So – let’s set the scene. You’ve found yourself in a new city, and you want to find a place to sit down and have a relaxing afternoon. Maybe you want to get some work done or do some light reading, and you really want some coffee, but not just any coffee – GREAT coffee. You have come up with the perfect place to spend your afternoon in your mind, but how do you actually find that place? I’m here to help you with just that.
What Makes a Great Coffee Shop
When you are looking for a good coffee shop there are a lot of factors to consider. First, you want to figure out if they have good coffee, but you should also make sure they have the best interiors for you, wifi, and easy accessibility. But how do you figure out if a coffee shop has all of these things, and find out which coffee shop is perfect for you?
We’ll go into more detail below, but here are a few common elements to look for.
Typical Elements of a Great Coffee Shop:
- Quality Coffee Equipment (vs. a generic coffee machine)
- Knowledgeable Baristas
- Traditional Espresso Drinks (in traditional smaller sizes, not huge cups)
- Specialty or Single Origin Coffee Beans
- Craft coffee brewing methods such as pour over coffee or similar drip filter
- Fresh roasted beans, and offers light or medium roast options
Unfortunately, there’s not necessarily a certification or stamp that guarantees a coffee shop delivers on all these elements, so it may take a little more research. Here are some tips to track down the best coffee shop in town.
How Do You Know If They Have Good Coffee?
If your goal is just to find the best cortado, cappuccino, or latte in town, then there are a few things that you need to inspect.
Do They Feature Traditional Espresso Drinks?
First, look up the websites of the most appealing or convenient shops in the area, and then check out the coffee shop’s menu. If they don’t show their menu on their website, you can usually find a photo of it on Google maps reviews or on Instagram.
Cappuccinos are usually a really good place to start. If their standard cappuccinos are 12, 16, or 20 oz, run the other way. If their cappuccinos are more than 6 or 8 oz, that means that they do not make traditional cappuccinos, and usually that means that the coffee shop does not care about the quality of their espresso, because they don’t serve drinks that focus on the flavor of the espresso. The best coffee shops don’t do this.
With those larger sizes, you’re basically getting a large cup of milk with a splash of coffee. I understand some people prefer that, but if you’re looking for serious coffee shops that focus on quality tasty coffee, you want to stick to places that feature traditional espresso drinks in smaller serving sizes.
Do They Value The Quality Of Their Coffee?
The next thing to look for is their “about” page. Look to see if they value the quality of their coffee, or if they are just looking to sell a product. Look for their social media pages. If they only have a bunch of posts about flavored lattes and frappuccinos, that isn’t a good sign (don’t be offended if these are your favorite coffee drinks – it doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to find these at a quality coffee shop.)
Drip Coffee, Filter Coffee, Pour over Coffee, and Latte Art
Look for pictures of drip coffee and latte art. If you find pictures of latte art anywhere, usually that is a very good indication that a place cares about their craft. As someone who worked in the coffee industry for over five years, I know that making espresso drinks with latte art takes a lot of training, and usually also means that they make the effort to ensure that the texture of their steamed milk is correct. If the coffee shop cares enough to train their employees to do that, then they probably put a lot of time and effort into everything else they do.
Brew methods also matter. If a coffee shop has appropriate equipment for making pour over coffee and features this on their menu, it’s generally a good sign that they take the quality of their coffee beans seriously.
Specialty Coffee or Single Origin Coffee
Shops that pay special attention to the sourcing of their coffee beans are also usually a good sign. If they pay attention to where and how their coffee is grown, they usually go to extra effort to showcase the natural flavors of the beans.
Who Roasts Their Coffee?
Look on their website once again, and see what coffee bags they sell. If they roast and sell their own coffee beans, that gets them extra bonus points. That means that the people who own the coffee shop know their coffee well, and they know the best ways to prepare it. That also means that their coffee beans will be extra fresh, and coffee is so much better in every way when it’s fresh. When beans are freshly roasted, the flavor of the coffee is more full, the espresso has more crema, and the taste is more smooth. So keep an eye out for any notes on their web site or social media about fresh roasting.
What Kind of Flavor Notes Are You Looking For?
Every coffee shop has different beans they favor more than others. Some coffee shops like to use beans that taste more fruity, like beans that are sourced from certain parts of Africa, and some shops like to use more beans that have more chocolatey notes, such as beans sourced from certain regions of South America. Also, there are shops that like to use more medium to dark roast coffees, and there are other locations that like to use more light roast coffees. If a shop’s specials are available on their website or on their social media, take a look at them and see what kind of beans and what kind of roasts they like to use.
Everyone has their own preferences on this, but specialty shops that focus on the natural flavor of their coffee beans tend to at least offer light or medium roasts.
Do They Serve Specialty Coffee Drinks?
Since you can’t know for certain that a coffee shop will have good tasting coffee without actually trying their coffee, there are a few more pointers on the menu that could indicate whether or not you’ve found yourself a good one. Look for pour overs, french presses, macchiatos or cortados. If they have all or even one of these items, that is going to be a good place to get your caffeine fix. Those are specialty items, and to make them you need to use exact measurements and have training, so if a location sells those drinks, that means they put effort into making their beverages.
Now that we’ve talked all about good coffee, let’s move onto other important things.
Will You Enjoy Being There?
Interiors might not be something you immediately consider when thinking of coffee shops, but surprisingly, it could be very important to think about when you’re weighing your options. You might be thinking that all coffee shops are the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some locations are industrial looking with concrete floors, white paint, and metal chairs, but other businesses will have a cozier feel to them with couches, comfy chairs, and warm colors painted on the wall.
What Do You Want To Do While You’re There?
If you are looking for a place to get work done, you probably want to go to a place with more of a rigid look, like the industrial-type coffee shops. If you are looking for a place to curl up and read a good book, you will probably want to go to a coffee shop with a more warm interior, like the cozier looking coffee shops. Thankfully, we live in a world where we have the internet, and you can use this helpful tool to look up pictures of businesses without traveling across town. Search up a few coffee shops in your area, look up their websites and instagram pages, and see what you can find! Most coffee shops will have pictures of their interiors because those are a part of their selling point. Comfortable seating options, and natural lighting are definitely nice to have.
Do They Provide Wifi Access?
The next thing to consider is internet access. You may not know this, but some coffee shops don’t even offer Wi Fi. There are some locations that try to avoid the hustle and bustle of normal life, and they don’t supply internet access because they want people to come and have conversations with one another or come in and read for a while.
If you think like a coffee shop owner, this is pretty fair in many cases. Especially in popular city locations, real estate is expensive and a successful coffee shop has to make money to pay their rent and pay their staff. When people park for hours with their laptop, not only does it change the vibe but it can also mean less space for people who might want to sit and relax for a few minutes while spending money on coffee.
That said, before you make the effort to head out to a coffee shop, consider your goals If you want to get work done, check to make sure that the coffee shop you are thinking of traveling to offers a strong internet connection and doesn’t mind you setting up with a laptop (you can usually tell quickly by checking the reviews). It’s no fun to try to focus on work if you’re not in a welcoming atmosphere.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a place to relax, meet up with a friend, or just get some coffee, you don’t have to worry about that factor.
Are They Easy To Get To?
Something else that is very important to consider is accessibility. And not just the kind of accessibility that requires a handicap placard (which is important), but the kind that allows you to park or walk to easily, and that makes places not too confusing to find.
Parking may not be a big deal if you’re in a city and getting around on foot or with public transit, but if you’re looking for the perfect coffee shop that you can visit every morning, don’t forget to think about accessibility and the time it will take from your day to get there and back.
Starting a Coffee Shop Business
One additional note – if you’re thinking about starting your own coffee shop business, I strongly suggest you consider all the elements described above to understand what makes a great coffee shop. Every market is a bit different, but if you’re thinking like a coffee shop owner, you should know that many serious coffee fans will be seeking out the features outlined above. If you visit coffee shops, we think you’ll find that the best ones tick most of these boxes.
Bottom Line: Research Is Worth The Effort
Even though you may not find the best coffee you’ve ever had in your life because of this article, you are much more likely to find a good experience. Looking for your dream coffee shop might seem a bit difficult, but I promise it will be worth the effort to make sure you find the right place instead of ending up disappointed. I speak from a lot of good and bad coffee experiences!
Personally, I find that tracking down my new favorite coffee shop while traveling can really make a difference in my trip. It just feels great to start the day with a great experience, a good coffee in the morning just makes life better. If you happen to be traveling somewhere without the type of coffee you like, pack a travel French press and take your own!
I wish you the best on your journey!