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:

  1. the internet is free for one hour but somewhat flaky.
  2. stay away from the biscotti.  Grab a muffin from the bakery at Olives which is three doors away.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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: