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The Local Bean Scene

Inside some very different local coffee houses.

With home brewing now an art form, and with chains like Starbucks continuing to spread like a virus, local coffee houses are having to work harder than ever to claim customers and keep them coming back. That means offering something beyond a cup of java and doing whatever they can to create a sense of familiarity and community.

<ro>Cameron Perks

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Existing in the middle of a residential community has its advantages and disadvantages for Cameron Perks Coffeehouse (4911 Brenman Park Drive), located in the heart of Cameron Station.

“We have a lot of regulars — we see them come in, and we know exactly what they want,” said Katie Dodd, co-owner of the coffee shop. “But we’re not allowed to do anything real rowdy because we have the condo people right above us.”

Dodd and Vickie Bryant recently took over Cameron Perks from Mike Fleming, who moved to Arizona. Bryant and her mother Julie — Dodd’s aunt — had been looking for an opportunity to move into the coffee shop business without having to open one from scratch. “Both of us were working for the government at the time. [Vickie] just fell in love with it, and heard they were leaving. So we jumped on it. They had other offers, but he really enjoyed us,” said Dodd.

The shop offers two different coffee experiences: the tables around the coffee bar resemble a grab-and-go establishment, while the large sitting room offers comfy couches and plenty of play space for families with small children.

Coffees are brewed with beans from Café Pronto, which offers an international selection of options. Along side Cameron Perks House Blend, a deep and rich flavored coffee, were beans from Guatemala. The shop offers the typical array of drinks — lattes to macchiato to mochaccino — ranging from $2.50-$3 based on size. Cameron Perks also features assorted teas and smoothies.

Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays, the shop also sells breakfast and lunch fare, along with pastries. Cameron Perks is open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday. The shop frequently has live music and other community events, from open mic nights to children’s story time.

Dodd said the shop’s large dining area is available for rent, and that Cameron Perks can cater the events. Unofficially, the rates are $50 an hour during the week and $75 an hour on the weekends.

Dodd said the goal for the new owners is to maintain the classic neighborhood feel that’s made Cameron Perks a popular destination before work and on the weekend, while attempting to bring in new customers to the shop’s family.

“Last Thursday night, we had an open mic night and people came in from the Alexandria area who said ‘We didn’t know this was here, this is awesome.’ We love hearing that kind of stuff. We don’t want to be non-community oriented, but I’m hoping to market out to the Old Town Alexandria area,” she said.

Visit www.cameronperks.com for more information and for calendar listings.

<ro>Janet’s Java

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Janet’s Java is located in a strip of stores on a stretch of Telegraph Road that seems forever under construction. But walking into the coffee shop on a Saturday morning, it feels like it may as well be in the heart of a neighborhood. A long line of customers stretches to the door, and the baristas behind the counter know many of their names. Families come for breakfast, while others devour both the morning paper and the shop’s eclectic collection of breakfast foods, from fresh bagels ($2, with cream cheese) to slices of pie ($2.75). And then there’s the coffee, like the 20 oz. Espresso Frappuccino, available in Mocha and Vanilla ($3.95). Janet’s also offers strawberry and mango smoothies ($3.95, 20 oz.) and a variety of Hi-C and Yoo-hoo juice boxes for the kids.

Two communal seating areas bookend about a dozen tables with multiple chairs. Janet’s offers occasional music acts, and the frequency of those acts will increase during the summer.

Tropical murals of parrots and toucans adorn the walls of a cozy space that’s a perfect early morning meeting place. Call 703-960-2900 for more information.

<ro>Misha's

<bt>Misha's Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster is located just off King Street at 102 South Patrick St. When Misha's opened in a small space in Old Town in 1991 the response was immediate. By 1996, the independent coffeehouse had been named Best Coffeehouse in the Washington D.C. area by Washingtonian Magazine and was doing a million dollars worth of business.

"We are first and foremost in the business of making coffee," said Andrea Orlandella, co-owner with Misha of one of the first coffee houses in the D.C. area.

"Misha had been in coffee in Providence before coming here," she said explaining why they had started the business.

One of the most unusual things about Misha's is the coffee roaster which Misha got because he wanted to make the best coffee he could make according to Orlandella. "He couldn't find anyone who would roast the coffee the way he wanted it done."

In addition to the roaster Misha's also introduced the communal table, a large table in the roasting room where people can gather to talk and meet with one another.

"We have a really loyal clientele," said Orlandella, "People like the atmosphere, people are really into good coffee."

All of the coffee served at Misha's is 100 percent Arabica, roasted in Misha's own coffee roaster. Two basic roasts are used, the full city roast and the French roast. The coffeehouse offers three blends of their own Caravan Blend, Route 66 and Earl's Private Stock along with a varietal brewed fresh everyday. Coffee is made to order either as a French press or an Americano and a full line of expresso drinks is offered hot and iced. Pastries, cake, muffins and other goodies are also available. The folks behind the counter are friendly and a familiar with the drinks they serve.

The menu is listed on a metal board which uses magnetic letters reminiscent of a children's toy to spell out drinks and prices. The atmosphere is warm with brightly colored walls inviting lively conversation whether at the communal table or smaller places for two to four. But the lone visitor who just wants a great cup of coffee and a place to catch up on his or her reading is welcome too. This is a place with a personality all its own.

And if the weather cooperates you can always sit outside.

Orlandella said Misha's will be celebrating its fifteenth anniversary in September "We're going to have a big party, " she said.

The coffee shop is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information call 703-548-4089.