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Gaby Soutar: How to avoid getting a bad coffee

Bad coffee can be one of the pitfalls of modern life but with a few easy steps it can be avoided, writes Gaby Soutar

Published: August 4, 2015

There is nothing as disappointing as a bad coffee. My anticipation starts building about 2pm. Tea is a morning thing and won’t cut it at this time of day. Tequila might, but it’s not really the done thing in our office, not since The Incident.

At 4pm, I usually tramp along to the same old reliable cafes in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge – Ronde, Peter’s Yard, Artisan Roast – where I’m guaranteed a perky and silky cup of Joe. I sip it right down to the last sugary mouthful. Then, in my caffeinated bubble, I’ll enthusiastically say hi to every dog I pass on the way back to work. I swear that some of them smile at me.

"I have ventured off-piste a few times, resentfully sipping something that tastes like the ashes of the Gold Blend couple"


I have, however, ventured off-piste a few times, usually to meet a tea-preferring friend, which usually results in me resentfully sipping something that tastes like the ashes of the Gold Blend couple.

The world of coffee can be especially bamboozling because there’s a flat rate of around £2.50. That’s no indicator of quality, so you could be paying for the finest roast, or the same gravy that comes out of our work vending machine, which also pumps out Bovril and Horlicks.

Here are the warning signs that you’re about to drink a really dodgy one and you should never return to that place again:

1 It’s served in a long glass with a tiny stunted ear-like handle (a bad portent, like a banana to a sailor).

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2 It’s magnolia, which is as poor a coffee colour as it is an awful choice for your living room.

3 The barista should never ask if you want one or two shots in your flat white.

4 They give you one of those caramelised biscuits on the side, like the ones you get in a hairdresser. This is a peace offering, because they KNOW their coffee is rubbish. If I want a biscuit, I’ll ask for it. I’ll have a HobNob, please.

5 There should be more handles than push buttons on their coffee equipment, thus the barista’s arms should look busy, not still.

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6 Cafes that serve brown sugar in a Kilner jar or ceramic pot, rather than in a sachet, are usually more trustworthy.

7 Never order coffee in a hotel, especially a five-star one. They’re in a time warp as far as this beverage is concerned, but very futuristic when it comes to prices. (For this reason, there’s always a caramelised biscuit or bit of shortbread on the side).

In imparting this advice, I may have saved you the ultimate disappointment. However, if you’re still unlucky enough to have a bad one, there’s always tequila – it makes you happy!


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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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