It is not hard to make a good espresso nor is it hard to steam milk to the right temperature and frothiness to make a cappuccino or latte. But virtually all coffee houses fail both, especially the supposedly high-end ones. The espresso should not run much beyond the point it turns dark brown/black to blonde. The milk should be lukewarm, not hot, and it should be pourable. If you see your barista spooning milk into a cappuccino, run away fast. The milk is almost certainly scalded.
Most people think that coffee just tastes bitter and they grin and bear it. Or they pour in a lot of sugar. But the bitterness comes from over-run espresso and burnt milk. In fact, properly done, a latte is sweet and needs no sugar. Milk is naturally sweet and gentle frothing accentuates the sweetness. Coffee is nutty. A good cappuccino can have flavors of hot chocolate or even peanut butter cookies.
Small World coffee in Princeton consistently makes a good cappuccino. The right volume, the right temperature and sweet. I have been in Princeton all week and had two cappuccinos per day from 10 different baristas and all but one was drinkable and a few were downright excellent. I highly recommend this place. A few details:
- the internet is free for one hour but somewhat flaky.
- stay away from the biscotti. Grab a muffin from the bakery at Olives which is three doors away.
- the layout of the place is nice. The mirrored columns have a funny effect on you when you try to find a place to sit. If you are by yourself take a seat at the bar looking over the lower level.
- even a good barista makes a bad coffee from time to time. today the barista dumped the first latte he made for me because he could see it was not perfect.
- as i said, it is easy to make a good coffee. but it took me years of practice to do this:
The Small World baristas are still working on it: