When I travel, where to get good coffee is generally at the top of my list of things to prepare for. When I’m headed to a new city, I always check the espresso map website to find out where the good stuff is. The website itself is pretty clunky, and perhaps hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s never let me down. Ever. If I’m going to a big city, I’ll even try to find lodging near the coffee shops on this site. If there isn’t a shop where I’m going, I always pack along my Aeropress and a bag of freshly ground beans from my home supply.
When I’m out in the world in these cities and towns that lack a good bean, I admit to stopping by a Starbucks now and again. It might not be the most flavorable, and is probably going to be too hot, but I know what I’m getting. Occasionally I’ll get suckered into a shop in town that looks like it might be ok. They have a La Marzocco machine on the counter and there is a line of people. But, for the most part I’m usually disappointed. This just happened to me again. In Carmel, CA I walked into a quaint looking courtyard with a coffee shop and a line of people. The people looked like locals, which is generally a good sign, and the shop had a Marzocco machine, but it just didn’t smell right. When I placed my order I pretty much knew it wasn’t going to be good. After taking a sip, the first words out of my mouth were, “well, it’s not worse than Starburcks.” But after finishing the coffee, it was…it was worse than Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pretend to be anything other than Starbucks. This place, with their quaint courtyard and hip counter decor was masquerading as a good coffee shop. It wasn’t.
In the end, it was my own fault. The first photo below this text is an image of their sign. A lounging sea lion holding a cup of coffee. That should have alerted me to drop my expectations to low levels.
The top image, and the image at the bottom are from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz. There are no sea lions on signs there. Just a strong font, minimal decor, and great smelling coffee. Exactly what you should look for when seeking out good espresso. Here is a current look at my top 5 coffee shops – in no particular order:
- Verve Coffee Roasters – Santa Cruz, CA
- Blue Bottle Coffee – Bay Area, CA
- Caffe D’arte – Seattle, WA
- Victrola Coffee Roasters – Seattle, WA
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Portland, OR
These places are world class. Tell them the guy from Montana who comes in for multiple quad-shot lattes sent you.