So the weekend arrives and it’s time to spend some of that hard earned cash. For me, I like to try and visit a café that I am yet to experience, at least once a weekend. Whether it’s for brekky, lunch or just to catch up with friends over a hot cuppa. This is my vice – as you have probably gathered.
However, I don’t just visit any old café. Oh no, I put some serious thought into where I go. Personally, I judge which cafés I frequent on a few different factors:
1. The vibe inside. What it looks like, the music – if any – and believe it or not, how it smells!
2. Reputation. While I do not judge on who’s the most popular kid in school, (in all honesty, I’d rather find hidden gems that no one knows about), I do take into account what my fellow café enthusiasts have noted on different places.
3. The quality of coffee. It goes without saying that this is vital. You might think that you have to actually buy and taste the coffee to figure this out. Wrong! Below are some tips that you can keep in mind when deciding which lucky café gets your weekend custom!
Listen to the grinder
This is something I was very conscious about when I worked as a barista at a my favourite café, Halo, in Queenstown, New Zealand.
When you walk into any café, take note as to how often or how constant the coffee grinder is running. Really, the beans should be ‘ground to order,’ meaning the barista only grinds as many beans as they need. If the grinder is constantly running and you can see the coffee piling up, leave and leave fast as your coffee will inevitably be stale. The absolute worst.
I think this goes without saying in any food establishment, but check out the barista’s work area. Are there coffee stains everywhere? Grinds all over the bench? I have to say, coffee is like sand – it manages to get places you wouldn’t believe! And when you are busy barista, it’s hard to keep on top of it. However, it should be kept to a certain standard, otherwise I can guarantee you will find grinds in your cup, which will feel like sand in your mouth.
This also goes for the equipment too. Steam wands (the things that go shhhuuuushhhhhh and steam the milk) MUST be wiped after every use. Watch to see if the barista gives it a good wipe after steaming the milk. This will stop the old milk from caking on the end and you won’t taste sour, old milk in your next cappuccino.
Time is of the essence
There has been many a time where I have wanted to lean over the bench and yell at the barista “hurry up! It’s burning!” What I am referring to here is when the barista locks the portafilter into the group head and leaves it there – in other words, the handle thing that holds the coffee into the machine that pours the hot water.
Believe me when I say those group heads are bloody hot! So when a barista locks in the handle and walks away to either get a cup, steam the milk or anything, the coffee inside begins to burn – meaning your coffee will taste rubbish. Look for baristas who have everything ready. The cup is ready and they push the ‘pour’ button as soon as the portafilter is locked in. While it’s pouring, this is when the milk should be steamed – so everything keeps nice and hot.
Intelligence is key
This is something that I think is really important – and which you will not find in most chain coffee houses *shudder*
It is quite simple for someone to learn how to make a coffee, but do they really understand the product? If you speak with a chef, he will know what he’s cooking with, where it was sourced, why he puts ingredient A with ingredient B and so on.
Does the café show it has the same understanding of its coffee? It could be as simple as posters showcasing the country and farm information for the coffee they sell. Or, an offering of different blends with tasting notes about each one to educate its customers. Something passive that isn’t forced upon you, but that is there if you want to know.
If there is no coffee education at all, then you should turn and walk out. You could even be cheeky and question the barista on the blend and see if they can tell you about it! That’s always fun.
You deserve quality
There are so many more traits you can look for (without looking like a stuck up snob) when trying to find good, quality coffee – whether the barista samples the espresso, tampers with the grinder throughout the day or whether cappuccinos are served in the right cups. But if you want to keep it basic, just remember the tips I mentioned above and you can guarantee you will get your money’s worth and be served quality coffee every time. Enjoy!