Six questions for our Where to Drink Coffee author
From the highs of Ethiopian beans to the lows of the Moka pot, Liz Clayton runs us through today's café culture
Few aspects of the culinary arts have developed as quickly coffee. Two decades ago, many good cafés offered only one or two variations on the drink, each of which could be ordered with a single, easily pronounced word. Now, even the lowliest coffee shops experiment with a bewildering array of techniques, ingredient and equipment, from artisanal hand-brewing methods, through to microgram precise doses of single-origin appellation beans.
Give thanks, then for our new book Where to Drink Coffee by Liz Clayton and Avidan Ross. This comprehensive guide to caffeine culture around the world means you need never drink a bad brew again. Read on to find out how Brooklynite Liz, editor at coffee site Sprudge, put the new publication together, what she thinks makes a good coffee shop, and why she believes New York has some catching up to do.
What sort of difficulties did this book present? What did you really have to work on? A nice thing about this project is that it falls in line with the great Where Chefs Eat series, giving us a clear, global road map on how to proceed. Together, we were able to combine our contacts throughout places we’d travelled - Avidan had many more in Asia, I more in the US—and then fill in the big gaps in our own knowledge of places like New Zealand or Mexico or South Africa or Winnipeg, etc. by calling on local experts. One of the most fun things was digging deep for great cafés in coffee-producing countries like Honduras, Brazil, Guatemala, and Indonesia, to name a few. A lot of the countries that produce the world’s greatest coffee have only a few cafés, which tend to remain unsung.
Which places really impressed you? Where did you think would be good, but wasn't so hot? We knew that Asia, Australia, and Scandinavia had wonderfully sophisticated coffee shop cultures already. It’s a shame to say it, but it’s a little too bad cities like New York haven’t totally caught up yet.
What's the one thing that a good coffee shop gets right, and a bad one tends to screw up? No amount of fancy equipment, precision scales, and strict quality standards can make up for haughty or snotty barista attitude. The best coffee shops do a great job with great (or even good) coffee, but an even better job with hospitality and atmosphere.
For those of us who only drink espresso coffee, what other methods should we really try? AeroPress? Chemex pour over? Anything else? What's overrated? Espresso culture dominates in some parts of the world, but the nuance and delight of filter brewing methods really allow coffee lovers to experience the range of flavour and dimension that can exist in a coffee—due to that magical combination of terroir, roast, and preparation. We tend to think there’s something you can find to love about each different method of coffee brewing - except maybe the Moka pot.
What's your morning coffee regime? Brewing a pot or cup of filter at home, or going out to a great local café for a cortado.
When and where did you drink your best (or at least a memorable) cup of coffee? What was it like? In a world with so many cups of coffee, it’s hard to identify the best—but the most memorable experiences are always those with friends rather than about specific coffees. That said, I think for a lot of people new to specialty coffee in the mid-2000s, tasting out-there flavours like Abdullah Bagersh’s Idido Misty Valley—an Ethiopian coffee that tasted, no joke, like blueberries in the cup - were fundamental eye-opening moments about what coffee really could be. And with worldwide appreciation the way it is now, the possibilities have only opened up from there.