Sorry I haven’t posted in a long time. Eventually I’ll get to why, but for now it’s nice to be back.
This review has swerved a bit in my mind before I sat down to write it. Loved it. Wasn’t so sure. Ready to go thumbs down. Thought some more. Decided I really do love it. Let me explain.
This morning for the first time I passed through Shepherdstown, WV, a lovely, historic college town on the banks of the Potomac River about 90 minutes away from DC. From my usual internet search for coffee in a new place, the clear option was a cafe which trades under the name Lost Dog Coffee and Tea Fine Arts Emporium. Or maybe it’s Lost Dog Fine Arts Coffee & Tea. Or Lost Dog Coffee Espresso and Tea Arts Emporium. Not sure which is correct, maybe they all are, and that’s just fine.
Set in a colorful storefront on German Street, the commercial center of town, Lost Dog is currently limiting itself to window service only. I couldn’t really see the inside, but the outside is delightful. Sturdy wooden steps allowing you to step up to the windows, a cafe table and a bench along the sidewalk, and a fully dressed mannequin to keep you company as you wait in line beneath a beautiful old tree.
I waited behind a mother and daughter who were getting their order. While doing so, I noticed all kinds of interesting signs and stickers on the door and windows, handwritten signs for the current offer of baked goods (which all sounded delicious – you had me at raspberry). But what really grabbed my attention was a beautiful little black iron cage holding the tip jar. Well, it was the sign on the cage that caught my eye.
Apologies to anyone who is offended, but the 11 year old boy deep inside me enjoyed a hearty chuckle at that one.
OK, so I was in the right place. That was further cemented when the mother and daughter got their drinks and then ordered a London Fog, which caused the barista to pause, shoot a quick look of reproach, and say “Okay, next time you need to order that first.” I liked this guy immediately. The mother and daughter took it well, said they would come back in a couple minutes for it, and he was very polite and thankful as he rang them up.
I stepped up, exchanged a hello, and ordered my usual quad macchiato to go. Which made it my turn to get the look. The barista told me they don’t make espresso or macchiato to go, because it totally ruins the drink to put it in a paper cup. Cools off quicker, brings out the kind of bitterness and sourness that we should be trying to avoid. In his words, they do things there the right way, they respect the coffee, and they’ve been doing it for 25 years.
I offered up that I wrote this boring little blog thing, and that he was the first person to ever react to my order that way,* but I really respected that he did so. So we negotiated a quad shot latte. As he was pulling the shots I looked over at how nice the cafe table looked on the sidewalk and asked if we could go back to the macchiato and I would drink it there, but I got The Look for a second and then a polite explanation that it was going to be too much coffee for the cup he would use. So I stuck with the small latte to go.
* I realized later I was wrong, it did happen once before. A hipster coffee shop in DC once refused to sell me a macchiato to go, though they were a lot snootier about it, enough to piss me off and make me go elsewhere. That shop is no longer in business.
So at this point I’m loving the place. The barista reminded me a bit of comedian/actor/podcaster Marc Maron, which in my eyes is a good thing. I was standing in the middle of a storybook little town on a sunny autumn morning, having a drink made for me by someone who is unapologetically passionate about coffee and unwilling to compromise.
What we do is dangerous. We don’t do things like your coffee shop…we do it correctly. We do not apologize for our behavior. We are not particularly mellow. It’s all about the love of a family. We aim to destroy your perceptions of the truth on all levels. We fix bike tires and help little old ladies across the street. We fear but love Zombies. We believe in 5 dimensions. We craft with Magic. We are GOD.– Lost Dog website
So I paid, stuffed a dollar into the tip jar (felt pretty good!), and got in the car to make my way home.
First impression as I drank the coffee…… meh. I really wanted to love what I was drinking as much as the experience, but at first I didn’t. Tasted kind of watery, not a lot of flavor, chalky, and a slight finish of overly roasted beans, my biggest coffee bugaboo.
I started to have some not-so-nice thoughts in my head about backing up words with actions and whatnot, of which I’m not proud.
But as I kept drinking, I came around. Any tinge of over-roasting was gone. The chalkiness shifted to a touch of dryness, but nothing unpleasant. And I realized that what I was initially taking as an absence of flavor was more a reflection of balance, plus having more milk in the drink that I usually do. Not too much toward sweetness, not trending toward bitterness, not heading for sour. You know what? That was a damned good coffee.
I did still think it was a tad watery for my taste, but I’m now thinking that was a good thing because it’s a good 8 hours later as I write this and I’m still buzzing from how caffeinated that drink was.
So to my barista, bravo. You do you. Apologies for not getting it right away, and I’m sure you’ve forgotten more about coffee than I will ever know. The drink gets you on our guide, and your passion earns the coveted Asterisk of Quality. Looking forward to coming back, having a seat, and trying a quad macchiato.
Lost Dog Coffee & Tea
134 E. German Street, Shepherdstown, WV