7 Ways to Tell if You’re in a Specialty Coffee Shop

That corner store proudly advertising the “Best Coffee for $1!” may not be the best place to explore specialty coffee. While it may be possible to serve specialty coffee for $1, chances are that the store is not a specialty coffee shop.

So how do you separate out the specialty shops from those who are faking it?

We list here some general tips, but remember, factors like poor coffee and bad service can still mess up your experience. It is absolutely possible to have all of these attributes ticked off, yet still serve terrible coffee.

1) The espresso machine is a high-quality one

While cafes these days do easily follow name-brand trends, it’s also possible that they decided to invest in a quality machine. Common specialty espresso machines are: La Marzocco, Slayer, Synesso, Nuova Simonelli, and Kees van der Western.

2) The counter is clean

Aside from the machine brand, you want to pay close attention to the station surrounding the machine. A clean machine and a clean station means that the barista cares about presentation. This does not mean the counter is always spotless. It means that coffee or grounds spilling have not crusted up over hours or days.

3) The milk steaming wand is clean

The milk steaming wand’s cleanliness also works as an indication on cleanliness. Is it shiny or is it crusted with white pieces? Definitely stay away from ordering a milk-based drink if the wand isn’t being cleaned thoroughly. You don’t want to be drinking a cappuccino made from yesterday’s milk pieces!

4) The menu is clear and precise

Is the menu clearly written out with basic drinks? Depending on where you are located, the presence of a cortado, gibraltar, or flat white on the menu could be a good indication that you’re in a quality shop. Usually, a Frappuccino-like drink is not specialty-grade, but some shops have started serving a few signature drinks.

If they’re serving different types of coffee, do they indicate origin somewhere or are the differences “medium roast” and “dark roast”? If the latter, then it probably isn’t a specialty shop.

5) The coffee bags have roast dates within the last week

As a KaffeBox subscriber, you know already how important a fresh bag of coffee is to making a great cup. If the cafe has coffee on its shelves, take a sneak peek at their bags. Are roast dates clearly written on there? Or are they like the coffee offerings: only details are about the roast levels?

6) The barista knows about the coffee

One of the easiest ways to separate a specialty shop from a mediocre one is professional education. The barista taking your order should know something about the coffee they are serving. You can ask about where the coffee was grown, what the flavor notes are, or even what their cappuccino ratio is. If they’re able to clearly talk about origins or give you a good idea of what a coffee can taste like (without making you feel dumb), then the cafe might have a good education program in place!

7) Order coffee!

For all the snooping around that you’ve done, the ultimate best way to determine if it’s a specialty coffee shop – or a coffee shop you enjoy – is to order a drink!

What else do you use to search out a specialty coffee shop by you? We’d love to know!