A good cup of coffee takes time to find and should taste/do exactly what you want it to do.
Whether it be the most rank, percolated, tar-like black hole the morning after a night of drinking at a campground, or the most complex cortado that finesses your tongue with a touch of foam while you eat an olive shortbread.
There are so many variations of coffee that we have to share this image to give an idea (although it does leave out the cortado, which is like a baby latte in the way that the macchiato is like to a baby cappucino, in addition to other non-espresso drinks):
CREDIT: Lokesh Dhakar
The ingredients are simple, the experience is not. There is nothing froo-froo about ordering a cappuccino or a latte, as the way that milk foam vs steamed milk vs cold milk reacts with your tongue is entirely different.
With espresso based drinks, the varying ratios of milk foam to steamed milk to espresso give you a different experience of fatty richness to drink body to whatever qualities that the espresso imparts. Personally, we are a huge fan of Ethiopian singles or blends.
African coffee varies a great deal from South/Central American coffee, which varies a great deal from Asian coffee.
If you want to read more into the differences between them, check out: List Of Coffee Varieties.
How do you determine what a good cup of coffee is?
- Figure out the situation you’re in. If you want solely a pick-me-up with little regard to the texture and quality of the coffee, you’ve already defined what you need, and you can get that from most coffees with the right amount and brewing method.
- Go to a cafe that serves pour-overs. Pour overs are a great way to experience new blends/varietals of coffee, and the aluminum cones that many places use are a great and neutral way to taste them (paper cones tend to impart some taste). Start without milk and without sugar, only adding either if you really feel it is necessary.
- Try different styles. Pick up a cold brew, or a latte, or a macchiato (a real one, not the thing that Starbucks calls a macchiato), and taste the difference. Most likely, the same espresso blend will be pulled for each style (minus cold brew), so you can see how the different combinations of milk foam and steamed milk affect the espresso and its deliverance into your mouth.
- Think outside Starbucks. I’ll admit that I have no problem going to Starbucks on occasion, but it’s usually to satisfy the first point in this list. Their drinks tend to be either desert-ish, saturated with sugar, or very simple, with the straight espresso leaving little to the imagination.
- Talk to baristas. Especially in your favorite cafe. They, from my own experience, are not nearly as snobbish as memes make them out to be, and can often bring up new avenues for you to explore. There may be a roaster in your area. Go visit them!
Like wines, beers, food, art, music, etc., coffee offers up a variety of paths that only you can decide which of those you like.
It’s certainly not just Folgers, Dunkin Donuts l, and Starbucks. There is a fascinating world dedicated to picking beans, roasting them to perfection, grinding them with care, and brewing them into a cup of coffee worth a million dollars, for you to try out.