Peregrine Espresso’s Ryan Jensen

In the Barista’s Kitchen

Ryan Jensen instructs the author on the proper way to brew the perfect cup of coffee, with attention to detail, whether the temperature of the water, the amount of coffee, or the duration of the pour.

Marrying talented, award-winning barista Ryan Jensen might not have been what Jill Jensen had in mind back when she worked at Common Grounds in Arlington. “I actually met him the first time at Murky Coffee where he was working as the manager, and he made me a cup of coffee,” says Jill, “After that he stopped in when I was working at Common Grounds under the guise of needing contact information for the guy running open mic night at Common Grounds.” Ryan was also applying to the Graduate Institute in St. John’s College (in Annapolis) to get his master’s in liberal arts. “He would come in and hang out at a table to work on his application essay.”

It wasn’t until he was an undergraduate student in Montana with a part-time barista job that Ryan took to drinking coffee. “Growing up in Minnesota and in high school, I never drank coffee with any regularity – I’d meet up with friends at a Perkins Family Restaurant and we’d sometimes have a cup.” In 2003 Ryan left Montana and moved to DC with a college friend. He landed a job at Murky Coffee as a barista, later managing the shop.

A Relationship Brewed in Coffee

It wasn’t until 2004 that Jill and Ryan had their first date, when he bought her flowers from Blue Iris and they had dinner with champagne at Capitol Hill’s Montmartre. Jill recalls she wasn’t all that certain about pursuing the relationship, but Ryan didn’t give up. “In September of 2005 we were married in Eastern Market’s North Hall after we walked down North Carolina Avenue from Lincoln Park,” says Jill, noting that they both had Midwestern roots (she was from Ohio) and an affection for their Capitol Hill neighborhood.

A Coffee House of His Own: Peregrine Espresso

“When I left Murky (which subsequently closed) I went to work for Counter Culture Coffee, just as they were establishing a DC presence,” says Ryan of the North Carolina-based company known for sourcing sustainably produced, single-origin coffees and handcrafted blends directly from coffee farmers. In this position he observed other coffee establishments, looking at traffic flow and different business models.

“In 2008 I had a great opportunity to be considered for the Murky space on Capitol Hill,” says Ryan. He mentions that the building’s owners thought it was important there would be a certain degree of continuity, a familiar face. “It was a really nice transition from working as the manager of the space to actually owning and operating my own coffee business there.”

Peregrine opened serving the high-quality Counter Culture coffee at a pour-over bar (he knew it had been done at the well-known Blue Bottle in California), and Ryan added Trickling Springs' milk. “Our staff is extensively educated in coffee preparation. They learn about the sources of the different coffee types and they even make visits to the Trickling Springs creamery so they know about the grass-fed cows raised by the farmers using organic practices.”

Ryan takes the education part to heart. He has serious coffee cred, having won the 2005 Southeast Regional Barista Competition. He competed in the 2005 US Barista Championship, was a member of the US Barista Competition Committee from 2006 to 2009, and was a judge from 2006 to 2008. Peregrine has been in many “Best of” lists from “Food and Wine” to “Bon Appétit.” This year, Peregrine baristas are competing in the championship finals at Coffee Fest Portland, where there are only six finalists – Peregrine and representatives hailing from California, Illinois, Washington (state), New York, and Texas.

Ryan and Jill didn’t want just another café. “We wanted to make sure we would have multiple management positions for people so they could grow with the company. We didn’t want people to say, ‘There’s nothing else to do here.’”

Making the Perfect Cup

Learning how to make a great cup of coffee takes time, good equipment, and practice. Ryan uses the pour-over method each morning, with the Bee House ceramic coffee dripper (it takes a standard #2 or #4 filter, preferably unbleached).

Certainly the coffee you select is key, and Counter Culture has stellar offerings. When different coffees arrive, the staff will prepare samples to get it right. They also conduct blind tastings, and you’ll find different coffees at each of the Peregrine locations.  

Much has been made of the type of grinder you use for your beans. Ryan, like many in the profession, prefers a burr grinder – particularly the Virtuoso by Baratza (they also sell Baratza burr grinders at Peregrine). “Whether you use a blade grinder or burr grinder makes a difference. You want the grind to be consistent in particle size and for your brew method. With a blade grinder you tend to get too much variation in the grind,” says Ryan.

The temperature of the water should be just below boiling, and it’s also important to use scales to accurately measure the coffee and water. “The entire process of brewing a great cup of coffee has changed,” states Ryan. “The shift in the industry is the precision – coffee being brewed a little over a decade ago wasn’t as precise as it is now. Cup to cup, if you’re not being precise the end result will be all over the map. There’s a whole generation of baristas that know the metric system now!” Ryan says the industry standard is 1.63 grams of coffee per fluid ounce, and some people may take the amount of coffee to 2 grams.

As he prepares a couple of cups of coffee, he measures 24 grams of Kenyan Thiriku Peaberry (with notes of dried cherry and tropical fruit with a creamy body), a coffee varietal of which you’ll only find 200 pounds produced. He heats his water in a Bonavita gooseneck kettle, bringing the water just below boiling, between 195 and 205 F. As the water is slowly poured over the coffee, he fills it to a finger below the rim of the Bee House, keeping it at that level until there are 400 grams of water poured. (See the Peregrine class notes below.)

Coffee Notes

Coffee isn’t a fad like other food fixations. We’re certain we’ll always enjoy coffee, from the ubiquitous to the extraordinary. Most of our population seems to like or thrive on caffeine. And while caffeine is poison to some insects and pests (making the plants more disease or pest resistant), it may be surprising to learn that an espresso or double espresso has less caffeine than a 12-ounce Arabica coffee or an 8-ounce cup of a Robusta (your supermarket or diner offering). “I like to have my coffee stand-alone,” says Ryan, and makes a point of saying that he’s not a fan of food like coffee-flavored ice cream. 

Since opening on Capitol Hill, Ryan and Jill have opened a Logan Circle location as well as a popular spot at Union Market. Their young son just started school and they have a baby on the way. Jill is leaving a job she’s had at a small foundation, and after the baby is born will eventually work solely with Peregrine, helping grow their business. Now these two transplants keep a tradition of having their coffee together each morning.


The Perfect Brew 

(Notes from the Peregrine Espresso “Better Brewing at Home” class)

  • First things first, start your water. Once you decide how much coffee you’ll be brewing (measure using a scale in grams), add water to your kettle. Now do some math. Using a 1:15 ratio (whole bean coffee: water), determine how much coffee you’ll have to measure out for your brew. Make sure to include an extra amount of water to your kettle volume (at least twice the coffee dose) for the bloom. If you’re detail-minded you may add a little more so that you can use that water to wet and preheat your filter, dripper, and vessel.
  • Set up camp. Size (i.e., fold) your filter to the appropriate fit for your dripper and place your dripper on your vessel. Use either a separate amount of hot water or else the extra water in your kettle to rinse and preheat your filter, dripper, and vessel. Just before the water heats to the appropriate temperature, grind your beans and add them to the filter. It’s advisable to use a scale for measuring.
  • Pouring technique. Begin by setting your timer and covering the grounds (blooming) with twice the weight in water that you used for the grounds. For example, if you use 24g of coffee, bloom with 48g of water. Begin a close, slow, and steady stream of water in the middle of the bloom. In slow, gradual circles move the stream toward the outside of the coffee bed without touching the filter. Slowly move back toward the center and hold a steady stream. The water should be raised to about a half-inch from the top of the dripper. Practice holding the steady stream in the middle of the water without letting the water rise. Make circles back out to the edge and then again toward the center. Count this motion three or four times by the time your water runs out. Always pour the water from the same height.
  • Total draw down. Once the water runs out let the water in your dripper finish draining completely into the vessel. Do not stop the brew short. Total brew time (bloom to the last drop) will vary, but you’ll want to aim for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Once the water has drained through, your coffee bed should be flat and even. Remove the filter and toss it into the compost. Wash your dripper and enjoy!

Peregrine,, 202-629-4381, has locations at 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 1718 14th St. NW; and 1309 5th St. NE (Union Market).

Ryan Jensen instructs the author on the proper way to brew the perfect cup of coffee, with attention to detail, whether the temperature of the water, the amount of coffee, or the duration of the pour.

Annette Nielsen, food editor of the Hill Rag, has been engaged in food, farming, and sustainability issues for nearly two decades. Nielsen’s experience includes catering, coordinating artisanal and farm-based food events, and teaching cooking classes. She’s the editor of two “Adirondack Life” cookbooks, “Northern Comfort” and “Northern Bounty,” and she heads up Kitchen Cabinet Events, a culinary, farm-to-fork-inspired event business. A native of the Adirondacks, she’s a long-time resident of both New York City and DC and returned to the District from Washington County, N.Y.;