So what should you look for in a 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*
- Roasting their own coffee - This is truly one great thing to look for in a small coffee shop. Having a coffee roaster in the shops shows that the shop is dedicated to producing fresh coffee. Fresh coffee is what you want to be drinking!
This also shows that the owner of the shop has enough confidence in their own roaster to produce coffee for the shop. The owner is essentially putting their business on the line saying "this roaster is good enough to produce coffee to make this business successful." While the roaster might not always be the best, having a coffee roaster in house is usually a good sign that it is a good coffee shop.
- The coffee being used is within ten days of the roast date - I stated in the previous item that fresh coffee is always better than stale coffee. If you read our previous blog titled "Fresh" you will find out that coffee is a seed that contains carbon dioxide in its roasted state. This gas also contains most of the flavor and aroma that the coffee holds. When a coffee bean gets stale, it is because the carbon dioxide in the bean has left. Therefore, a stale bean has less flavor and aroma compared to a fresh bean.
One way to check the freshness of the coffee is to look at the bags of beans on display. There should be a roast date on the bag indicating when it was roasted. The fresher the better (Although if it is within a day or so you should probably wait a few days to drink it). You can also ask the baristas when the coffee was roasted if there are no bags present to check.
- Latte Art - Latte art is not an easy thing to do. Especially if it is done well. I have made plenty of lattes in my time and I am still horrible at latte art. Good latte art shows dedication to the craft. Not anyone can pick up a pitcher and make latte art on their first go around. It shows that the barista is experienced and has honed their ability to create good espresso. While this is a general rule of thumb, it does not make for a blanket statement. A good barista cannot make up for bad beans. While there may be good baristas at large chain coffee shops, they cannot make up for the burnt beans going into the drink. It will help, but some coffee is beyond redemption.
- Pour over coffee - Pour overs have become all the rage in specialty coffee over the last four or five years. Pour overs are a great thing to look for when assessing a coffee shop. A pour over setup is a way for the shop to display the flavors found in each bean. If a shop thinks highly enough of their beans to present a single origin coffee to be served, it will most likely be a good shop. Again, it is not always the case. I have had some single origin coffees on a pour over that have tasted like fish, and not in a remotely good way.