…and avoid the rest.
My recent trip to Seattle offered one sublime coffee experience after another. The place has a finely developed coffee culture that’s grown far beyond Starbucks’ 98 coffee houses. The weather, the food, the sound [both Puget and garage-band] the scene and the people have commingled into a fertile breeding ground for hundreds of independent coffee houses, each intent on producing the best coffee, period.
Just the same, the emerald city doesn’t have a lock on fine coffee and espresso… Matter of fact, most of the baristas who’s efforts I sampled hailed from somewhere else. More than ever, it’s not so much where you are, but who’s behind the counter that determines whether you’ll be shamelessly licking the demitasse for every last drop, or stunned into bitter silence by a beverage perhaps better used as a paint solvent.
The good news: this far-flung coffee culture is rising. The bad news: it remains seemingly random. So how, then, can the hapless coffee-hound sniff out a good coffee house? Well, it doesn’t hurt to follow your nose… Failing that, try the usual sources, or new and interesting sources for leads. And when you’ve got a prospect or two mapped out, here’s a few things to keep in mind…
A good coffee house is a busy place. If you walk in to a shop that’s quiet as a tomb and as densely populated, think twice. So maybe they’re having a brief ebb in the tide of caffeine-crazed humanity that regularly rushes in upon their door. Maybe not. Take a moment and look around…
- If you see a white crust of month-old milk on steam wands… walk away.
- If you see the portafilter anywhere but locked into its group… walk away.
- If you see a tub of pre-ground espresso… walk away.
- If you see oily beans clinging to the sides of a dusty grinder’s hopper… walk away.
- If the barista looks less interested than you in being there… walk away.
Got any tips you want to share?
Tomorrow… signs to look for when you place your coffee order, and, the proper care and feeding of a professional barista.