In a fast-paced world where everything is constantly go, go, go, sometimes you need a moment to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee. Not a latte, or something iced with a lot of sugar, but a good, old-fashioned, undiluted cup of black coffee.
Coffee is a delicacy. It's rich and full of flavors, it's aromatic, and frankly, underrated. When I first came to D.C., I was shocked by the lack of time people give their cup of morning joe. In a world where Dunkin Donuts is always poppin' and McDonalds is on every corner, why should people care about their coffee beyond trying to get the best caffeine rush for their buck?
To backtrack, I am a life-long lover of coffee. Blame it on my Seattle roots, but give me a nice, independent coffee shop and steaming hot cup of coffee without room for cream and I'll sit in the same chair for hours. I had my first full cup of coffee in fifth grade. At the tender age of 9, I was absolutely hooked. Sometimes this can prove to be a problem, as no one likes that pre-morning coffee headache. Every once in a while, I'll take a break, switch to tea and make it past the morning headache phase, only to find myself back in the coffee habit within a few weeks.
There are two factors that contribute to a perfect cup of coffee: the coffee itself and the coffee shop.
Now, I realize that it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy a cup of coffee at home, but the experience is completely enhanced when you switch up the location you drink it in.
In order to properly understand how to get the most out of your coffee drinking experience, it's important to first identify what the worst cup of coffee is. The worst cup of coffee is the one you drink to help pull you through an all nighter, the one that serves no purpose and provides no fulfillment other than making you stay away a few more hours. It is chugged, loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners and consumed over textbooks or your laptop.
The perfect cup of coffee is the opposite. It's your favorite type of roast, strong, and your companion for a long novel. It is consumed in a quaint coffee shop that is neither too big nor too small. There's local art on the walls, comfy chairs to slouch into and lively conversation. The perfect coffee shop is the best kind of environment for formulating ideas.
Now, lack of one or the other of these factors could entirely change the experience. For example, you could stumble upon the cutest little coffee shop with live music and beautiful art– only to discover their coffee is weak and lacks the rich flavor you wanted. Or vise versa, you could have the most delectable cup of coffee, but if the coffee shop is blaring loud music, has generic decor and is half-empty, it's hard to really savor the experience.
This is why it is important to explore coffee shops. Think of it as a quest to find a cup of happiness. Just because all your friends like one place, or everyone is raving a new hot place in town, doesn't mean it'll be the right fit for you. All coffee drinkers are unique– we each have flavor preferences, preferred drinks and different ambient desires.
For example, when I'm back in Seattle and want to write, I'll go to Caffe Umbria in Ballard because I love their Americano and you can always find inspiration from watching the people who pass by; however, if I want to read, I'll go to Cloud City Coffee in Mapleleaf becuase it's well-lit and has a nice, open atmosphere.
When trying out coffee shops, it is important to consider many factors. Don't limit your options based on past experiences. Tastes change, baristas change and one's purpose for a coffee shop changes as well.
It is also important to note that you may not find the absolute best cup of coffee, but if the coffee shop is to die for, then it's okay to find a compromise between the coffee and location. The best cup of coffee I ever had came from Nicaragua. I purchased a bag of espresso roast (that has slowly been dwindling) from a coffee bean farm. Regardless of how ridiculously perfect this coffee is (honestly the chocolate undertones and strong flavor are nothing short of perfection), I still find myself opting to go to coffee shops. I know the coffee at a coffee shop will not be as good as the cup I could make at home; however, the coffee shop atmosphere is worth slightly compromising my ridiculously high coffee standards.
It might take you a day to find the right combination of coffee shop and coffee – it could take years – but in the end, it's all worth it. Never give up hope because the perfect cup of coffee is out there, waiting for you. You just have to get out of Starbucks and go find it.