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Sometimes when travelling, you discover there's only one place doing coffee, so you don't have a lot of choice. In other cases, there's no where at all, so you have to get your caffeine fix another way...

Other times, you find yourself with a lot of choice, say 4-6 cafes and coffee shops in a small area that's new to you. If you were after food, our existing question on picking a restaurant could help out. If all of them were well known chains, it may not be too hard. However, if you find yourself somewhere with say one local chain, one place you can't tell if it's a small chain or not, and the rest independent, how might you best pick?

For the case of this question, we're after a well made coffee, from interesting and appropriately roasted beans, without paying a fortune.

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How much is a fortune? What is well roasted beans? Some might consider Starbucks to be "well" roasted though the beans are in a condition of "Well done" –  Karlson Dec 23 '13 at 3:08
    
Money wise - no more than 50% above local rates. Roasting wise - something they've given some thought to, rather than something a bit random that hasn't received much/any thought. I don't completely agree with the way Starbucks do theirs, but they have at least given it a lot of thought. Some places neither know nor care, and they're the ones I tend to skip if possible –  Gagravarr Dec 23 '13 at 3:11
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Asking is the only way you are going to find out. Starbucks can afford to rent premises in the obvious visible areas, however the boutique coffee shops will often be hidden. –  Andrew Dec 23 '13 at 10:15
    
In Amsterdam, asking for a coffee shop will not get you were you want to go. –  Bernhard Dec 23 '13 at 13:17
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4 Answers

I think the answers are the same as on the other question, but let me try and be coffee specific. I should also note that I have about that exact situation and I still go to Starbucks everyday and have never tried the other places, but I know I like Starbucks coffee (and I know not everyone does and there are probably better places). Assuming I had wanted to know what's best here's what I would have done -- in rough order of preference.

Ask someone, either the hotel / hostel staff, random people on the street, other travelers, etc. I've been asked several times by strangers -- particularly in tourist areas -- where the best place to go for this or that. Or just ask in the shops themselves about what their beans are, what they sell -- it should be easy to judge how much they care about what they're doing from that.

Observe where everyone else goes, what's busiest? Ideally pick a good coffee drinking time but be aware of external factors. Here Starbucks gets pretty busy around payday or when they're running an offer, the rest of the time it's much the same as the other places. Also observe the type of people drinking there, look for someone that looks like the might like the same things you do.

Check the prices, lurk around and look at the menus. Most coffee shops will let you browse for a bit so see if you can see what other people are paying (or just ask). Does it just do coffee and a few other things (which means they probably care about the coffee) or does it offer a wide range of stuff, with many non-coffee drinks and food. Are they selling more standard coffee, or lots of syrupy flavored coffee drinks? Do they sell coffee beans as well. Do they have a sign saying what coffee they sell?

Do you have internet access? Google the places, have a look at what the website says if they have one. Or look at on-line review sites, even if it's not in English should should be able to decode the rating system.

Finally, depending on how long you're there and how much coffee you drink, just try them all, ideally at least twice. It's the only way to be sure.

This wasn't in your question but there may be other considerations as well, depending if you're going to stay there a bit. Do they have wifi, comfortable seats, outside seating, a toilet ...

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I guess this question is quite different from people to people and place to place as well. For example, if you're travelling in Asia there will be not much choices anyway because most of the local coffee shops are not that great. In that sense, I'd stick with Starbucks because of all the facilities; Internet, bathroom, etc. But if you're up for something different for example in Thailand we have something called O Liang which is the type of iced black coffee or Vietnamese coffee. Also, If I go to India I'd stick with my Chai and not coffee. You get the idea.

As the answer above suggests, try them all. What I would do if I travel in Europe, I'd google first and read all the reviews. I'll try only espresso that's the way to know if the coffee is good. However, people tend to like different characteristics of coffee anyway so you better try it yourself, acidity, boldness, etc.

For the prices, I think independent coffee shops are not that expensive comparing to Starbucks anyway. Unless you're looking for Kopi Luwak which is known as the most expensive coffee bean.

What I noticed in most parts of Europe that good independent coffee shops you tend to get the vibe immediately when you walk in the door; smell, atmosphere and staff. What my Barista taught me was that the first sign is to check whether the Barista clean the milk steaming pipe before or after. She said the milk pipe has to be cleaned immediately otherwise it will be clogged with bad milk. Next is to check whether they clean the coffee scoop before and after. It shows how much they care when making coffee.

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The first question to answer is if the people of the country normally do coffe.

No - we don't normally drink coffee here

The best bet then is to look for an american-looking chain. This may still suck but is likely the best bet to get something decent. Even better (but rarer) is to look for one of the Italian coffee brands like Illy or Segafreddo sometims sponsoring local cafes. Keep in mind though that this is rapidly changing. In eastern asia a cafe culture has appeared recently that knows how to make a good shot. We have found local cafes in Korea, Japan and China serving good cooffe over the last couple of years. China also have a starbucks copycat that is fun to visit and not that bad.

Yes - coffee is in our blood

This is much more fun. Now it is highly likely that a local enterprise will give you a much more interesting and good tasting coffee experience than a chain. But it may also be much harder to decide if a place is worth the shot. I consult my travel guide and foursquare for ideas about this. It may also be worth looking for possibly good places while roaming the city. In places like Italy and Portugal you will never have a bad cup whereas in other parts of Europe it may be trickier. In Greece and Turkey it depends on if you like their local version or not.

The cup above (really good for being in China) is from a Maan Coffee Waffle & Toast house in Harbin China. The place really stood out in the shadow of the dragon tower in an otherwise cold (around -30 degrees when we visited) and smoggy city.

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The best bet would surely be to look for a chain from anywhere other than America! The second best bet might be to look for an American chain. –  hippietrail Dec 25 '13 at 14:16
    
True that. I tend to think of all chains as American but that is obviously wrong... –  froderik Dec 25 '13 at 19:49
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I always use Foursquare by searching "coffee" in whatever is the local language and then choosing the place with the biggest number of mentions.

Starbucks is the obvious choice in most countries since it provides pretty much the same level of quality everywhere.

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