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How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
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emradguy
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 7:06pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

I think the article is excellent. Although I'm pretty good at spotting many of the warning signs, I still found some new useful tips...or at least you pointed out some things I know, but haven't been looking for consciously. For anyone who who isn't well-seasoned in making good drinks at home, but likes high quality coffee, I think this article is a must read. My suggestion is, that once it's served it's purpose in its current location, it be saved under one of the category links...maybe even the how to section (as in, "how to" tell good from bad).

 
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 7:15pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Scales are important as far as my experience goes - I use them on every shot to weigh the grinds, giving consistency, as I can't yet spring for a electronic doser. First thing in the morning I weigh in, and weigh out the shot, with a timer. Then during the day I watch every pour, stop it based on time OR shot colour/rate if it changes, and of course have 3-4 espresso shots/tasters during the day to keep it all on point. The scale signifies they care, hence a good sign it aspires to be a good cafe. Milk wand crusted is an immediate walk-out for me. Spotting the barista dumping the grinds from the tray back into the doser is also a common, and horrible sight.
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GaryH
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 9:25pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

The first and only thing I look for when I walk in a coffee house is a sign which has the name of the roaster on it. No sign, I walk out. If the sign has the name of a third wave coffee roaster, good enough for me. I'll have an espresso and a cappuccino and if it's good I come back.
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OvenbirdCoffee
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 9:28pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

I hope you don't mean you have to have already heard of the roaster, otherwise you walk out? That would suck for newcomers that are roasting great coffee *cough cough us!*
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MarkPrince
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Posted Thu Mar 27, 2014, 10:19pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

OvenbirdCoffee Said:

Scales are important as far as my experience goes - I use them on every shot to weigh the grinds, giving consistency, as I can't yet spring for a electronic doser. First thing in the morning I weigh in, and weigh out the shot, with a timer. Then during the day I watch every pour, stop it based on time OR shot colour/rate if it changes, and of course have 3-4 espresso shots/tasters during the day to keep it all on point. The scale signifies they care, hence a good sign it aspires to be a good cafe. Milk wand crusted is an immediate walk-out for me. Spotting the barista dumping the grinds from the tray back into the doser is also a common, and horrible sight.

Posted March 27, 2014 link

I hear you on the scales. Scales are important. Extremely important for non espresso (imo they should be completely standard equipment, even if only post-brew weighing) and also extremely important for espresso consistency.

I think I didn't list them though for the same reason as I didn't list latte art, though my reason regarding scales is a much lesser concern:

I cannot tell you how many piss poor, under heated, way off balance, horrible espresso cappuccinos I've had in my life in cafes, cappuccinos that had beautiful latte art on top. For me, latte art is not a sign of a quality driven cafe for this reason.

Regarding scales, I'll say I've only seen this in twice ever (two isolated circumstances in two cafes), but what I reiterated above - what looked like a fantastic shot was tossed out (without tasting) because it's number on the scale, post shot didn't match what the barista wanted - seemed a bit of a crime to me. At least taste it before you dump it, so you can see if it was really off! I saw this once in a Vancouver cafe, and once in a Portland cafe. Both times I almost begged to taste the espresso myself. That's when a barista has blinders on - at the PDX cafe, they didn't even watch the shot - the were doing something else for the majority of the shot, only went back in last 5 sec to kill the switch.

But the more I think about it, the more I think scales should have been on this list as an overall thing, rare blinders-effect regardless.

Latte art? Not a chance. It's become too common and otherwise crappy cafes are even doing latte art now. Chains too - Beata got a latte art laden macho grande "cappuccino" at Starbucks (for her boss, not her) recently.

Mark

 
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emradguy
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 7:42am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

I'm no prefessional (having never worked in anything at all related to coffee) and far from being an expert...and I use a scale myself...but I took Heather Perry's one-day class in 2008.  She doesn't use a scale and taught us to practice dosing, dosing, dosing until we could get our baskets within 0.2g of the desired dose consistently, she had us doing 17g, 19g and 21g doses and made us do it over and over until we got 3 in a row spot on.  I would think there are many other pros who can dose consistently using her method (or something similar), such that they don't need a scale for dosing espresso shots.  So, I agree with Mark leaving out presence or absence of scales as a potential sign you should stay or go...except maybe in the pour over part of the cafe (though I have to add, that me being an espresso-head, I almost never order anything else).

 
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Posted Fri Mar 28, 2014, 8:59am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

I'd also look for roast dates on the beans they sell.

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 12:18am
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

So... I guess no followup from this, and my initial response to you, huh? That's too bad. :(

Mark

 
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StereoHeathen
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 2:29pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

So... I guess no followup from this, and my initial response to you, huh? That's too bad. :(

Mark

Posted March 29, 2014 link

Generally, I try to spend as little time on the internet as my level of boredom will allow.
My original response was probably hasty and defensive, but a couple points still rub me the wrong way. It's not that I specifically disagree with them, it's that in my experience they are not necessarily indicators of quality (or a lack thereof).
Yes, it is certainly preferable to use clean shot glasses, keep a clean counter, and have the leisure (or buildout design) to rinse out milk pitchers between absolutely every use. Yes, the portafilter "tap" is absolutely unnecessary, and can in cases be harmful. Yes, I would (generally speaking) rather visit a cafe or roaster with specific, inside information about their coffees.

That said, I think presenting these in such an imperative fashion is ultimately misleading, though I say this largely from personal experience.
The cleanest cafe I have worked at (following all these rules save one) was by far the worst with regard to coffee quality, or even interest in coffee. The best? Broke each of these particular rules on many (though of course not all) occasions.

"great cafes never use shot glasses to brew into"
This has been the opposite of my experience. Cafes that brew directly into cups are often (though not always) doing so out of laziness or expediency, not for concern over crema or flavor taints. I would say that the best cafes nearly always brew espresso and often shots of espresso for a macchiato directly into the cup, but that otherwise it is not a factor to consider.

"If they can't bus empty tables, the staff probably has other shortcomings too."
This is something I am personally bothered by. Every cafe I have worked in has expected customers to bus their own tables (and made this fairly clear,) and no I am not trying to say the customer is doing it wrong. Yes, employees will bus them when possible, but it cannot be helped when a group of four or six or twelve get up and leave their dishes behind (and it is almost always these large groups who leave their dishes behind).
A busy cafe is a busy cafe, and there are not always hands unoccupied for even just that minute it takes to clear the floor of mess.

That espresso "should be served with a small glass of water" is not a necessity in my book, and several quite high-end cafes I have visited have not served it as such. Along with doing an inefficient job of cleansing the palate, I've found that water (especially mineral or sparkling) can have its own flavor elements which color the espresso in odd and even unpleasant ways.

"Espresso requires porcelain."
No it doesn't. Why does it?

The section on the cappuccino should probably open with "when allowed to fully separate (die), a cappuccino consists of"
A proper (especially modern) cappuccino consists of dense incorporated microfoamed throughout, with the final volume of milk expanded approximately 50% from cold. I know this is hard to measure and define, but to describe a cappuccino in its final resting state is to define a drink that is ruined.

I think there are good points, but I think the imperative tone is excessively critical for the sake of someone just trying to scope out a decent coffee shop. These criticisms are relevant, and I agree with nearly every one of them, but this reads to me more as a guide for owners or managers ("do this or I won't recommend you") than as a guide for potential consumers.
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dana_leighton
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 2:56pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

StereoHeathen Said:

"Espresso requires porcelain."
No it doesn't. Why does it?

Posted March 29, 2014 link

Heat retention. Unless you're into the whole room-temperature espresso thing. :-) I have had exactly one shot in a paper cup. First and last.

 
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