1. A bigger cup doesn’t mean more coffee. A 16-ounce latte and a 20-ounce latte both contain two espresso shots. The only difference is the amount of milk. Same goes for a “short” and a “tall”—one shot each. But if it’s the steamed milk you’re after, why not try a café misto? It’s regular brewed coffee with steamed milk and costs 1/3 less.
2. Don’t buy the bottled water. High-end shops all have in-house water filtration systems for making the best cup of coffee possible. So instead of shelling out a few bucks for bottled water, just ask for the better option. “We’re conscious of waste so we have a tap of fine filtered water for customers to use,” says Vanessa Stachiw, co-owner of Winnipeg’s Little Sister Coffee Maker. “We don’t sell bottled water at all.”
3. Our coffee is old. Baristas at big chains have no clue when your coffee was picked—but expect the beans to be well over a year old. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, just keep in mind that green coffee peaks in flavour within 12 months of harvest (before too many essential oils are lost). Speciality coffee houses, like Stachiw’s, participate in what’s called direct trade with farmers and constantly rotate their offerings based on growing seasons. “Coffee that was harvested in January is on our shelves by March, which is amazing.”
4. We offer cheap refills. Most cafes—including pricey Starbucks—offer a 50¢ refill on any brewed coffee as long as you’re in-store, even though they don’t advertise it. How can they afford it? The margin on commodity-grade coffee is very high—so much so that mega-chains like McDonald’s McCafé can afford to offer their refills for free.
5. A French press is always best. Meeting a friend or two at your local coffee house? Ask for a 32-ounce French press to share. It’ll cost about the same as separate cups but you’ll be able to pick your own roast, it’s brewed fresh to order, and—for that classy touch—you’ll get real porcelain cups.