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Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
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Budgiesmuggler
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Posted Thu Nov 28, 2013, 1:12pm
Subject: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Travel article from Sydney's main newspaper:

Click Here (www.smh.com.au)

I can actually relate - on a trip to San Fran I went to what was supposed to be a top cafe and ordered a flat white. The barista told me he knew what that was, but when I got it back it was nothing like what I was expecting. About half a litre of milk with some coffee in there somewhere... Seems the Aussie issue with Starbucks has a lot to so with the milk to coffee ratio in most of their cup sizes.




How to survive North America's terrible coffee
November 27, 2013

Want a long black from Starbucks? Order an espresso doppio and ask them to make some minor tweaks. Photo: AP

The US and Canada have a pretty poor reputation among Australians when it comes to getting a decent cup of coffee. But, as Tim Richards explains, there are ways for travelling coffee-lovers to cope.

They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What should have stayed in the US resort city after my recent visit there was this terrible truth: I regularly drank coffee at Starbucks.

Australians may draw a sharp intake of breath at this revelation. After all, it's only been five years since the US coffee giant was forced to close almost three-quarters of its Australian outlets, having seriously misjudged the local coffee palate.

However, as Aussie travellers will know, sometimes in North America a Starbucks outlet is the best place you can find at short notice. In my case, the Starbucks was a 24-hour stall on the ground floor of the Tropicana, one of the city's longest established resorts. With the jingle of gambling machines ringing in the background, I examined the menu closely. Below all the Starbucks codewords for their coffee-flavoured milkshakes, past the "ventis" and the "grandes", was listed a simple espresso doppio.I was desperate for a long black, not the big weak watery Americanos you usually end up with in North America when ordering black coffee. So I decided to see if I could create one.

One thing I'll say for Starbucks: they hire friendly staff, willing to accommodate the eccentric requests of an Australian traveller. I ordered the double espresso with extra water, but not too much. They obligingly marked a level on the paper cup.

What emerged was not unlike a long black. I repeated this procedure in cities across the USA and Canada with varying success; sometimes there was too much water added, other times the beans were clearly inferior to start with.

But still, it was something. At least I didn't have to issue the complicated order devised by Canadian blogger Chelsea Herman, who lived in Australia for a while and on her return to Vancouver was desperate for a flat white.
"If you ask a barista here for a flat white, they look at you blankly until you order a triple short no-foam latte," she wrote on her blog Chelsea Tells Stories (chelseatellsstories.com). "Which is as close a substitute as I can find, but doesn't come close to the real deal."

On the other side of Canada, I found a wonderful exception to the lack of Aussie-style coffees in Quebec: the café allongé. Aside from being a delight to pronounce (a-lon-zhay), it was much the same as a long black, and Montreal's atmospheric independent cafes turned out several satisfying examples.

Such indie cafes are the other side of the story of North American coffee. Australians assume that all coffee in the USA and Canada is bad, partly because we're not used to the dominant drip-style filtered brew.
"You find it everywhere," says Australian Jason Scheltus, co-owner of Melbourne's Market Lane Coffee and a former New York barista. "That's part of the reason why it's hard for Australians. They see coffee and assume it's going to be fine. If you go to corner shops and bodegas and delis, they'll have a pot of coffee sitting and you can get a cup for one or two dollars. But it won't usually be great quality coffee."

There's also an impression of weakness.
"Australians go there expecting espresso and get filter coffee, so the first thing they notice is the difference in strength," he adds.
However, times are changing even in these smaller outlets, says US-born barista Jenni Bryant, one of Scheltus' Market Lane colleagues.

"A lot of smaller roasteries and coffee shops are starting to taste different coffees and saying they want something that tastes better and fresher, so they're roasting for themselves, trying to brew fresher. So it's similar to what's happening here, though there's always been a more of a balance between espresso and filter style coffee in America. People have always drunk both."

The key to finding really good coffee is to look beyond these ubiquitous outlets, adds Bryant, pointing to America's vibrant independent coffee scene. "It depends on the cities that you go to, as to how much will be available; but if you're going to visit New York or San Francisco or Chicago, Philly, LA, Seattle - even Kansas City - most major cities will have a scene. It's the same here in Australia; if somebody got off a train in Melbourne or Sydney and was looking for coffee, they wouldn't necessarily find the cafes which are hidden around the corner, up the stairs, in little nooks and crannies. You have to be in the know."

So how do you find these places?

"Personal recommendations are obviously the best," says Scheltus. "But if walking into a coffee shop to decide whether it's high quality or not, I would look at how clean it is and if they have reasonably clean equipment, if they're grinding their coffee fresh. If it smells good in there, it actually makes a big difference to me."
"If you find a great café, ask the baristas where they like to drink coffee," adds Bryant. "And ask them where they like to drink their beer and their cocktails, and where they eat as well. The number of times I took out a piece of paper while I was on shift in New York and wrote down recommendations for visitors... You want people to have a great time and you want them to experience unique, special places."
Beyond the human touch, there's plenty of coffee-related information online. I've had good results when using the Beanhunter mobile app in North America, and popular crowd-sourced sites such as Urbanspoon and Yelp allow users to drill down to a list of coffee outlets in a given vicinity.

Individual cities often have useful resources, such as the New York Coffee Guide (newyorkcoffeeguide.com), Portland Food and Drink (portlandfoodanddrink.com), and the Chicago Coffee Review (chicagocoffeereview.com). The Los Angeles Times recently created The Great LA Coffee Map (guides.latimes.com/the-great-la-coffee-map-20130627), and you can ogle Montreal coffee photos at Adbeus (adbeus.com).
Also, tour company Seattle By Foot (seattlebyfoot.com) offers its popular Seattle Coffee Crawl as an orientation to the city's famous coffee scene, visiting numerous cafes on the way.

With all this on offer, is it possible that the Aussie stereotype of bad North American coffee is outdated?
"I think it's a limited concept of what coffee is," says Bryant. "There can be delicious filter coffee, but a lot of people might still not like that, because it's not what they think it's meant to be."

"I would say that every country has bad coffee," adds Scheltus. "I don't know that America has more bad coffee than Australia, or any other country. There's a lot more new stuff going on over there; maybe it's evolving a bit quicker as well."

"You've got to put a little legwork in," says Bryant, laying down the bottom line. "You can't just expect it to be amazing. All parts of the industry are represented, so you'll have bad coffee, absolutely, but there's also excellence. I think it just takes a little work."

What have your coffee experiences in North America been like? Post your comments below.

I ♥ NY caffeine
Jason Scheltus and Jenni Bryant's café recommendations for the Big Apple:
Third Rail Coffee, 240 Sullivan St, Greenwich Village (thirdrailcoffee.com)
Variety Café, 145 Driggs Ave, Brooklyn (varietynyc.com)
Stumptown, 18 W 29th St, Manhattan (www.stumptowncoffee.com)
Café Grumpy, four locations (www.cafegrumpy.com)
Joe, nine locations (www.joenewyork.com)
Also check out these NY cafes with Aussie connections:
Bluebird, 72 E 1st Street, Manhattan (www.bluebirdcoffeeshop.com)
Bluestone Lane, two outlets (www.bluestonelaneny.com)
Culture Espresso, 72 W 38th St, Manhattan (www.cultureespresso.com)
Little Collins, 667 Lexington Ave, Manhattan (www.littlecollinsnyc.com)
Milk Bar, 620 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn (www.milkbarbrooklyn.com)
Toby's Estate, 125 N 6th St, Brooklyn (www.tobysestate.com.au)
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Thu Nov 28, 2013, 4:54pm
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

  1. What you are used to and prefer does not define the universal limits of "good;"
  2. Finding good coffee in North America is no more difficult than finding someone with taste and manners in Oz;
  3. If you go to Starbucks you deserve what you get; and
  4. If you go to Starbucks knowing what you're in for and are still disappointed, the problem is neither with Starbucks nor North America.

BDL
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GVDub
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Posted Sat Nov 30, 2013, 10:28am
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Also, if you call San Francisco, "San Fran," you deserve whatever you get. Do people call your home town, "Syd"?
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al_bongo
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 7:05am
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Why the focus on Starbucks? Comes across as a look from afar, with lots of quotes and not a lot of actual coffee drinking.

Flat white? Long blacks? Aussie speak for white and black coffees. Doesn't necessarily translate to rest of world, although they do make an appearance here in the UK.

Many great coffee experiences in US. New York City is now astonishing for the number, quality and variety of coffee places. Not so many local roasters but with so many great US roasters it's not a big deal. Los Angeles has come on leaps and bounds (would have said LA but clearly abbreviations for cities are fraught with problems). You might have to drive to find them but it's worth it.

There's no excuse for settling on Starbucks just because they are ubiquitous other than the fact they have great fee wi-fi that let's you look up the latest and greatest nearby coffee places.

Out with the major cities I have no doubt you might not have the choice and quality that some of the big tourist destinations have but this is the case in many countries.
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CoffeeRoastersClub
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 9:11am
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

I'll get right to your question of "What have your coffee experiences in North America been like? Post your comments below."

The best espresso shot I ever had was in a little shop in Maui.  The worst was in a little shop in Key West.  The best Starbucks coffee I ever had was their Espresso Roast done as a drip.  Everything else is mediocre at best except for their House Blend which was decent (which they do not serve any longer; Pikes Place has taken its place).

Take in mind that I do not travel much any longer (all we do is work work work).  That shot I had in Maui was over 10 years ago, the same with Key West.  I cannot remember the names of the shops.  There are basically no cafes where we live.  Only Starbucks and gasoline station coffee.  If I have to get a coffee I have to settle on Starbucks.  Otherwise 99.9999999% of all the coffee I drink is home roasted.

Len

 
"Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water." ~The Women's Petition Against Coffee, 1674

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Budgiesmuggler
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 1:05pm
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Guys lighten up a bit!

In response, we don't call sydney "Syd" because it's a ready short. We do call melbourne "Melbs" and we call Brisbane "Bris".

There is good coffee in Australia and I'm sure there is also good coffee in the US. The journalist had at least done some research on good cafés in the US.

I'm not going to comment on "taste and manners" comment!
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CoffeeRoastersClub
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 5:08pm
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Budgiesmuggler Said:

Guys lighten up a bit!

In response, we don't call sydney "Syd" because it's a ready short. We do call melbourne "Melbs" and we call Brisbane "Bris".

There is good coffee in Australia and I'm sure there is also good coffee in the US. The journalist had at least done some research on good cafés in the US.

I'm not going to comment on "taste and manners" comment!

Posted December 1, 2013 link

I really don't see the major offensiveness of the article.  It is actually lame by U.S. standards.  I am freaking massively offended every day after my first reading of the daily news rag.  And thats just the comics section.

Len

 
"Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water." ~The Women's Petition Against Coffee, 1674

www.CoffeeRoastersClub.com     www.javaPRO-CRC.com     www.KaffeeFrisch.com
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boar_d_laze
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 6:37pm
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

Budgiesmuggler Said:

I'm not going to comment on "taste and manners" comment!

Posted December 1, 2013 link

The better part of valor.  

BDL
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emradguy
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Posted Sun Dec 1, 2013, 8:52pm
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

It's very hard to find what you're used to when you travel outside your home country. When I travel, I try to do a little research ahead of time in order to scout out where I might find food and beverages I will enjoy. The masses here are uneducated, when it comes to coffee. They don't have any idea about freshness in beans, degrees of roast, brew methods, proper temperatures, grind coarseness, steep/extraction times or ratios, etc. They care more about speed and convenience than quality. So, I suppose one could come here and go to *$$, and then say they can't find a decent coffee, but the truth is, it's just like the guy who goes to McDonald's or Burger King and then says he can't find a decent hamburger...he's looking in the wrong place.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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Iluvdabean
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Posted Wed Dec 4, 2013, 7:22am
Subject: Re: Article: how to survive North America's terrible coffee
 

We Americans sure do love a challenge. I think there are great coffees and shops,you just need to look.
Intelligentsia,Klatch, and Vivcace,are all great coffees and thats the tip of the iceberg.

http://worldbaristachampionship.com/about-the-wbc/history/

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