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How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
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StereoHeathen
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 4:31pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

dana_leighton Said:

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.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

But glass, what's wrong with glass?
Shots in paper are lame mostly from the off-tastes associated with the cup, anyway.
And anyway, what is all this about heat retention? Why does espresso need to be so hot, especially when you know that (barring a preference for room temp) it's going to be better sooner than later, anyway?

My personal preference is for a hot shot from a warmed (but specifically not pre-heated) demitasse. I've been served shots in scalding hot cups (usually re-pulled shots, in a thoroughly rinsed cup) that were undrinkable, despite being perfectly fine coffee, because by the time the shot had cooled enough to drink it might as well have just been reduced brewed coffee.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 6:34pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

StereoHeathen Said:

"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.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

In 2000, it was my experience that most of Vancouver's top shelf cafes brew into shot glasses. For every drink build. By 2005, they were only brewing into shot glasses for large takeout cups (12oz or bigger) and large in-cafe cups (8oz or bigger). By 2010, this practice was all but eliminated at most top shelf cafes. Again, I probably could have been more clear - when I am talking about these things, I'm talking about building drinks for in-cafe, traditional sized drinks - the espresso cup, the macchiato cup, the cappuccino cup, the 8oz latte cup. Most (not all, but most) of the quality driven cafes I've been to know to brew straight into these cups, and not into a secondary vessel. Take out's another issue.

StereoHeathen Said:

"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.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

I know I should have clarified this one more - I was specifically talking about cafes during down times or slow times where many of the tables still have dirty dishware on them. Most of the worst cafes I've been to in Vancouver have this syndrome - you walk in, the staff is just mulling about behind the counter, there's maybe 1/3 of the tables occupied, and another 1/3 have dirty dishes on them. Staff isn't building drinks or doing anything particularly pressing or important.

StereoHeathen Said:

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.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

We''ll just have to completely disagree on this one I guess. The thing is, I have 15 years of judges around the world at barista competitions who agree with my viewpoint ;)


StereoHeathen Said:

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

Posted March 29, 2014 link

Yes it does. All other mediums - paper, plastic, glass, steel, all impart negative aspects to espresso that porcelain does not.

- paper. Horrible medium to drink espresso from. So much wrong with it, I don't know where to begin.
- plastic - ditto. Plastic imparts a taste and a tasting experience that reflects very negatively on a 30ml beverage
- glass: too thin, too much heat transfer (to your fingers), no handle, and glass imparts a slight taste impact that I've noticed.
- steel: again, imparts a taste impact that many people experience.

Glass for espresso, especially vessels not designed for espresso (ie, a shot glass) is just someone trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Someone trying to be different just for the sake of being different. For photography, glass, like the illy crystal nude espresso cups, is great, it shows visually the layers in a proper espresso cup. But for taste, for durability, for comfort, for handling, for storage, and for display, porcelain is not only the best medium for espresso, it's the only one it should ever be served in.

StereoHeathen Said:

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.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

I'm sort of with you closer on this one, but IMO, cappuccino milk should be stretched out 75% to 100% visual volume, not 50%. And anything below 50% (like 25% or less) is latte art foam.

You know, when I had the CG lab in 2010, one of the memorable moments was making a cappuccino for a recent local latte art champion (at the Barista Thing Event in Vancouver at the time, IIRC - but it might have been another competition). Anyway, I made him a cappuccino as we were talking about other things, but after he took his first full sip (it had latte art on it too!), he paused our convo and said to me "Geez, this is the best capp I think I've ever tasted! What milk did you use?!!?". I told him - it was just off the shelf standard milk - and he was shocked. We talked it out more, then he went to make one. I didn't say anything during his build, but we tasted his, and it was no where near as nice as the one I built (he said). By then I'd figured out why - he made a latte. I made a properly balanced, properly stretched out, properly heated capp.

I firmly believe the best cappuccinos in the world are the ones that follow the rule of thirds, that are stretched out right (and stretching stops when the pitcher is neutral in temperature to your hand) and have equal visual amounts of foam to steamed milk (to espresso). Try it. Get the stretch right, get the sweetness retention right, and try it ;)

Mark

 
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StereoHeathen
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Posted Sat Mar 29, 2014, 8:36pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

In 2000, it was my experience that most of Vancouver's top shelf cafes brew into shot glasses. For every drink build. By 2005, they were only brewing into shot glasses for large takeout cups (12oz or bigger) and large in-cafe cups (8oz or bigger). By 2010, this practice was all but eliminated at most top shelf cafes.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

In Vancouver, sure. Perhaps this article should refer only to Vancouver cafes. Generally speaking, this is not the trend I have seen in Seattle or Portland, in my brief times about NYC and the SF Bay area, or (for what it's worth) Sacramento.


MarkPrince Said:

We''ll just have to completely disagree on this one I guess. The thing is, I have 15 years of judges around the world at barista competitions who agree with my viewpoint ;)

Posted March 29, 2014 link

That we will. We can certainly agree that if there was any one right answer with coffee, neither of us would bother working with the stuff.



MarkPrince Said:

Yes it does. All other mediums - paper, plastic, glass, steel, all impart negative aspects to espresso that porcelain does not.

- glass: too thin, too much heat transfer (to your fingers), no handle, and glass imparts slight taste impact that I've noticed
Glass for espresso, especially vessels not designed for espresso (ie, a shot glass) is just someone trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Someone trying to be different just for the sake of being different. For photography, glass, like the illy crystal nude espresso cups, is great, it shows visually the layers in a proper espresso cup. But for taste, for durability, for comfort, for handling, for storage, and for display, porcelain is not only the best medium for espresso, it's the only one it should ever be served in.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

I don't disagree with a personal preference for porcelain, but I have had some pretty fantastic and interesting shots in very nice glassware (at Slate and Broadcast in Seattle, Sterling in Portland, off the top of my head), including one in an interesting (though excessive) metal-handled glass demitasse. I just can't agree that espresso is necessarily served in porcelain. And isn't it entirely possible that porcelain imparts its own flavor (that you're simply accustomed to), being generally a more porous material than glass? ;)



MarkPrince Said:

I'm sort of with you closer on this one, but IMO, cappuccino milk should be stretched out 75% to 100% visual volume, not 50%. And anything below 50% (like 25% or less) is latte art foam.

I firmly believe the best cappuccinos in the world are the ones that follow the rule of thirds, that are stretched out right (and stretching stops when the pitcher is neutral in temperature to your hand) and have equal visual amounts of foam to steamed milk (to espresso). Try it. Get the stretch right, get the sweetness retention right, and try it ;)

Posted March 29, 2014 link

And you know, I certainly will try that tomorrow. Having not been a cappuccino drinker in a couple years, I'm interested to see if I agree with you.
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johnboddie
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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 6:18am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Mark -

The points in the article all make sense, but they are colored by the fact that you are drawing them from an environment where the public is knowledgeable about good coffee and the customer has many opportunities to shop around for a cafe that has both fine coffee and the ambiance that is desired.

As somebody who recently went through the experience of working at a start-up cafe in an area where there is seldom more than one cafe in a town, I'll take issue with one of your points - the syrups.

To be a viable business, you need to respond to the desires of the customer. From the standpoint of fine espresso, the customer may not always be right, but he or she is always the customer and the heart of the cafe business is service to the customer. In the US, many customers relate the cafe experience with their visits to Starbucks, and many of them enjoy their sweet lattes in a variety of flavors. We carried about ten flavors and usually had one of them as our "special" - peppermint mocha at Christmas time, for example. Our willingness to get the syrups that our customers ask for has been an important element in establishing a regular clientele. If you walked into our establishment and then walked out because you saw a row of syrups in the prep space, you'd need to drive about an hour and a half to find a cafe that has only a couple of syrups, and that place would have failed five or six of your other tests.
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DanoM
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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 8:45am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Of course in a smaller community you'll have reduced opportunity for finding cafe diversity, customer diversity and coffee practices.  Sometimes you take what you can get or just forget about it altogether.  Syrup bottles are a necessity for many customers that don't fully understand espresso, or that just really like syrups.  (For years winemakers have had a struggle teaching the masses to enjoy finer wine, but some gave up and found that muscato has taken off like wildfire with over $600million in sales last year.  Humans like sweets, and when playing to the market I don't think that's an incorrect choice for all cafes.)

Porcelain: My wife likes slow drinking her latte, and in any other cup than a decent porcelain she had a cold latte at the end.  We've used glass, china and other thin walled porcelains, but truly only the thicker walled, standard porcelain cups work best for her.  My cappuccino is always in porcelain too, although it doesn't need the heat retention since it's gone in about 1 minute max.

Clean up your cafe people....  You know not all the customers are bussing their own tables, some leave spills behind, sugar scatter or whatever.  If I see a cafe with 1/4 or more of the sitting tables dirty and uncleaned I have serious doubts about their overall cleanliness.  I don't care if you are in Vancouver or some backwoods cafe it's not that hard to buss a table and give it a quick wipedown.  (That being said I always look at the number of staff in these situations and make a quick call as to whether they are understaffed and just can't be bothered with wipedowns when the cafe is ultra busy.)

All in all I think between the original article and the subsequent points this is good "food for thought" when searching for a cafe.  It helps if you have more than a couple scattered around though!
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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 11:02am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Hi Mark,

Great article. I recently participated in a 40 hour barista course and the information you've provided falls in line with the instruction I received. In spite of some of the criticisms, I think this article helps guide those who may have had a great cafe experience and were puzzled when they couldn't seem to relive that experience in other cafes.
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StereoHeathen
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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 1:47pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Mark, it turns out I (and my customers) agree with you on what makes for the best cappuccino.
Thanks for the tip-- it never would have even occurred to me.
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MarkPrince
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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 3:51pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

StereoHeathen Said:

Mark, it turns out I (and my customers) agree with you on what makes for the best cappuccino.
Thanks for the tip-- it never would have even occurred to me.

Posted March 31, 2014 link

WIN! :D

Seriously though, thank you for giving it a shot. I spent years tweaking capps back in the early 2000s. I even commissioned a food specialist scientist at UBC do do a specific study on lactose and what happens to it as milk heats up (for our milk guide, so we had some background info). When I got into quality coffee and espresso I had heard to rule of thirds and thought "okay, well that's the old school way" but throughout the 2000s I really learned it was spot on, but making it even better is stretching the milk only until the pitcher is neutral in temperature to your hand, then sinking the wand into the liquid deep and just heating the milk from then on (microfoam does and will circulate with the liquid, but the air bubbles help insulate it from being heated up too much more, so just the majority of liquid continues to heat, and not the foam).

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Posted Mon Mar 31, 2014, 9:18pm
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

Around here, a competent barista will have a bushy beard and several tattoos. Same with the male baristas. ;>D

SERIOUSLY, Mark, nearly all your listings are things I look for, especially in MY HOME "cafe." My guest shouldn't have to look at rags carelessly strewn around the machine, or stains on the machine or counter, excessive stale grind, etc. I was horrified once when I noticed an espresso cup I thought I had thoroughly cleaned in hot water had a small, but visible stain near the lip. I quickly removed it, ruining the shot, but maintaining my dignity.

So, YES, I look for these things when trying a new cafe, or even visiting my favorite ones. As Mark mentioned, I take note of the coffee in the grinder, and if they don't roast their own, who their supplier is. I will ask for their IMPRESSIONS of the taste profile. I always a watch a drink being made before mine, even if I have to step out of line to do so.

I'm willing to blow $3 JUST to see whether their barista can build a properLY proportioned cortado, my favorite milk drink. If they can't, sorrowfully, I leave. Especially if they don't KNOW what it is in the first place. In fact, I believe if the barista gives you a blank stare when you mention ANYTHING other than a cappa or latte, THAT is enough reason to move on.

Slightly off topic, PLEASE tip your barista if you are pleased. They don't often get paid huge sums. I wait until AFTER I've consumed my beverage, as doing so beforehand, then realizing your drink is not so good makes that DOUBLY disappointing. Whereas, a grew beverage makes me want to pop out of my chair, walk briskly over to the counter and drop a buck in the kitty.

Great topic, especially the debate, and eventual victory for both "StereoHeathen" and Mark as regards building a cappa.
I have some work to do.

 
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Posted Fri Apr 11, 2014, 8:31am
Subject: Re: How to Spot a Quality Cafe by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

Yes it does. All other mediums - paper, plastic, glass, steel, all impart negative aspects to espresso that porcelain does not.

- paper. Horrible medium to drink espresso from. So much wrong with it, I don't know where to begin.
- plastic - ditto. Plastic imparts a taste and a tasting experience that reflects very negatively on a 30ml beverage
- glass: too thin, too much heat transfer (to your fingers), no handle, and glass imparts a slight taste impact that I've noticed.
- steel: again, imparts a taste impact that many people experience.

Glass for espresso, especially vessels not designed for espresso (ie, a shot glass) is just someone trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Someone trying to be different just for the sake of being different. For photography, glass, like the illy crystal nude espresso cups, is great, it shows visually the layers in a proper espresso cup. But for taste, for durability, for comfort, for handling, for storage, and for display, porcelain is not only the best medium for espresso, it's the only one it should ever be served in.

Posted March 29, 2014 link

I tend to agree with the use of porcelain in serving espresso or espresso-based drinks. However, this point by Mark got me thinking about the ubiquitous use of steel and other materials in the preparation of these drinks, and other coffee brew methods. The filter basket and the portafilter are both steel or brass, for example. In making French Press, Vacuum Pot, and drip coffee, glass is most typical, but also metal containers exist (I have a beautiful polished steel thermally insulated FP). The Aeropress is plastic. These are just examples. But basically, I am not aware of any systems that are 100% porcelain, that is, where the brewed coffee only touches porcelain. How does this affect the final taste in the cup, if any?
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