Three and a half ways to tell if the coffee’s good without going inside

Story by Philip Coppard

Two coffee shops presented themselves as options: a café and a chocolate store. I guessed café. Big mistake. I might as well have re-used the Keurig cup in my hotel room.

The problem with trying a new coffee shop, is that by the time you’ve tasted the product, it is too late. You’ve bought a bad coffee. In fact, as a Canadian, the coffee shopminute you walk in the door you’ve sealed your fate as you’re far too polite to walk out now.

The challenge is to figure out how to know if the coffee will be any good before you step inside. How can you tell whether to enter with confidence or to walk away? Fortunately, my extensive experience as a coffee connoisseur (read nerd) has allowed me to develop the three-point system of evaluating a coffee shop from the door:

  • Point 1: GEAR
    Is there a high-end, commercial espresso machine clearly visible from the door? It will probably say something in Italian on it and it definitely won’t have the red Canadian Tire triangle. Importantly, it must be clearly visible, not hidden behind a wall or countertop.
  • Point 2: BEANS
    It is unlikely a great coffee shop is going to showcase a wall of Costco specials or yellow-brand brew. Look for rows of beautiful, sealed bags proudly displayed for every coffee nerd to peruse.
  • Point 3: FOCUS
    Is the focus clearly coffee? Any food should be secondary to the java. Freshly baked croissant: great. Soggy plastic-wrapped sandwiches: not at all great.
  • Point 3½: THE BONUS POINT
    Are the baristas uncomfortably pierced and tattooed? The kind where you think “ouch, that must have hurt?” This is a great sign that the owner cares more about the staff’s knowledge and skill than about how they look.

If a café scores three or more points, you are almost guaranteed a great coffee experience. Two or 2½ points is a toss-up. If you’re in Prince George, it’s definitely worth the risk. If the place scores fewer than two points, run away. (In Vancouver, you don’t have to run far. In Toronto or Calgary, you might need an Uber.)

Nowadays, you can even save yourself the indignity of leaving your nose print on the window by pulling out your phone. Often, the photos on a Google page let you determine a very reliable score. Hint: if there isn’t a picture of coffee in the first eight photos, there’s probably a reason.

P.S. Most “Mermaids” stores are a 1. Machine hidden from view (0), very proud of beans (1), way too much food (0) and visible tattoos are against corporate policy (0). Makes me wonder, when a DeVille takes over a Mermaids location, do they have to hold some sort of espresso exorcism?