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Not Your Average Cup of Joe

Local coffee shops serve customers their ration of caffeine

The coffee house, a place to drink what once was an exotic brew and talk to friends has been around since at least the 18th century. Now local coffee shops are still selling coffee and conversation, even if it’s often by wireless, throughout the Alexandria area. And Janet’s Java, Uptowner Café, Misha’s Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster, Perk’s Coffee Shop, and St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub are among the local coffee venues that are offering more than just a cup of Joe.

Janet’s Java resides off of Telegraph Road and is a short distance from I-495. The coffee shop’s location gets them a lot of commuter traffic but with its fun décor and awesome selection of menu items it is not hard to see why customers keep coming back.

Janet Kimmel, the store owner of Janet’s Java, said "I would say it’s very casual. It is community oriented and fun." Phil Suky, a regular customer, said "It is bright, welcoming and friendly. It’s a bit more friendly than Starbucks … [and] the prices are fairly reasonable"

Local customers come here often said Melane Riddle, a manager at Janet’s Java. Theresa McCabe, a regular customer, said "I bike here a lot with my family and sisters."

But besides their atmosphere, they also have a wide range of menu items. "We have coffee, bagels, sandwiches [and] a beer and wine license when we have events" said Riddle. She said they have events "2 or 3 times a month… and we usually have bands," such as Points of Roguery a Celtic band that plays once a month.

When asked what she felt was the most popular beverage, Kimmel said "Probably a latte. They says its better than Starbucks."

Another reason customers might continue to return is the personal service, which Riddle said "Me and the owner are the only people that work here."

UPTOWNER CAFÉ is a smaller coffee shop that is located on the corner King Street and Harvard Street and offers a nice sit down place close to the Alexandria Metro stop with a great selection of gourmet coffees and delicious foods.

"Starbucks is our competition" said Du Hyun Choe, a manager and co-owner of Uptowner Café. The coffee shop was originally part of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub but was sold and the new owners changed the name.

When asked if he was happy to be associated with the Del Ray coffee shop, he said "Yea I am very happy… a lot of people think this is still St. Elmo’s."

But though it might still be associated to St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, Uptowner Café still has its menu items and atmosphere like the majority of coffee venues in the area.

Breakfast and lunch foods of all kinds are served to complement their gourmet coffee which includes "all kind of muffins, pasties…, [and] sandwiches, chicken salad, Tuna, vegetarian, grill cheese" said Choe.

He said "they [the customers] like a latte or a coffee," but the most popular gourmet coffee is their Carmel macchiato. Choe said their prices are not that bad either with a "small coffee [for] $ 1.15 and a Carmel macchiato [for] $ 3.00," they try to make it reasonable for their customers.

This coffee shop also has more to offer than its menu selection with the collective décor that creates its relaxing ambience. "I like things that are homey and this comes across homey…It’s clean and cozy," said first time customer Sussanne Artiss from Windsor, Canada.

Misha’s Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster is the oldest coffee house in the area and is located in the middle of Old Town Alexandria on South Patrick Street right next to King Street. The coffee house was opened in 1991 by Misha said Andrea Seward, a co-owner of Misha’s Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster. Seward said "Both Misha and I are in our store everyday…we really care about what we do."

"I think we are unique, we are not a chain. We bring authenticity" said Seward in reference to the coffeehouse. And that is a trait the customers seem to like. Brian McDonald, a customer, said I think it is an anti-Starbucks sort of bohemian."

Kait Neely, a regular customer, said the area is "lacking in cool coffee shops, but I like this one."

With hand picked a high end coffee beans making their way from places all over the world into this locally owned coffee shop, Seward said "we are artist coffee roasters."

Seward said "We mostly focus on coffee," but do they do offer have pastries from local bakeries around the area.

The customers also recognize their specialization in coffee roasting. "Its good coffee to begin with… [but] I always get the route 66 blend which is one of the house coffees," said Chuck Willett, another regular customer at Misha’s Coffeehouse and Coffee Roaster.

With different jars of coffee beans lining one side of the counter, it is easy to see they take coffee to the next level and even though they consider themselves serious about the businesses their coffee is very reasonable priced for the customers. For instance, Seward said an "8oz coffee is $1.60" and for the more expensive items "up to not even $4.."

Perk’s Coffee Shop is another coffee venue that is located in Old Town Alexandria off of North Fairfax Street and serves more of the local customers. And this particular coffee venue not only serves coffee but also a wide array of breakfast and lunch foods.

"I do not call it a coffee shop, it is a full fledge café," said Phil, owner of Perk’s Coffee Shop, "Its Cheers without the alcohol."

From sandwiches to coffee, this little sit down spot near the water has a lot of menu items to offer to incoming customers, which Phil said "85% of my customers are regulars."

Amanda Nicholas, an employee at The Art League School and a customer at Perk’s Coffee Shop, said "I think it’s almost a family place, not like a chain."

When asked what he thought was the customers’ favorite menu item, Phil said "our sandwiches are the best in town. We use real meat. We do more top of the line in terms of sandwiches." But when asked about the coffee, he said "It’s our house medium blend," which is made from the Seattle Coffee Blend. And the prices range from $ 1.65 for a small coffee to roughly $7.00 for lunch foods said Phil, making it a great spot to pick up a cup of morning brew.

A little bit further down the road in the friendly community of Del Ray resides St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub located off of Mount Vernon Avenue. The coffee shop has been open twelve years and still continues to be the friendly place it was since its original opening. Nora Partlow owner of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub said "It’s one of my life ambitions [opening a coffee shop]…I wanted to open it there because of the people there."

All types of people can come to the coffee shops said Partlow. She said "Our focal point is for you to sit down …single people can come and participate and not feel left out," as well as moms and babies, older people, and the working class.

When asked about the menu, Partlow said "My number one thing is we are a coffee shop and everything else that goes with coffee. And for lunch we have sandwiches." "We have smoothies, all kinds of iced drinks, frappachinos. It is not just hot drinks."

However, they buy all of their tasty complements to coffee through local bakeries "so we can help other businesses," said Partlow. She also looks out for her customers by the very reasonable prices in which she said "Everything is pretty much under 5 dollars except our salads."

The atmosphere of the coffeehouse also keeps the customers coming back. "I come with my grand-kids when I baby sit…Its very family oriented. It’s nice, they have a basket of toys for kids," said Nancy Barkume, a customer at St. Elmo’s.

"There are other coffee shops but I gravitate to this place," said G.M. Malliet, a customer and a local writer.

With coffee shops serving items from gourmet coffees and regular coffee blends to ice teas, these beverages are not only reaching the early morning work crowd that holds this warm brown liquid so close at hands. And these coffee shops are not only providing caffeinated beverages to their customers but an experience and memorable taste. Seward said, "Some people are businesses to make money, we are in businesses to make coffee."