Baristas now discuss the nuances in a cup like sommeliers describe wine, and substantial improvements in technique, sourcing and equipment have helped indie operations gain international recognition – with American baristas breaking into the top tier of the World Barista Championship each year.
The country’s top coffee spots come in two main camps. Some spotlight baristas who pull espresso shots and steam milk with perfect technique. Alternately, some roast their own beans and emphasize the distinctive terroir of their product – offering espresso, but also low-tech “pour-overs” (cups are made to order by pouring hot water over the grounds) that highlight the delicate flavors in single-origin coffees.
Patrons can now order from daily changing menus based on roast and extraction method. At places like Chicago-based roaster Intelligentsia, baristas measure the temperature and volume of water for each cup. Its trademark Black Cat espresso is a syrupy 40-ml shot with a smooth layer of crema, while pour-overs of a micro-lot from Santuario, Colombia, yield a light, subtle drink with notes of strawberry and fig.
The mark of a great caf