A Barista’s guide to finding the ideal café
Finding a good cup of joe is not always easy, even as a Barista, but this quick guide should help you seek out the best brew spots in town.
In my time as a Barista and Café manager, I’ve developed a sixth sense for what makes a café special.
When you’ve had enough lousy lattes and crappy cappuccinos, you tend to recognise where the good stuff comes from.
However, to the untrained eye, searching for a decent cuppa isn’t so simple. So with that in mind, I’m going to suggest some easy steps to make the pursuit of your perfect piccolo a little easier. But first…
Step 1: Research, Research, Research
This is a great place to start obviously. Simply Googling ‘best coffee near me’ may give you the answer you need.
From here you’ll be able to find a café close by with reviews, menus, and links to websites or social media accounts, which can give you an impression of whether they’re hot stuff or muddy water!
Snoop around and you’ll start to understand what kind of options are available out there, and what their vibe is. Are they a family gathering spot? Are they more artsy? Are they vegan friendly? Generally, you’ll be able to find all that online.
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Yelp is a good source as well. People will usually give you an honest appraisal in a review. But be careful with these — someone could have a bad experience, and write a bad review, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the café’s to be avoided. Sometimes, it’s that specific reviewer who should be avoided!
However, if you’re only using online tools, you might not find the right spot. You may need to dig deeper.
No good café goes unnoticed forever, and word of mouth is still how most spots get popular.
So, ask around where the best places are. Message fellow caffeine enthusiasts for recommendations, or post a question on your Instagram story and see what responses you get.
The added benefit of asking around is that you may just get a tipoff about a new café that has just opened, and may not have an online presence yet. This is where you’ll find hidden gems that will really impress.
If you know a barista, ask them. Chances are they’ve devoted a large chunk of their time not working in a café, to finding other great cafés.
Your last step when researching should be the Instagram deep dive. This is crucial. In 2020, a good café should have some sort of IG presence. They don’t always, but most of the time, you’ll get a sense of what a place is about from their profile.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, here’s a basic guide.
Among the latest TripAdvisor reviews of the Springfield Store and Cafe is this little gem … pic.twitter.com/KCGr4x2emZ
— Blair Ensor (@blairensor) July 7, 2019
Don’t forget to look at the café’s tagged posts as well as their own posts. They’ll give you another impression of what’s popular with the punters.
Your research is done, it’s time to get out there and get caffeinated!
Step 2: Try it out
If you’re serious about picking the perfect setting for your coffee catchup, you almost have to go try it out beforehand.
You don’t have to stay for long, maybe just get a takeaway, but it’s important you get a feel for the energy in a café.
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What a place looks like on Instagram can be very different in person. How it feels to be in a place, the quality of the service provided, and the ‘vibe’ can’t always be conveyed through a photo.
Maybe it’s got limited seating, or maybe it’s too loud for conversation. These are all things you have to consider, so try a place out before you take someone there.
Let’s take a break! Time for some Barista tips
Here are some notes to consider when trying out the cafe.
Tip #1 – What to order?
Order a small flat white with your chosen milk.
A flat white is both simple and hard to perfect. It can’t hide behind froth or chocolate, so it’ll give you an honest impression of the café’s work.
Tip #2 – What should it taste like?
Ask the staff about the ‘profile’ of the coffee. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll meet this question with nod of respect to your knowledge, and guide you through the flavour notes of their blend.
See, good coffee should taste like more than coffee. Depending on the blend, it should have hints of chocolate and almonds, or lemon and blueberry.
Tip #3 – Sugar or no sugar?
IMPORTANT: This is purely facts. Coffee shouldn’t require sugar. Any sweet additive like stevia or syrup is a defence mechanism between you and bad coffee. If it needs it, avoid it.
Tip #4 – When trying out a café, pay attention to these things
Service – Even the best coffee can be brought down by unfriendly staff.
Cleanliness – Spy on the baristas as they make your coffee. If they aren’t constantly cleaning their equipment, something’s wrong.
Layout – This is a tough one to critique, but if everything is chaotic behind the machine, and people are tripping over themselves trying to find the soy milk, chances are your coffee experience will suffer.
Beans – Some homework for after your tryout: search the brand of beans they use. If they roast their own, generally you’ve found a good spot. If not, what they use is crucial. Here’s some of the best roasteries in Canberra:
Step 3: Choose your spot
You’ve done the research now it’s time to choose.
Here are some final things to consider.
Was it reviewed online, and was it generally liked? A place with overwhelmingly bad reviews is to be avoided, even if recommended by a friend.
Was the menu good? Do they offer a wide variety of choices? Even great cafés let themselves down by being overly specific.
What impression did you get by their social media? Do they have many people tagging them on Instagram? Choosing to tag yourself at a café is a huge vote of confidence, so they must be doing something right.
Were they recommended by friends? This is a huge one for me. Now, it depends how much you value your friend’s opinion, but I think there’s no better way to find a good café than by word of mouth.
Did I like it there? Let’s be honest, this is what matters most. Yes, as a self-proclaimed coffee tragic, even if I like a place I have to keep trying new spots to see if something’s better.
But if you like a café, if it makes you happy, stay loyal and make that your new go-to.