Talk to any regular who frequents Three Seat Espresso, one of the thriving boutique cafes in New York City's East Village, and they'll swear loyalty to the hole-in-the-wall enclave. Founded by industry veteran Aaron Cook, the relative newcomer has developed a sizable following.
"Being a top barista is about knowing your trade and art, but it's more than that. It's about being able to do it all so it's second nature," he tells MyDomaine. "It's like going to a bartender you trust—you're a confidant and friend. You wear multiple hats."
Having worked in the industry for over 12 years, Cook has seen the New York espresso culture grow and says there are still a lot of misconceptions about ordering the best brew. Ahead we quizzed him to find out all the truths your barista probably wouldn't tell you to your face, including the orders that make him cringe, the only coffee maker he uses at home, and more. Here's how to order or make your morning cup like a true connoisseur.
The First Thing a Barista Checks When They Enter a Cafe…
If you're desperate for a coffee but aren't familiar with cafes in the area, Cook recommends checking the serving sizes available, which is often an indication of the quality. "The first thing I check is the menu, which says a lot about an establishment. If a place sells coffee in 16- or 20-ounce servings, I know it probably isn't that good," he says. "As the size of a cup increases, the quality decreases—That's because it dilutes the espresso shot. If you dump a ton of milk and water on a shot, it doesn't perform."
The Worst Thing You Can Order…
Surprisingly, Cook says baristas aren't phased by demanding orders (he has a customer who orders "a half-caffeinated, half-decaffeinated coffee with steamed milk over ice"), but there is one request that makes him cringe. "Adding flavored syrups to your coffee is just a joke. It means you don't want coffee, you just want a sugary drink," he says. Syrups override the natural flavor of the roast, which for someone who specializes in espresso, is absurd.
The Telltale Signs of a Good (and Bad) Coffee
Aside from syrup, what makes a "good" coffee? Apparently, the quality of the milk is key. "It's called microfoam. A flat white has no bubbles because there's not much air, so it should look glossy like wet paint, cappuccinos have foam, and lattes are in between with a bit of air but no bubbles." If the way they pour milk is basic, it's also a red flag. "That means they're still figuring out how to pour a shot and heat milk."
The Key to Making Better Coffee at Home
Surprisingly, Cook's favorite at-home coffee maker is the simplest. "I think French presses are one of the few pieces of coffee making equipment that you can get at a good price without diminishing quality," he says. As for what's not worth it? Apparently, pod machines miss the mark when it comes to making barista-grade coffee. "Think of anything that comes in a pod—how fresh can that be? At the cafe, we order coffee based on the roast date and don't pre-grind it, but every pod machine is already pre-ground and dry frozen. It's not going to taste as good."
The Reason Your Homemade Coffee Doesn't Taste Good
You buy the same beans they serve at your local cafe—so why doesn't it taste as good? Cook says it might be the way you're storing it. "Extreme temperature, moisture, and light kill the flavor of coffee," he says, so if you store it on the countertop near a window, it might be damaged. "Storing it in the freezer is a bit old-school too. Just keep the beans in a room-temperature sealed container in the pantry."