Finding the Perfect Coffee Shop

coffee shop

How do you find “that place” in a new city — that perfect coffee shop that meets your particular needs as a coffee loving individual?

However specific your preferences, we have an approach that we believe will land you in that sweet spot, a formula we have tested in some pretty far flung places. We also have some folklore to share that might, or might not, help you to hone in on the target.

Tested Methodology for Finding the Perfect Coffee Shop

Trust us, this works . . .

Step One: Ask the locals, but pay close attention to the framing of their answer.

Do they talk about the coffee at their favorite coffee shop, or do they talk about the music/Wi-Fi/armchairs/[insert additional non-coffee related items here]? These extras might also be critical to your coffee enjoyment, or may be entirely extraneous to your hunt.

Ask for specifics and pay attention to how closely their criteria align with yours. Also, be sure to ask if the shop roasts in-house. Establishments dedicated enough to source and roast their own beans will likely pay equal attention to the brewing process.

Step Two: Cast a wider net.

You now have a list based on word-of-mouth, but it’s a list based on a small sample size. It’s now time to channel the power of the online “we” and Google it out.

Magazines and other high profile publications often feature “best of” lists, like this Travel and Leisure article on America’s Best Coffee Cities. If a shop has made it to a current feature, it’s a fair bet it’s at least above average.

Visit different review sites (casting that net even wider) and watch for trends in the reviews. Yelp and Foursquare are great for representing the popular opinion. Coffee-specific forums and foodie review sites often provide more specifics. (My personal go-to site for anything edible or imbibe-able in any city is Chowhound.)

latte art
Step Three: Now switch the tab on your search over to images.

You can tell a lot about a place by the pictures customers upload. Does a gleaming espresso bar have pride of place? Do the aesthetics appeal? Do the beans reign supreme?

As a generally reliable rule of thumb, hundreds of pictures of espressos and lattes translates to coffee worthy of the effort of uploading all of those pictures to Flickr.

Related: Choosing the Best Drip Coffee Maker

Step Four: Go forth!

Visit the coffee shop, talk with the barista (line permitting), tip nicely and observe. Reserve judgment until visit three, to allow for collecting sufficient evidence before deciding if this is your place in that city.

Folklore or Wisdom of the Ages?

While researching this topic, we were offered a few more unusual rules to consider. The first was to always judge a coffee shop based on the espresso. This is a pretty reasonable starting point, as it speaks to considering the fundamentals. It may, however, not be equally useful to all parties, if espresso is not your coffee-based drink of choice.

The second was to avoid places with excellent pastries, under the logic that if the pastries are amazing then “obviously they don’t put enough effort into the coffee.” Hmmmmm . . . coffee shops often hire out their pastry service. If those shops have good pastries, it would only speak to the fact that they are smart enough to hire good bakers. It is also entirely plausible that any one shop is capable of achieving excellence at more than one thing at the same time.

Still, we wonder if this advice has some experience behind it.

You might also take a look at what else a coffee shop sells. See Aeropress and Chemex coffee makers for sale? That’s probably a good sign. Cheap espresso machines? Perhaps not.

Readers, we invite you to share your observations on the relative merits of good pastry as a criteria, as well as other rules of thumb and bits of folklore in the comments below!

Main photo: Paul Mison

Content photo: Linh Nguyen

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