Decades and decades ago, or something like that, my wife and I went to Rome and fell under the spell of coffee shops. Il caffe, as they maybe say in Italy. I'm not sure, mainly because they're speaking in Italian. Nevertheless they have brilliant coffee places in Rome, but they are of a different style than those in America, most of which weren't very good at the time. Fortunately, shortly after our dawning interest we suddenly began to see the first iterations of excellent U.S. cafes in our own twin towns, led at first by Kopplins in St. Paul, and then followed by lesser (albeit some quite good) others. But this is still American Capitalism, and quality is ever the exception. And while coffee shops are everywhere in America, tracking down good ones can still be a challenge.
We mostly stick to our local favorites, but sometimes we wander far afield, and sometimes we stumble upon some coffee shop and wander in, asking "Should we get a drink here?"
Superficially it can be hard to tell. Fortunately, if you know the signifiers to look for, it can be pretty easy to tell. I am here to help.
I mean, if you want help. If you don't want help you should read this anyway because, um, in for a penny, in for a pound. Or, on the other hand: where else are you going to go on the Internet? The Internet, feh. To quote John Lennon:
The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
But don't worry. I'll still weave dreams for you. I am totally the walrus now. And in today's dream I have two complimentary lists for you:
Three things that will tell you a coffee shop is not great
1. Packaged snack food of any kind available for purchase.
Yes, a place with interesting, organic chips is likely to be better than a place selling Doritos, but neither, deep down, can be trusted to make a proper cappuccino.
2. Morani or Torani Syrups
Just, no. This relates to item one, and you can employ the following corollary "The more things made in house the better the drinks will be."
3. A self-help bar with things to doctor your drink with.
This seems like it would be a positive. It isn't. You're paying five dollars for a 40 cent drink! You shouldn't have to assemble it yourself.
And three things that tell you a coffee shop might indeed be great
1. Their milk is organic and comes from out of a glass jug.
This is an easy way to see if they're serious about ingredients.
2. Pretty croissants for sale (or other serious looking pastry)
If you can't see their milk this is your next best indicator. You can have one if you want.
3. Focused baristas
When you watch them make a drink they should look like they're crafting something.
That should be enough to get you going. Now get out there and have yourself an absurdly expensive beverage. They make some nice eight dollar ones at Kopplins, where any syrups are their own, and the wee selection of pastry gleams and crackles.