Coffee. It's a sore subject here in the Inland Northwest where, even though we have great roasters like DOMA, people will often pick up their daily Starbucks. I mean, seriously. That's like the coffee equivalent of a Bud Clamato.
The whole coffee thing is complicated, and while I'm far from an expert on the subject, there are certain basics we all should know. Here are a few of them:
Beans and roaster matter. I mean, yes, starting with the basics, I know. Your personal preference might vary from mine on who is awesome and who is not -- hey, same goes for wine too -- but if you see the DOMA logo, you will most likely be safe. Often anything local is worth investigating, as our roasters are small -- "boutique" if you like -- and will take more of a personalized approach to their beans. Not much different from a craft brewer. That's not to say there aren't a fair share of duds around here either of course.
Pulling a great shot of espresso isn't as easy as you might think it is. There are multiple steps here, and unless you're pulling the shot yourself, you probably will have a hard time checking up on each and every one of them. A big one, however, is timing. If the shot is pulled for five seconds or thirty-five seconds, then you probably should get tea instead. The timing can vary, but around the 15-20 second mark tends to be good. Sadly many shots around these parts are pulled a lot faster, and that's not good. Update: DOMA tells us between 26-30 seconds is ideal for a shot, regardless of the coffee. While the Internets don't completely agree, we tend to trust DOMA in these kinds of matters.
Coffee art is lame. I mean, it's fine to do a small leaf or whatever, but the foam art shouldn't take longer than pulling the shot. I just want to drink the damn thing, not stare at it.
Being a snob isn't necessary. Oh, we all know the type. They claim to like their cappuccinos bone dry and their espressos straight. And hey, that might be your thing, and that's fine, but buy a cappuccino in Spain, and it will likely come wet (meaning with more milk in it) and Italians often dunk plenty of sugar in their espressos.
Overall, just be vigilante. Make sure you find a roaster and barrista you like, and you'll be good. You don't have to settle for mediocracy.
In fact, if you want a great comparison point, head up to Lindaman's. They pull some excellent espresso based drinks.