One of the things we are passionate about here at The Coffee Folk is specialty coffee cafes. Part of the overflow of the third wave coffee movement has been a springing up of an abundance of new cafes that seek to embrace specialty coffee.
There are few things as exciting as stumbling across a gem of a new cafe that actually cares about coffee and does it well. And there are few things as disappointing as hearing a cafe recommended only to be served burnt coffee in an unpleasant space.
So in this article we want to think through what makes for an excellent cafe, a cafe worthy of the specialty coffee title, a cafe worth visiting? And as a caveat this post is unashamedly subjective. This is why I look for in a cafe.
The first qualification of a good cafe should come as no surprise; good coffee. But while it is simple to state it, it is far harder than you might expect to actually build a reputation for good coffee. There are a number of different aspects to it.
The first is the coffee beans you choose to use. When I am investigating cafe’s one of the first things I note is what beans they use. Obviously some cafe’s are attached to roasteries which makes it a rather easy choice. But for others it is a question worth giving some serious thought to. In particular you want to form a relationship with a roasting company that is associated with specialty coffee. In addition, a great way to attract specialty coffee fans is through having rotating bean options. So for example in one cafe we frequented in Australia they had rotating single origin beans for filter. This is a great way to advertise that you are serious about coffee.
The next is consistency. This is a key ingredient for a cafe worth visiting and revisiting. When someone walks into your cafe are they guaranteed an excellent coffee or is it the luck of the draw depending on which barista is on and how busy the cafe is? Find systems and structures to ensure there is not only a chance of excellent coffee but a firm and consistent guarantee. If a cafe is going to become my regular, I want to know that they can consistently make me coffee that I enjoy. It only takes one bad coffee to be put off a cafe.
Another thing that I always look for is the range of coffee drinks available. Probably the most sure sign of a specialty coffee cafe is that they offer a wide range of coffee beverages. And by that I don’t mean like starbucks, instead I mean not only lattes and Americanos, but Pour Over, Aeropress, Batch Brew or Filter. As soon as I see a cafe that offers more than just the usual fare, I am most of the way convinced that this cafe genuinely cares about coffee. While this does mean a lot more work and training for the baristas, it is well worth it.
Finally, a cafe offers good coffee when it shows some pride in its coffee. One simple test that I often administer is around latte art. When I order a latte, do I get something that is aesthetically pleasing or that looks like just another order rushed out? This doesn’t mean every drink needs to be a beautiful swan, but I simply want the impression that the barista has taken care over my coffee. Even a well executed heart or tulip does the trick.
The second thing I look for in a cafe worth visiting is the vibes. Is it a pleasant place to be? Is it a place that I want to be in? Or is it a space that I merely tolerate for the sake of the coffee? If you want to create a cafe that genuine coffee lovers will make their regular, you need to give them a space they enjoy. And it is worth saying up front that this can look like a wide spectrum of different themes and looks. I have come to love cafe’s that feel as grand as cathedrals and others that are simply a hole in the wall or a converted old industrial warehouse.
There are a few aspects of this. The first should be obvious but can be surprisingly rare. And that is that it is a clean space. A cafe that doesn’t feel like you are entering a grimy or dusty room. While this takes work in the midst of already busy days, the customer notices.
The next and really most important is a space that celebrates coffee. If you want to be not only a cafe but a specialty coffee cafe then you need to overtly celebrate coffee. This may look like a well placed coffee quote, a wall of specialty coffee equipment, an old coffee roaster sitting in the corner, but I am always looking for a cafe that screams we love coffee. There is nothing that quite lifts my heart like walking into a cafe and smelling the aroma of freshly roasted beans and seeing a Chemex hung on the wall, or a cold drip tower sitting in a corner. If your cafe is attached to a roastery then celebrate that and don’t hide it.
As mentioned, this can take many shapes and sizes. It may be a standing room only espresso bar, or a huge space that is ideal for business meetings and students. But create a space that people want to be in and to come back to.
Another aspect that impacts the vibes is the baristas themselves. In a specialty coffee cafe I expect to be able to have a good coffee conversation with the barista; to be able to chat about the pros and cons of different brewing methods and single origin beans. To be able to see that this barista loves coffee like I do. A friendly and knowledgeable barista is a good step towards creating a reputation for a cafe that actually cares about coffee
Summary: A Cafe worth visiting
So in summary the sort of cafe I love and wish there were far more of is a cafe with good coffee and good vibes. A cafe that embraces rather than ignores the specialty coffee movement, and that unashamedly is passionate and even geeky about coffee.
Here’s to hoping that in the coming years we see far more of these cafe’s springing up!