Ordering coffee in a restaurant can be a bit of a dodgy experience. I've burnt my tongue before my lunch arrived, ended off an awesome meal with a crap espresso. I've learned my lesson!
Up until recently the cup of coffee to end a meal or the cappuccino during a busy lunch time rush has been the last thing on the list of importance to restaurant owner.
And the vast majority of restaurants still subscribe to this way of thinking. In fact in Europe it's standard practice to have a capsule machine on hand to at least ensure consistency.
So how does the coffee enthusiast deal with this?
1. Lower your expectations.
I know it sounds a bit like giving up, but that's not what I'm saying. Specialty coffee is exactly that, and at the moment it's the exception rather than the rule. Big brand, imported coffees are the norm, you can spot these cases easily because they put a lot more effort into their branding than providing fresh, specialty coffee.
2. Ask your waiter a simple, but leading question that will let you know if they have any idea about coffee.
Something like...."What beans do you use? Is there a barista that makes the coffee here?" and so on.
3. Realise that a Cappuccino is not a Cappuccino everywhere.
Every restaurant has different sized cups, different ideas about foam, and different ideas about temperature. Don't assume that there is a standard. There isn't. If you get a cappuccino that's the size of a small boat with sprinkles on the top, don't say I didn't warn you. Especially if you're in a different country. They will spit in your coffee if you order a cappuccino in France and in Germany you might get a mountain of foam.
4. When you're being led to your table, check out the set-up.
Dirty espresso machine equals bad coffee. So if you catch a glimpse of a bad set-up don't even bother. Capsule or vending machine? At least you know what you're getting!
5. When in doubt, go for black filter coffee, milk on the side.
A typical Vending machine style cappuccino.
Don't even attempt an espresso based drink if you're unsure.
The safest bet. Straight up filter.