How to drink coffee in America

We at Drinksandtrips like to start each morning of our trips with a solid drink. In ideal world, it must be Bloody Mary, or at least half a pint cider during warm summer days. However,  it’s not every time possible (and sometimes even not very healthy), so we also enjoy fresh brewed coffee each morning to reload our batteries and to make a strong freshness kick so necessary to truly enjoy a new day. However, they say there is no chance to have a good coffee in the States. Well, we’ve spent our time, money and risk our health just for telling you how to drink coffee in America.

First of all, I’ll destroy the myth that there’s no good coffee in the United States. There is. But the expectations of coffee Americans have are just different from those we have in Europe. To destroy the myth, I’ll tell you now what to expect from and where to buy good coffee in the USA.

First, you can buy fresh coffee everywhere, from coffee shops thru 7-Eleven grocery stores down to gas stations in the Arizona desert. The quality, quantity, price and contents will be extremely different.

Second, Americans prefer quantity above taste (in European sense), so expect to have bigger cups with hotter coffee.

Third, Americans usually drink filtered or brewed coffee (not espresso or espresso based coffee types). This means coffee is being put in the brewing pot where hot water goes thru a coffee filter to get a flavour of coffee. It makes coffee not so smooth and creamy as espresso or Americano, but still pretty tasteful.

Forth, Americans like coffee flavours. In many coffee shops, there are not only one sort of freshly brewed coffee, but many: mid-roasted, strongly roasted, Brazilian, Colombian, Costa Rican or Guatemalan roasts, blueberry flavored, hazelnut flavored, vanilla,… (I could make the list longer, but we need now to go to the main point).

Fifth, there are still familiar espresso sorts of coffee. The most popular sort is americano,  which is espresso with a cup of hot boiled water. If you want to have a solid (but not an outstanding) coffee experience, go for americano. However, espresso sorts are not very common and are not being served everywhere.

Now we come to the most interesting question…

Where can I drink coffee?

from worst t0 best spots

7. Gas stations & motels (our rating: 1/10)

Watch out: here you’ll experience the worst coffee in your life. Basically, an Italian will kill you (or kill himself) if you call this watery, almost transparent brown colored liquid a pot of coffee. The only advantage is… no, no advantages at all. My worst coffee I experienced at a Navajo gas station in the middle of Arizona, although it cost $2, I threw the cup into trash after the first swallow.

Golden rule to avoid such flops: try to imagine what connection does the serving location have to the real coffee culture? Navajo guys did not have any.

6. Fast food & high end hotels (our rating: 3/10)

Usually, coffee here can be pretty affordable. Or at least, drinkable. I remember pretty fair coffee at Days Inn motel in Utah, or at some fast food chains like Krispy Doughnuts. Coffee here is usually not so watery, has much more of taste and sometimes even has different sorts to choose from.

5. 7-Eleven (our rating: 6/10)

I’ll pick 7-Eleven shops in the separate category as they serve best filter coffee in my opinion. If you want to feel the smell, taste and smoothness of the drink. What I also liked a lot is a rich selection of roasts: mid, strong, Brazilian, Costa Rican, Colombian etc. Additionally, they also offer flavoured sorts (which I didn’t like much, but at least they make your choice richer). It is also a pretty affordable alternative: you’ll pay between $1.50 to $2.50 depending on cup size and state tax rate.

Coffee cans at 7-Eleven
Coffee cans at 7-Eleven

4. Starbucks and other coffee shops (our rating: 6/10)

In today’s America coffee is equal Starbucks. There are more Starbucks shops in the States than beer breweries in Germany: we’ve seen at least 10x stores in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, and they are in all malls, theatres, stadiums and even in Disney World. From the positive side: you can get your espresso based americano of relative solid quality almost everywhere. Price tag: $2.50 to $3.50.

3. Latino restaurants (our rating: 7/10)

One of the biggest surprises in tasting coffee I’ve got in Miami Beach: we’ve been to a little latin coffee owned by a funny guy from Venezuela. He served freshly roasted venezuelan espresso for only $0.80 (and this is in Miami), which was definitely the best coffee of that trip. Now we know: explore Colombian, Venezuelan, Costa Rican and other latino shops and you will be surprised by the quality of coffee.

2. Italian restaurants (our rating: 8/10)

Italians are unbeatable. Italians are coffee. The challenge is to find true Italian restaurant, not an American one serving Italian cuisine. We’ve got at least one great choice for you, again in Miami: Fratelli La Bufala (437 Washington Ave., Miami Beach) will definitely surprise you with their true Italian espresso.

1. Exclusive coffee bars (our rating: 10/10)

There is great coffee in the States. You just need to know where to find it. There is a trend of opening small coffee shops which serve an amazing espresso based coffee. The baristas here are usually very professional and can tell you any detail on the coffee origin. We’ve found only few of such locations, but this trend will definitely further grow in the States. If you are true admirer of the real and fresh brewed coffee, visit Little Collins in New York City (667 Lexington Ave btw 55th and 56th Streets), espresso bar ran by two Australian coffee evangelists. On the West Coast, don’t miss G&B at Grand Central Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles Downtown, where I tried the best coffee in the whole American West.

Espresso bar at the Farmers market in LA Downtown
G&B espresso bar at the Grand Central Market in LA Downtown

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