mini review: Café Unido

You may have read in the news of President Joe Biden’s visit on Cinco de Mayo to Las Gemelas, a taqueria in Washington, DC’s La Cosecha market. It’s too bad he didn’t go to the other end of La Cosecha, where he would have found one of DC’s finest coffee purveyors.

La Cosecha is a beautiful, high-end marketplace in the Union Market district, featuring merchants selling food, wine, apparel and household goods, all to showcase the diaspora of Latin American cultures. There you’ll find Café Unido, a stand in the market selling Panamanian coffees, with airy indoor and outdoor seating areas.

Café Unido is the first US location of its namesake, which operates multiple cafes in Panama and roasts coffee beans grown by Panamanian farms. Due to some happy coincidental luck, those of us living in the DC area are fortunate to have Unido as well as Dua Coffee DC, the first location outside Indonesia of a roaster/café operator celebrating the coffee produced in its home country.

I’ve visited twice, and been very impressed by the quality. Their regular espresso drinks feature an incredibly smooth, fully balanced flavor. Your drink will be made on a beautiful Slayer machine encased in highly reflective stainless steel.

Being from Panama, it’s no surprise that Café Unido also serves Geisha coffee, the very rare and expensive beans grown at high altitude. It’s served at the shop only as a pour over, and the staff are very enthusiastic about it and happy to share information with curious customers.

On my first visit, seeing they offered Geisha, I asked the manager on duty about it. He was so happy to see my interest that he gave me free of charge one of their single-serve Geisha dripkit packs (and no, I didn’t play the “I write a blog about coffee” card).

The dripkit was incredibly easy to use, and much sturdier and less fiddly than the versions I’d previously tried from Ethiopia. The kit sits securely on your coffee cup, and because it doesn’t go as deep into the cup you don’t have to worry about the coffee grounds sachet sitting in the coffee it produces.

There was a lot to like about the process. You slowly fill the kit with water four times; no need to measure to ensure you’re not using too little or too much water, and no need to time how long it steeps. The cardboard body makes for an easy clean up. And you get a clear freshness date on the package.

As for the taste, it’s different from anything else I’ve had before. Very chocolatey, and fruit-forward; to me it tasted like a cherry cordial. It was light and fresh, and honestly unlike coffee. I since returned and bought another dripkit, and the taste was very consistent both times. I can see having it from time to time as a special treat, but not regularly given the price point and how unique the taste is compared to other coffees. While I am not a pour over fan, I plan to try the Geisha pour over at the café to see how it tastes compared to the dripkit.

Café Unido has expansion plans, with a soon to open roastery in the works nearby within the Union Market complex. This will enable them to ship raw beans to DC and roast them on site, increasing their ability to serve the freshest coffee possible. The company also hopes to be able to host tastings at a cupping station within the roastery, as well as other events and classes.

Café Unido
1280 4th Street, NE, Washington, DC, inside La Cosecha marketplace

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