No Excuse for Drinking Bad Coffee
Your wedding didn’t look like your parent’s wedding. Your car isn’t the car your parents drive. And your coffee isn’t what your parents drink. Just as beer is now more craft than many wines—and even burgers can be more artisanal than most steaks out there—coffee has blossomed into a subculture of flavor notes, manual brewing, and direct sourcing that have made for a very tasty yet somewhat daunting coffee scene. No one wants a crazy bearded hipster barista to scoff at their coffee order, so let’s run through the basics so that hipster dude can stop scoffing and get back to talking about his latest tattoo and fixing bicycles.
I have an uncle who is a retired contractor and he won’t pay more than a dollar for coffee. And it better be burnt, thick, and aggressive. That is his coffee. His coffee doesn’t really taste good. His coffee sounds more like a mugger than a beverage. Drinking my uncle’s coffee is unpleasant and drinking something for it’s pain and caffeine is like chugging boxed wine to get you drunk. Sure it does the trick…but it’s more sad than enjoyable. Coffee is meant to taste good. When done right, coffee actually has wonderful natural sugars that come through that are more reminiscent of berries, herbs, flowers, and caramels than the acrid, burning sensation your bold roast gave you this morning. Also, the newer lighter roasted coffee actually has more caffeine. Which makes it taste less burnt and “does the trick” better than the darker coffees out there.
Finding a Legit Coffee Shop
First, look for flavor notes on the bags and make sure they don’t use terms like “bold” and “dark roast” to emphasize good coffee. Those are two terms that aren’t necessarily bad, but they are carry-overs from a time when dark roasting was the only way to get flavor into your cup. It’s not, and most good roasters now lean towards a lighter roast style. If you want to get technical, it is less about “dark” vs. “light” roast and more about “roast development.” But I digress. The bottom line is that coffee should be treated more like wine and less like charcoal.
Another way to tell if your shop is on the level is if the employees know where their beans are sourced. If you ask them where their coffee comes from and they say, “I dunno, Buena Park…?” then they should not be trusted. When the staff understands that coffee comes from a plant grown in specific areas of the world, there is a better chance they know how to get some good flavors to show up in your cup.
Then there are scales. Look for scales. The act of brewing coffee is simply getting grounds to dissolve in water. But how the coffee dissolves in the water really affects the taste, so the amount of water and the amount of coffee used (a.k.a. brewing ratio) is something that should be approached with scientific exactness. You want your coffee taste delicious and you also want a staff that who makes it taste delicious consistently. If they are using scales to measure their brewing ratios, it’s a good sign.
The best ways to know if you can trust a cafe? Are they clean and does the product taste good?w If you notice that that they don’t take the time to clean their machines and steam wand, why would they take the time to make good coffee? Cleanliness should be standard in any eating establishment, so that is just gross. Most importantly, try a cup and if you don’t like the taste, don’t go back there. Sounds obvious, but I want to emphasize that flavor is subjective and you should drink what you like—not what I tell you to like.