This week I will be commemorating 7 months since I moved to the bay area.
Life has been mostly splendid here, with sunny days, polite people, mostly-functional public services system (10 months to pass a budget? Com'on), and very bad coffee.
Coffee here is so ridiculously bad that I actually thought about starting to prepare my own coffee. (If you've ever had me make you coffee you would know I make horrible coffee).
I was not much of a coffee drinker until the age of 21, and then I had my first Cappuccino in Italy. To my delight, I found it wasn't me who had a problem with coffee, it was Nescafe (or the local Israeli brand), which was problematic.
I became very fond of Cappuccinos, and strong black Arabic coffee (Calling it "Turkish" is just wrong...Turks drink mostly tea) with Cardamom.
A coffee snob indeed.
Whenever someone hears me complaining about coffee, the typical question is, "what's so wrong with Starbucks", or, if encountering the upper scale connoisseur wannabe "isn't Pete's just like in Italy"?
Well, it isn't, and for all those who asked, here's Ron's guide on how to ruin an expensive cup of Cappuccino in 7 simple steps:
1. Roasting - roast the coffee too much. Bitterness is not the goal, it's burntness. Try to keep as much as possible with the old American tradition of bad brewed coffee. I have heard several nicknames for brewed coffee. I am mostly fond with "sock juice", but "gutter juice" makes the cut as well.
2. Milk - when steaming the milk, make sure to heat it too much, beyond the desired 70 centigrade temperature. Heating the milk too much will achieve two of the most desired American coffee goals - you will burn out any relic of flavor remaining in the roasted grains, and you will present the drinker with an exquisite burnt tongue sensation gift.
3. The cup - make sure to use an oversize cup. The locals here like their coffee as close to American cars as possible - large and of low quality. Quoting a friend who interviewed an Israeli entrepreneur once, "Israelis do not drink their coffee in buckets".
4. The cup #2 - Always serve your coffee in carton cups. This will allow you to transfer the warm (too hot) feeling to the cup holder, and will give a sense of urgency to leave the coffee shop - it is a well known fact that coffee should only be sipped a mile away from where it was poured.
5. A tea spoon - just don't invent those. Give your clientele disposable (organic compostable, of course) spoons, or better yet, small wooden stirrers. Since you steamed the milk too hot anyway, why would they like to endure on the best part of the Cappuccino - the leftover mix of foam, coffee and sugar.
6. Sugar - Assume no one uses it, and offer a variety of five (yes, 5!) types of low calorie sweeteners. Can anyone please tell me what's the difference between the pink, yellow, orange, blue and green ones? If I mix them, will it taste like m&m's in my coffee?
7. Sugar #2 - Try not to serve brown sugar. If the customers insist (those nasty snobs), serve "sugar in the raw" in a large open bowl, making sure it absorbs as much humidity as possible and sticks into large lumps. Coffee drinkers are known to be aggressive people and the best way to let them get rid of those aggressions is let them pound into bowls of sugar until they can get a teaspoon full of sugar in their cup. I have a one word hint for you: Demerara
So, let's suppose someone drop you in the bay area, and for some reason you insist on getting a good cup of coffee, where would that be?
Here's a short list of where not to go:
- Blue Bottle Bar(s) - This famed coffee company is the hottest "best" place in town. I have tried them 3 times in 2 branches. If you like your coffee burnt (but being served by someone who looks like a model), try the Mint alley branch in San Francisco. If you like it just burnt and standing in line 10 minutes for it, try the Hayes Valley branch.
- Any Starbucks branch - the coffee is just bad.
- Cafe Strada in Berkeley - The terrace is nice on a sunny day. The coffee is always awful.
Where should you go:
- Yali's Cafe at Berkeley (both the university and the town) - Owned by a Kibutznik, he makes sure to teach his employees how to make coffee. And at the UC campus they're all perky smiling students - what could be better?
- Cafe Del Doge in Palo Alto - this one realy tastes like in Italy. No wonder all Israeli VCs hang out there.
- Pete's - If you insist on Pete's, ask for a "traditional cappuccino" (no, it's not on the menu). Apparently the insiders know how to say "I know what good coffee is like" in Americanese.