Barista Abroad: Three Tips For the Best Cuppa

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Before becoming a globe-trotting Digital Nomad, I was a trained barista. While I loved learning the science behind a perfect cuppa, honestly it made me quite the coffee snob. If I don’t get the right drink, I’ll be a miserable lady.

Depending on your perspective, my former life as a coffee-slinger has either made my travels a lot easier or a lot more complicated. Honestly, if good coffee machines weren’t so expensive, I’d just make my own coffee. Alas, I’ve had to rely on others for my daily dose of black bean juice. Luckily for you, this endeavor has taught me a thing or two about getting coffee that’s just right.

So, whether you’re grabbing a cuppa at your favorite local cafe or somewhere abroad, here are some of my tips to getting a perfect brew.

Beans, Beans, Beans

Many people don’t realize that they don’t know their preferred flavor profile. What a “good” coffee is to you might not be for me simply because of my personal preferences.

Without getting too deep into the coffee profiles’ complexity, there are two basic ends of the spectrum: sour and bitter. The “bitter” end would be described with terms like “chocolatey” or “nutty” and is what I prefer. Then, the “sour” end will use more fruity words (and is what my mom enjoys). While I don’t expect you to be able to pick up a cup of coffee and tell me if it has a “berry-like” flavor to it, you should at least learn which end of the spectrum you roughly fall upon.

Most cafes worldwide tend to only serve one to two coffee blends. But don’t be afraid to chat to the barista on duty about your preferences!

Know Your Coffee Ratios

What are the differences between a latte and a cappuccino? They’re both milk coffees with a double shot of espresso, but many people don’t know that the ratio of milk to foam between the two beverages is different. This ratio does affect the result of how “strong” a coffee flavor you get in the end; cappuccinos are “stronger” simply because there is less milk diluting the espresso shot.

What about an americano and a long black? Although they’re both a mixture of espresso and water, the difference is the order in which things go into a cup. Generally, an americano is the espresso shot first, then hot water. A long black does the opposite. This order affects the flavor of the drink you receive, where a long black tastes stronger because the espresso is on top.

Every time I step foot into a new cafeespecially one abroad, I have to hope and pray that the barista on duty knows their stuff. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve ordered a cappuccino and gotten a latte (sometimes worse, a flat white), I’d be a millionaire. This is also why I don’t bother with ordering long blacks anymore; I just know that I’ll receive an americano in the end anyway.

Tamp is Key

This tip involves having to pay a bit of attention to the barista on duty. During my time abroad, I’ve noticed that despite a cafe claiming to be “the best in town”. Sadly, their coffees depend entirely on who’s making them.

There’s a good chance that the cafe closest to you will not have a certified barista on duty. Most cafes rely on just training their staff on the absolute basics: grind coffee into portafilter, stick portafilter into the machine, press button et voila coffee! But that simplistic view of coffee making is guaranteed to result in a cup that’s not quite right. Many people fail to realize the importance of tamping — the act of pressing down on the coffee grind (typically by leaning forward slightly) before sticking it into the coffee machine. Basically, this helps ensure that the right amount of pressure occurs before extraction. Too little tamping will result in a watery brew, while too much will burn the coffee.

So, before ordering your favorite drink at a new cafe (or your usual spot), pay attention to how the barista is making a previous order. If they don’t tamp properly, I’d suggest trying out another cafe unless you’re that desperate that you’d be willing to risk getting a bad cup.

For Whom the Bean Tolls

So, those are the top three tips I have for the average Joe when it comes to getting the proper cuppa to start your day (or help you through it). My general rule of thumb is that if the cafe you’re going to doubles as a roastery, you’ll be in good hands, for they should know all of the above.

Now go forth and make good coffee a part of your daily grind!

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