The influence of coffee upon human history cannot be underestimated. The little brown bean (green in it’s unroasted state) has been responsible for revolutions, the making of fortunes, and the rise of empires. Coffee consumption has spread like wildfire across the globe from it’s birthplace in Ethiopia and first known use in neighboring Yemen, to become second only to plain water in universal beverage consumption. Cyclists, of course, have a special place in their hearts for coffee. Every town has at least one “Coffee Shop Ride,” and coffee houses often serve as a pre, post, and mid ride stop to fuel up, chill out, and begin the recovery process. But what makes a good coffee house, and more specifically, what makes a coffee house good for cyclists? In this week’s Top Five, we take a look at some critical attributes your favorite coffee house should have.
Espresso—First and foremost, when on a ride, cyclists should drink only plain espresso at coffee houses. That’s just how it is, and if you have a problem with this, maybe you need to find another activity. Adding sugar is acceptable if you must tone down your espresso, but the consumption of lattes, cappuccinos and the like is to be relegated to visits to the coffee house without your bike. One exception to this rule is the americano, which may be consumed on, during, or after a ride as long as its profile is no more than two parts hot water to one part espresso.
To be acceptable as a cycling destination, a coffee house must offer high-quality espresso. Generally, if there is a large, multi-group espresso machine behind the counter, you can assume that a commitment to serving quality coffee has been made, since those machines run into the several to ten-plus thousand dollar range. A big, fancy machine is not always a requirement, though—the best espresso I have ever had was pulled from a fully manual lever machine at the now-defunct Sentient Bean in Florence, Oregon. Preferably the house roasts their own, as coffee beans tend to lose their flavor and freshness seven-to-ten days after roasting, and are at their peak flavor (for espresso) two to six days after roasting, depending on the varietal. Fresh ground beans are a must, since the oil in coffee beans starts turning rancid twenty minutes after being exposed to air, so if you don’t hear the grinder after you place your order, don’t come back. Crucially important is how your espresso is served. If you order a double—and there is no reason not to—is it pulled as an astringent and strong ristretto, with the same volume as a single shot, or as a two-ounce double? There is no right answer to this, just make sure your preferences match the coffee house’s offering. The proper serving vessel, however, is not up for debate. Paper cups and latte-sized mugs are unacceptable. The only way to enjoy an espresso is out of an espresso-specific cup.
Location—While not as important to you as to the coffee house’s proprietor, location is still a vital consideration. Some coffee is worth going well off-route for, but a general guideline is to keep the coffee house within three miles of your established ride. Since the coffee house serves not only as a source of liquid nourishment, but also as a common ground upon which to meet with established and potential cycling partners, it’s location should be central to as many ride routes and riders as possible. If a Starbuck’s is the only coffee-themed place of business that meets this location criteria, however, you may choose another destination.
Bike parking—Another crucial component of a cyclist-friendly coffee house is the provision of secure bicycle parking. A bike rack is best, preferably placed in an easily viewable location from the counter and the indoor seating area. If there is no bike rack, then a wall with enough space to lean several bikes against is acceptable, as long as the bikes are viewable from inside. If you are on a solo ride and can’t keep an eye on your bike, fight the urge to bring your cafe racer into the coffee house with you, as there is nothing more imposing on the general population than a kitted-out, sweaty cyclist slipping on the floor and maneuvering their precious bicycle through the crowd. Remember, everyone there is really jonesing for a cup of coffee too, and patience is short all around. In this case, there is hopefully another coffee house nearby for solo rides with better bike storage options. On rides with multiple partners, it is perfectly acceptable to leave one member of your party to watch the bikes while another procures the liquid amber.
Barista Attitude—Some will say there is a positive correlation between snobby baristas and quality coffee, and thus are willing to endure the lack of eye contact or interest in your personage in exchange for a higher level of product. Although not scientifically proven, there also seems to be a relationship between level of self-regard and degree of coordination of cycling kit, so most of us will either not even notice that we are being scorned, or will feel right at home among kindred spirits. Again, fulfilling this requirement depends on what your expectations of customer service entail. If you really need a fake smile with your espresso, there’s probably a Starbucks nearby.
Seating Options—Since we here at Art’s Cyclery live in paradise, an outdoor patio is a must-have option for selecting a coffee house. Being able to breathe in the air, keep close watch on our bikes, and let our exercise-tinged musk harmlessly diffuse into the atmosphere is necessary for our own and other’s post-ride relaxation. The importance of plein air seating is not restricted to biomes with Mediterranean climates, however, since a group of several riders and their bikes will only comfortably fit in an area unconfined by man-made walls. Conversely, during the colder months, when heavy gloves and fleece-lined tights barely keep the ambient chill at bay, a cozy, welcoming arrangement of indoor tables and chairs caps off a ride like a loving embrace. When making use of indoor accommodations, be sure to either maintain constant visual contact with your bike, secure it in a safe place, or both, depending on the reputation of the area you find yourself.
Peripheral Products—Most coffee houses offer a selection of baked goods, and some go so far as to sell complete meals. Whether or not this is important is up to you. I love a savory grilled panini followed up with an espresso after a low-intensity ride, but a muffin and a banana might be all you require.
Clean Bathrooms—The combination of strong coffee and exercise often leads to sudden biological urges, in which case the availability of ample and inviting private seating accommodations can make the difference between an uneventful morning or a story your friends will tell for years.