Here are four more ways you can distinguish a good coffee shop from a mediocre or truly awful coffee shop.
*I would like to put a disclaimer that this is not an exhaustive list, and that there are many exceptions to these rules*
- Check out Yelp - Yelp is a great way to check for new coffee shops in an unfamiliar area. The trick is to not just focus on the ratings. One way to see if the coffee shop is a high quality shop is to look through the photos. You can check to see if they roast coffee because most likely a reviewer posted a photo of the coffee roaster. People also love to take photos of the latte art, so you can check those out too.
If you are going to read the reviews, read a wide variety of them. Do not just read the one star reviews, nor just the five star reviews. Be sure to look for themes in the reviews (ie. bad customer service on many reviews, or a very good variety of coffee on multiple reviews).
- Check out the Menu - You can usually find the menu on the shops Facebook page, Instagram account, or their Yelp page. When you are looking at the menu check out these three things.
1. What is their menu focused around? Are most of the drinks sweetened? This is usually a sign that the shop does not focus on the coffee but rather the drinks you can make with coffee in the background. It also sometimes shows that the coffee needs to be covered up with sugar. This is not always the case however.
2. Check out the prices. If you see drip coffee for $1.50 in Los Angeles or NYC or Seattle, you might want to worry about the shop. Good coffee is not cheap. Many good coffees cost upwards of $6-$8 per green pound (which equates to less than a pound of roasted coffee). Another sign to worry about is when shops are charging $6 for an americano. It is usually best to find a happy medium between the two when looking for a coffee shop. Again, some great shops are selling their coffee for dirt cheap, and some great shops are charging a small fortune for their coffee.
3. What are their specialties? Many shops focus around a few drinks. Some shops have seasonal drinks where they make their own syrups or flavorings. Some will make their own pumpkin spice mix and include fresh spices and real pumpkin in it. Some will use real vanilla beans in their vanilla simple syrup. These are some great drinks to try and show true craftsmanship in their coffee.
- Ask the Locals - The locals always know best for all the shops off the beaten path. Many shops may not show up on the front page of Google or Yelp, and yet they may be the best shops around. Talk to any friends you know in the area. If you are taking Uber or a Taxi, talk with the drivers. They drive all around town and should have a grasp of the city. They should know where to take you.
- What Equipment are they Selling? - Many shops will sell a variety of different coffee devices. Checking out which ones they are, can lead you to understanding the shop a lot better.
Good Signs - If the coffee shop is selling a lot of manual coffee brewing equipment, it is most likely a very good thing. If you see V60s, Chemexs, Hario Filters, Aeropresses, and other similar items, you can bet the shop probably cares about the quality in preparing the coffee. Don't discount all automatic machines however. If they are selling the Bonavita BV1800 or BV1900 or the Technivorm Moccamaster, that is a good sign too.
Bad Signs - If the shop is selling an auto drip machine with a masculine title in front of the drink it produces, you probably should stray from the shop. The same goes for if it is selling single serve pod machines or preground pods. Also, be wary if they are selling blade grinders. These signs usually mean the shop has little care for preparing the coffee in the best way possible.
I hope you find this list can help when you are in need for a great cup of coffee in an unfamiliar place. Happy drinking!