, the only coffee I drank was the coffee produced from my office coffee maker (Starbucks House Blend of course), the Senseo machine that I had at home, and the local Starbucks. Then one day I stopped in at the Greenberry's near Ray's the Steaks for a pick-me-up after drinking a bottle of red wine with a very large steak dinner. Holy Shit this coffee tastes way better than what I normally drink. So the next weekend, I went out and bought a real coffee maker for my house, picked up some ground beans at Greenberry's and so began my addiction.

Of course, I still drink the Starbucks coffee at work, because if I don't have three cups of coffee a day, I'm just a ass to work with, but as often as I can, I make up some coffee in the morning and bring it in with me.

Oh, and if any of you are looking for a good coffeemaker, the Mr. Coffee thermal carafe model that I bought is quite good and I recommend it highly.