Crystal and I are both on our own coffee journeys. We’re avid home brewers (more on that in the future), big time espresso fans, we’ve both had serious crushes on baristas at one point or another, and when I’m not eating or writing songs, I am a barista. So it seems fitting that we take a moment now, in prime coffee drinking weather (in Boston, at least), to address the coffee shop.
Crystal is the best Yelp user I know. She is fast, efficient, and thorough… It’s really quite impressive. Thanks to her uncanny ability to sniff out a bullshit review from a mile away we’ve made many great out-of-town decisions by simply taking a quick break and firing up the iPhones.
From a recent food pilgrimage to Philly (post pending), she reported that many restaurants, bars, and cafés are very well categorized on Yelp thanks to both the star and dollar sign rating system and the actual categories. For example: The Boyne (BOS) is a “pub,” simple as that, three and a half stars and one dollar sign. Haddington’s (ATX) is an “American (New)” restaurant with a great bar program as evidenced by the reviews, four stars and two dollar signs. East Side King @ The Liberty is an “Asian Fusion” joint, obviously a food trailer to Austin-savvy Yelpers, one dollar sign, four stars (read: best drunk food EVER). At a glance, you can tell exactly what you’re in for.
Coffee shops, she noted, were less easily separated. Nearly every coffee shop on Yelp is listed under the category of “Coffee & Tea,” rarely does a coffee shop have more than two dollar signs, and granting stars to coffee shops is very heavily based upon the comfy chair to outlet ratio rather than the coffee. So, the coffee categories, we decided, must be taken into our own hands.
We think it’s fair, here in 2012, when approached with a recommendation for a coffee shop to ask, “What kind of coffee do they serve?” and get an answer other than “Good coffee!” People today know their cuts of beef, their brands of sweet vermouth, and the names of their favorite (Top) chefs, is it so much to ask that we pay attention to roasters? Growing regions? Brew methods? It is not. So, without further adieu and with note that there will be time for us to fawn over our favorite roasters and the best cappuccinos we’ve ever had, we present the Heart N Stomach’s categories of coffee shops. Feel free to adopt (actually, please adopt).
Specialty Coffee Amazing Everythingbars
These are my favorite, as evidenced by choice of category name. These establishments take their coffee seriously, usually with a healthy dose of old-school American craft nostalgia. They are often multi-roaster, with renowned specialty (an actual category of green coffee) coffees brewed in many different ways but rarely with an automatic drip brewer. Sometimes they seem more like science labs with the glass carafes, Chemexes, siphons, gram scales and shiny, spacey espresso machines, but all those things may as well be peacock mating feathers to coffee nerds like us. Atmosphere varies from shop to shop, but here the coffee is king. It’s all about bringing out coffee’s essence, and through honoring the agriculture and process every step of the way until it results in something extraordinary. These places will encourage you to drink your coffee black, and we all know once you go black you don’t go back.
If you’re in Austin and this sounds like heaven, check out: Houndstooth Coffee.
Boston is getting on its game in this category, with many new and exciting developments we’ll keep you posted on. Crystal love love loves Voltage. Bonus: its also an art gallery. Want some candid Instagrams, sipping on a pour over, under an amazing art installation? Us too.
Wi-Fi Hotspots/Shop Talkies
A necessity in the coffee shop world: somewhere to meet. Whether it’s online or in person, these shops provide the perfect space to plot revolutions, have an awkward first date, or simply finish that pesky British History term paper. Usually large spaces with lots of tables and couches, outlets and elastic bandwidth Wi-Fi, the coffee here is not necessarily the highlight although some places serve some solid brews (along with plenty of other options for your project partners who gave up caffeine for 2012).
My favorite place in Austin that scratches this itch: Dominican Joe.
Dirty Hippie Soy Milk Shop
Hippies need caffeine, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hippie, but these shops that cater to the soy milk lovin’, Birkenstock-wearing, people of questionable hygiene who undoubtedly make Austin fantastic, are not my favorite shops to spend the afternoon in. They are often a little on the library quiet side with maybe some chill nature sounds on the stereo, walls laden with local art, a lending library, and at least one barista with dreads. Not my cup of coffee, but they certainly serve a purpose, “bless their hearts.”
If you think I’m a bitch now, I actually really like Pacha in Austin.
Boston is a little less, shall we say, “receptive” to hippie culture (Crystal is from Woodstock, New York, so trust her on this), but she loves her some True Grounds (Somerville).
Caps and Aprons
Pretty self-explanatory here. Any shop that requires baristas to wear a baseball hat and an apron, possibly a polo shirt is saying to them, “You are replaceable, your personal skills and coffee palate mean so little to us and our super-automatic machine, and you look like crap in a hat.”
No recommendations here, I think you know who they are.
These are the spots may not have more than one brewing method option, and therefore probably aren’t going to lure coffee nerds across town, but they are the heart of a neighborhood and solid alternatives to the corporate mega-coffee monsters. If you want to know the characteristic of a neighborhood, who lives there and what they value, this places will tell you loud and clear. They usually have a community component to them, whether that be local art on the walls, open mic nights, an over flyer-ed board advertising anything from old couches to guitar lessons, or just a very family/stroller receptive vibe. Usually sell caffeine-alternative beverages and a solid sandwich. Here, everybody knows your name.
Cherrywood in Austin comes to mind.
There you have it, drinkies! Now go forth and get what you want from your coffee shop experience.
**BOSTON: If you want to try a few of the places recommended here, and other awesome spots, get yourself a Disloyalty card.