Ah, the triumphant leaning back in your chair after a great meal at the season's "it" restaurant, pushing away the licked-clean plate and wishing you could loosen your belt in polite company. "Why sure, we'd love to see the dessert menu. And I'll have a cappuccino."
But then the cappuccino comes. It's got bitter, thin espresso topped with stiff, dry peaks of overdone milk covered in heaps of cheap cocoa powder. And, well ... it's not worth the $6 they're charging for it.
Does it have to be this way? Can there be such a thing as truly great restaurant coffee? Find out after the jump.
First, let's think about what makes restaurant coffee so typically bad. To start, it's one of the only elements of a high-quality meal that often doesn't have any "professional" oversight. The chef designs and is responsible for the execution of the food; the beverage director and bartenders both have control over the wine and cocktail craft; the host and servers make sure the service and hospitality is top-notch. But who makes the coffee?
Sometimes it's the very harried servers, but more often it's the just-as-harried busboys -- which is not to say that either servers or busboys are unable to make great coffee. Quite the contrary -- I believe that anybody with the right training can make great coffee. But do they typically get that training? And do they have the time to follow through on the floor, juggling three things at once?
And frequently, truth be told, all the training in the world can't make bad coffee taste good. All too often when a restaurant is looking to cut corners, coffee is the first thing to suffer. A restaurateur can move plate after plate of Wagyu beef in the dining room, but if they're opening preground frac-packs of low-grade coffee or cranking out subpar espresso in the kitchen, that's the bad taste left in diners' mouths.
Are there restaurants doing it right? Absolutely -- Danny Meyer's elegantly understated New York City spot Gramercy Tavern serves coffee roasted by San Francisco's fantastic Blue Bottle Coffee Company; Bon Appétit's top 10 Best Restaurant winner Woodberry Kitchen (full disclosure: a Counter Culture account) saw its coffee ace Allie Caran place fifth in the Mid-Atlantic regional barista competition this year -- practically unheard of for an eatery. And more are joining the fray all the time.
Is serious coffee -- instead of seriously bad coffee -- the wave of the future for restaurants? Have you ever had an exceptional cup after a meal, or has a coffee ever ruined an otherwise lovely evening out? Tell us in the comments.