No matter where you are in the world, some things never change: like needing a nice, hot cup of Joe to kick off your day (especially if you’re a little jet-lagged). But if you fancy yourself somewhat of a coffee connoisseur, not just any old mud will do, and it can often be hard to find a place that’s gonna hit all your high notes.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of when you’re a touch groggy in the morning and a barista manages to smash out your perfect cup, but equally, an overly bitter brew will drag down your day faster than an. But in a foreign land where you haven’t managed to map out all the good caffeine corners yet, how can you tell if your first cup is going to make you sing or howl? Below is a failsafe list of things to look out for when wandering into that charming cafetería down the lane.
What Beans are They Using? Is it an organic fair trade bean? Single origin? Arabica or Robusta? None of these things will necessarily translate to a decent cup, but it’s a good indication that the proprietor at least cares about the image of their coffee and doesn’t just see it as a necessary add-on to their business. That being said, with the right barista behind the bar, a good old-fashioned Illy can be an intensely satisfying and chocolatey drop. So the type of bean is definitely something to watch out for, but if it is a name brand blend, don’t go running for the hills just yet.
How Clean is the Coffee Machine? A good barista will keep their space as tidy as possible, and their machine should be polished and shiny. Look at the drip tray on the machine. This should be wiped down every coffee or so. If it’s covered in spilled grind or an overflow of old coffee, then this is a red flag. The steam wand is another example of your barista’s due diligence. This should we wiped clean after every steam, not left to fester and cake on old milk. This last point is particularly important because the warm environment of the steam wand can actually be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. However, if it’s a busy café, then it won’t be too clean, so expect to find a little coffee grind here and there. Just think of it as evidence of its popularity.
Are Black Coffees Coming Out with Crema on Top (if it’s Not Filtered)? Coffee is a temperamental drink, so it needs to be treated with care and attention. The slightest slip-up can take your Americano from nectar of heaven to juice of Hades in two seconds flat. A good way to spot whether your coffee will be treated with the sleight of hand that it deserves is how your barista prepares their black coffees. A good old Americano should be filled with around two-thirds of a cup of hot water, then topped up with a double espresso, not the other way around. If you put the water in afterward, then the espresso’s delicate crema will be burnt to hell and will disappear into your now woefully disappointing drink. If you don’t fancy peering into your barista’s workspace and creeping them out, then you can simply take a quick look around at some of the coffees coming out. If the crema is intact, then you’re good to go.
Do You Hear a Screeching Sound When they Heat the Milk? Heating milk correctly can be a tricky beast. Even the most seasoned barista won’t nail their microfoam every time. But if you walk into a coffee shop and you hear what sounds like banshee screams coming from the steam wand, then you are well within your rights to run!
Do They Offer Flavored Syrups? Train stations offer syrups, not coffee shops. Leave now.
How Quickly is the Espresso Pouring Out? You really shouldn’t concern yourself with the finer details of extraction; however, if you have the time, it’s a good idea to look at at least one shot being poured. If it comes out within 20 to 30 seconds, then you should be good to go.
What Cup Sizes Do they Offer? There should only be one cup size. Different shapes for different drinks, of course, but none of this small, medium and large malarkey. And the cups should be relatively small. You might think you want a vat of cappuccino, but in reality, the café is unlikely to put more than two shots in your cup (and rightly so), so what you’re actually going to get a large coffee is a quart of warm milk, which is good for nap time but not ideal if you’re looking to put a spring in your step.
What Brand of Soy Do They Use? Now, we’ll admit, this one’s getting a little persnickety, but certainly in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, every artisan coffee shop worth their salt will be stocking Bonsoy. It’s certainly a minor detail, but if you do happen to notice Bonsoy’s trademark purple-and-yellow packaging, then it’s a good indication that the venue knows what they’re doing.
Do They Offer Chemex or Aeropress? Again, this one’s a little obscure, but in recent years, single-origin filter coffee has been a huge trend throughout the artisan coffee community. If you see that your shop has embraced the Chemex or Aeropress craze, then you should be in for a decent brew.
Now that you know how to spot a good cup of Joe, put your new knowledge to the test, and check out the Top Coffee Shops To Explore Around Europe or The Best Themed Cafés And Restaurants In Tokyo. When you find a good coffee shop abroad, be sure to put it on your BUCKiTDREAM list so your friends and family can visit when they’re abroad, too! Happy hunting!
Query: What is this?
Acme = fictional cartoon business, ton = ton – a little obscure, I know!