10 insider tips toward achieving the perfect cup of coffee

Switch up your routine, coffee shop owner says

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Whether it’s your life-blood and you can’t even think about starting your day without a cup, or you’re just a casual sipper, coffee can mean a lot of different things to different people.
For Stefanie Bentoski, the owner of a small coffee shop inside the Flint Farmers Market, which is about 70 miles north of Detroit, coffee reminds her of the warm cups she’d share with her mother as a little girl. Or, a toasty drink will transport her back to her grandmother’s house, which sits on a farm, where Smith would watch the sunrise with a steaming cup in hand. Although, it's worth mentioning, when she was younger, Smith wasn’t given a true cup of coffee as she knows it now -- it was pretty heavy on the milk, with just a splash of java mixed in for taste, she said.
Still, those experiences have stuck with her throughout the years. They made for a positive association: of family, of love and growing up. And now, for 4 ½ years, she’s poured that love into Hot Cups: a fair-trade, organic shop -- and probably the smallest physical space in the area -- where she has many loyal customers. Smith said there’s truly never a dull moment running the business. She’s always striving to learn or try something new.
So we picked her brain: How can coffee-lovers, or those just getting started, up their game? Here are 10 ideas.

1.) Keep it fresh. Try something new -- a new order, a new twist or a new idea.

Sometimes it’s about using up what you have on hand. Other times, you can draw inspiration from nearly anywhere you look. Smith uses her travel experiences for new drink ideas, and often peeks in on cocktail recipes to emulate, as well.

2.) Play around with your cream options.

Maybe you don’t like milk. Or maybe you can’t have it (bummer!). Don’t feel limited by that. Experiment! Smith is known to carry a nut milk/non-dairy option or two. Coconut milk, for example, is really having a moment (and the taste is a little bit more mild than you might assume, for any coconut haters who are weirded out by the idea).

3.) Taste-test a new syrup.

If you’re not that into coffee, or maybe you’re just now starting to experiment with different caffeinated drinks, you probably want to taste the milk and some sweetness as your taste buds grow and adapt. A new syrup is a lively way to change it up with a kick of sugar.

4.) Ditch your normal order: Ask the barista what might taste good, or for a suggestion.

Your barista will be able to help you out and answer any questions you might have. That's what (s)he's there for. Smith, who is known to create custom-orders, will even have customers who say things such as, "Just make something up! I like it sweet." She advises you to inform your barista if there's anything in particular you DON'T like.

5.) Whether you’re making or ordering coffee, it’s a good idea to trend toward a medium roast -- that is, unless you know you like a dark roast.

And if that's the case, don't let us stop you. Have it your way!

Smith said a medium roast keeps the acidity level in your drink low. All the acid isn’t great for your stomach anyway, she added. A lighter or medium roast is easier to digest -- you'll likely find it nice and smooth.

6.) And speaking of roasts: A quick guide ...

A lighter roast has more caffeine while a darker roast contains less caffeine. It's all about personal preference, but it's also important to know what you’re signing up for.

7.) There are really only two items you might want to have on hand at home.

If you feel like your Keurig isn’t cutting it, Smith said all you really need is a French press and a pour-over (depending on what it is that you like, of course). It’s all about grinding the coffee beans the right way, she said. You can even make an espresso with a pour-over.

(And sure, you might get a few grounds here and there, but if you’re into coffee, they won’t hurt you!)

8.) If you feel like you’re in a drink slump, you probably are.

Experiment with espresso, or add a spice -- something simple that you likely have in your cabinet at home already. Smith recommends ginger or cinnamon.

9.) If it’s summertime or you can’t stomach the idea of a hot cup of coffee (for whatever reason), get your cold brew on.

Cold brew, hence the name, is made with cold water, and usually sits for a few days to develop its taste. It should almost be sweet, Smith said. If you like coffee, you'll probably like cold brew.

10.) Need a pick-me-up? Order, or make yourself, an extra shot or two.

Unless you’re in Europe, there are often two shots of espresso in a 12-ounce latte. If you’re feeling sluggish, add another.

Are you more of the cappuccino type? Those are typically made with more espresso to milk, so that the drink is foamy. And when you’re getting a macchiato, the milk goes in first, but there's more espresso involved. The more you know!

When it comes to coffee drinks, the sky is the limit. But really, you're the only one who's in touch with your taste buds. Hopefully, we've given you some ideas on how to spice up your routine.

Let us know in the comments what your favorite drink is, or the hot spots you frequent for the best cup in town.

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