To get started in finding the right experience with coffee, you have to choose a coffee house. This is important because there are a lot of coffee houses out there that are expensive and cushy, but do not fall into the “micro-brew” coffee house category. Micro-brew coffee shops will roast their own coffees on the premises or in the vicinity (locally) and will typically provide a better espresso and micro-brew experience. You may think that these are superficial differences, but you won’t think that after 6 months of a regular regiment of micro roasted coffees. You won’t taste coffee the same way after you have tried it from the hand of the experienced roaster.
For those of you who are wondering, Starbuck’s is not a micro-roasting facility. They mass roast their coffees and ship them to their destinations. I am not saying that their coffee is bad, you can decide that for yourself, but if you are interested in the experience, you should leave the fast food comfort zone and set out in search of a real coffee roaster. I am not trying to be crass or snotty, but Starbuck’s is basically the McDonald’s of the coffee shop industry, and it should be recognized as a fast food coffee shop. Then you can sip your coffee there with some understanding rather than some denial.
Some coffee shops are out of the way and tend to be less busy, and some are in the main areas of town, touristy areas, and tend to have lots of foot traffic. Neither is right or wrong, but each of us has our own idea of what constitutes a pleasant experience. For me, there are times when I like to surround myself with the people of the city, to sit out at the wrought iron tables on the stoop of the main drag among the cigarette butts and coffee stains and see all of my fellow urbanites. Other times I am looking for quiet and some reflection, so I like the smaller, less crowded places that have that aura of leisure mixed with the smell from the cleaner for the hard wood floors and the lingering aromas of brewing coffees. I think that is where I usually end up, and it is the kind of place where I worked, so there will always be a special place there for me.
It is true that many coffee shops have employees that are less than friendly. It is not the rule, but it happens enough that there is a stigma. This happens because they are not career baristas, they are all working their part time jobs through college or until they get famous, so they are just killing time. They also tend to forget that they are in the minority of people that understand the coffee industry from an insider’s perspective, and they tend to see the customer as uninformed because they haven’t been paying attention. If you don’t get the service you were expecting on the first trip, let someone know, but try it again. Even barista’s like to see a familiar face, and you will be better received if you ask questions rather than firing off all the cool words you learned on this blog or from the last coffee shop that you frequented. In general, when people try to connect rather than save face, the initial experience will be much more productive. It is no different in the coffee shop. Remember, though, that 8:15 am is not a great time to stop off at the coffee shop on the main drag to learn about the roasting process. You are liable to get hit with a flying scone.
These are generalizations intended to get you interested and out of the house or the car. Try a tour of the coffee shops in your home town. Look them up in the phone book or do a city search online and see what is in the area. Once you break the threshold of the place once or twice, it will fell more comfortable and you will be more inclined to use it as your third place once in a while – getting away from the house or the office for a bit. For those of us that work from home, it can be a lifesaver for a change of scenery.