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How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 12:00am
Subject: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

How to Spot a Quality Cafe
by Mark Prince

On the hunt for a quality driven cafe or coffee house in your town, but not quite sure what signs to look for? Have a look at our set of tips - some quick, some not so quick - on spotting the best!
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DanoM
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 9:12am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Great article!  Thanks for that.  I'm not much of an espresso cafe crawler, but it's nice to have these pointers handy when looking at some place.

Locally I've noticed too many times milk encrusted steam wands, and when I pointed it out to one location in particular they claimed it served as a no-burn coating on the steam wand.  If so you really have to wonder about the days when the milk has baked to a nice brown!  Yuck!!  (I don't drink their coffee, but their food is good.)  So the steam wand, if I can see it, is the first thing I look for.  If it's not clean and not super busy I pretty much walk out the door.

Lately here in Los Angeles many of the better cafes are serving sparkling mineral water with espresso shots, and I have to say that I really like that.  It lifts the espresso from the palate more effectively than flat water it seems to me, refreshing.
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StereoHeathen
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 1:13pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

This is filled with so many "must"s and "always"s that I have difficulty even taking it seriously.
Yes, there are good points, but ultimately it's no better than the shops and books which insist their way is the one "right way" and that everything else is incorrect, without exception.
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DanoM
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 2:17pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

StereoHeathen Said:

This is filled with so many "must"s and "always"s that I have difficulty even taking it seriously.
Yes, there are good points, but ultimately it's no better than the shops and books which insist their way is the one "right way" and that everything else is incorrect, without exception.

Posted March 27, 2014 link

Ummm.... I think you read a different article:

Here is the sole "must" quote from the article:
"Good baristas (and shop owners) understand these chemical processes and changes in milk and know they must always start with fresh, cold milk when building espresso drinks. Cafes only concerned with the bottom line and not with quality in the cup will resteam old milk. Avoid them."
I would take that seriously...

And there are only 3 total "always" quotes, one of them above:
"Good baristas and good cafes always keep their prep and drink making areas relatively clean. I'm not talking grinds free or sparkling counters, but I'm talking "clean". No old rags hanging off to the side. No coffee stains all over the counters everywhere. The drip tray on the espresso machine should be relatively clean. Excessive (not all, but excessive amounts) of grinds swept away."
That should be taken seriously too.  Of course there are times when things get busy and a little cleanup is put off until a breather, but for the most part the work area should be fairly clean.

"Further, there's really only one size for the cappuccino - the 150ml cup size (5oz). That allows for a short double of espresso, 60ml of steamed milk, and another 60ml (by volume) of foam - about 2cm. A double cappuccino should be a 300ml cup. If you do not spot 150ml cups on top of the espresso machine, this is a sign that cafes don't really take their traditional milk drinks seriously. I always walk out of these cafes. For you, it's more of a judgement call on the fly."
Of course this is an always that Mark states is a personal judgement call.  I don't take this as seriously, but I do like porcelain.

Also remember that Mark is trying to identify the "Quality Cafe" and not an average, okay, good or otherwise mediocre cafe.  He's looking for one that cares about the product first and that shows in many ways in the cafe.  It's a superficial way to judge a cafe before you get an espresso or even talk to someone there.  You have to start evaluation somewhere, and I think Mark has a decent set of things to consider there.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 2:48pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

StereoHeathen Said:

This is filled with so many "must"s and "always"s that I have difficulty even taking it seriously.

Posted March 27, 2014 link

I was going to list the one "must" I had but Dana beat me to it.

Instead, since you list yourself as a professional barista, I'd like to ask you why this article set you off so much? What specific points did I bring up that you find so contentious or disagree with? Did I list things that you do differently in your cafe? Are you willing to have a discussion?

I hope you're not just here to do a general blast against the content, then go away.

Mark

 
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mckolit
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 3:02pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Where would customer service come into play?  A friendly barista won't improve taste but it does help.  I'd be more willing to give a cafe another shot if the customer service was good.

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 3:07pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

mckolit Said:

Where would customer service come into play?  A friendly barista won't improve taste but it does help.  I'd be more willing to give a cafe another shot if the customer service was good.

Posted March 27, 2014 link

I was seriously thinking about adding in customer service, but it's potentially more subjective a topic than even the really subjective things I already put in the article (namely the cup sizes, cup materials, and serving sizes). I did sort of hover around customer service (they don't shove education down your throat, but make it available passively).

I like table service at a cafe - it's still rare at the top shelf cafes in Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest, but some do it. I usually order several drinks when I visit a cafe - a glass of water or soda, an espresso and / or a macchiato, and a pourover, siphon, or aeropress. I put service and experience up a few notches at the places where they actually walk my order out to me, and also more importantly serve me the drink they should know I'll be drinking first - the espresso. ;)

But if I put that into the article (the best cafes offer table service), I'd probably alienate most of the cafes in my home town.

What are examples of customer service you think I should have included in the article?

Mark

 
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mckolit
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 3:36pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

I was seriously thinking about adding in customer service, but it's potentially more subjective a topic than even the really subjective things I already put in the article (namely the cup sizes, cup materials, and serving sizes). I did sort of hover around customer service (they don't shove education down your throat, but make it available passively).

I like table service at a cafe - it's still rare at the top shelf cafes in Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest, but some do it. I usually order several drinks when I visit a cafe - a glass of water or soda, an espresso and / or a macchiato, and a pourover, siphon, or aeropress. I put service and experience up a few notches at the places where they actually walk my order out to me, and also more importantly serve me the drink they should know I'll be drinking first - the espresso. ;)

But if I put that into the article (the best cafes offer table service), I'd probably alienate most of the cafes in my home town.

What are examples of customer service you think I should have included in the article?

Mark

Posted March 27, 2014 link

Maybe coffee knowledge?  If I ask for a recommendation, they'll have one and give the impression that they like coffee.  And be friendly about it.  Nothing would get me out of there faster than a barista that acts like I'm wasting their time.

I like table service, there's a new cafe around town where they'll walk the order to the table, but there's no "bus your own table" signs around, and there's no bucket for used cups and stuff anywhere.  So it's a little awkward when I'm done and I don't know what to do with my cups and plates.  I usually just walk it up to the bar.

 
Man likes to play chess.  Let's get him some rocks.
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ddgrunau
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 5:00pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

One thing I would add is to look for scales. Very easy to spot.

PS. Where I work. We bring all drinks table side. Come visit the prairies. We do something's different ;)
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 5:10pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

I debated in my head the scales thing and if I should add it to this list. But at the end of the day, for espresso, I think scales make the most sense for retweaking and adjusting the espresso, but not so much for shot to shot to shot to shot performance.

Scales (again for espresso) can sometimes provide blinders to the barista who won't observe other elements of a shot pull, esp. if the scale isn't reading "what the book says". I've seen it first hand in shops - I've seen stunningly beautiful pours that the barista will dump simply because the scale is off - they don't even taste the coffee, they just dump the shot. I don't like blinders.

Scales for other brewing methods? Very important and should be used all the time. IMO. ;)

It's good we're having this convo though - it does give people additional things to look for.

Mark

 
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