5 Things You’ve Never Thought of While Ordering Coffee

It’s Monday again and the only thing you’re looking forward to is trying out the fancy new coffee shop close to work.

But having high expectations on a Monday can be disappointing. The coffee tastes really bitter and the milk is not right. What a way to ruin your day!

But how exactly can we, on our own, spot a high quality cafe and know for sure, that our cuppa won’t disappoint?

Yep there’s definitely some sure-fire signs to watch for. These signs will help you differentiate a “good” cafe from a “great” one.

It’s all about observation and practice. Here’s some basic tips to watch for as an unassuming customer:

1. Listen for the grinder

A good barista will always grind coffee beans fresh, per order.

Even in very busy periods, the grinding noise should be almost constant.

You’re waiting in line and don’t hear the grinder run for the coffees served before you – get prepped to be served some fairly stale coffee.

It is ideal if you constantly hear the grinder run for about 4-6 seconds. The barista is furiously clicking their dosing lever, hurrying to get every last morsel of ground coffee out.  If so,  things are looking good.

But, if the barista takes your order themselves, heads over to the machine and just uses the leftover ground coffee without running the grinder – just turn around and leave.

Stale coffee is absolutely unacceptable to any well trained barista.

Bonus Tip:

Check if the lids on the grinder’s hopper (where the beans are stored) and dispenser unit (where the grinds are stored) are always on.

We’ve often seen cafes with their hopper lid off for extended periods, exposing the coffee beans to sunlight and humidity, and sure thing the coffee quality was a huge disappointment.

Coffee Grinder2. Watch out for coffee education signage

A cafe that takes their coffee or roast seriously will tend to leave passive educational signs or leaflets for interested customers to read. It is not forced at you or dictated at the counter, rather just left to your discretion and level of interest.

Coffee education signs can be fairly simple like the countries that the coffee beans originates from, and the flavours of the brew, or even information about the farmers or coffee roaster.

Some cafes won’t have signage if it doesn’t suit their persona, but will still be fairly knowledgeable when asked basic questions about their coffee (like which brand of roast they use and where it originates from, or even the type of flavour notes the blend holds).

If the staff, especially the barista, can’t answer these questions there is a higher chance of leaving disappointed with your brew.

3. Have a nosey at the steam wands

Most cafes will position their coffee machine in a way where you can see at least part of their operation – usually the milk steamer side instead of the messy grinder.

Take a sneak peek at the steam wand and make sure they’re clean and free of left-over dried milk.

A good barista will always wipe and purge their steam wand immediately after steaming milk and never allow a build up of thick, white, dry layers of milk.

The reason is science based – milk cannot be boiled up to 100ºC, instead it starts to separate into fatty molecules and water at about 65ºC. The sweetest part of your milk is the lactose, and with an extremely low conversion point lactose can start to taste sour.

Leaving molecules on the steamer can keep affecting the flavour of the subsequent jugs of milk that come into contact with it. AKA gross burnt milk!

4. Sneak-peek at the work area

Speaking of cleanliness, know that a good barista will kee their work area fairly clean and tidy.

Now this doesn’t mean a pile of loose grinds in rush hour makes a bad barista – but things that affect hygiene like dirty rags being reused, a pile of dirty cups and trays near the sink, or old coffee stains everywhere.

Cafe work area for staff5. The flavour shots are negligible

Finally, the sweet dessert in a cup.

Up to a few years ago flavour shots were everywhere, and so popular! But with the quality of coffee getting better and more competitive every year, this trend has dwindled away.

Generally, a cafe that takes the quality of their coffee super seriously, is less likely to want to drown the taste of their coffee in a huge range of flavours and syrups. Many of them now boasting no syrups at all!

Cafes that don’t focus on super high quality cuppas tend to have at least 3 or 4 varieties of sweet syrup options for your drink.

Watch out for this on their menus and be sure of the quality you’re expecting before you even place an order.


Non of us want to have our day ruined by mediocre coffee. These tips will ensure that the next time you visit a coffee shop, you always get bang for your buck. Remember to watch out for these pointers:

  1. Listen for the grinder while waiting in queue.
  2. Knowledgeable baristas are the best baristas.
  3. Take a peek at the milk steamer.
  4. Being busy is not an excuse to be dirty.
  5. Check the menu for the range of flavour syrups on offer.

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