How To Know You’re Getting ‘Bad Coffee’ in 30 Secs

Might as well lower your expectations of your cup when you see these symptoms. Better yet, don’t order.

  • Oily hopper
  • Dirty portafilter
  • Leftover milk
  • Dirty tip of steam wand
  • Damp cloth/multi-cloth
  • Hissing sound when your milk is being prepared

These subtle signs might be easy to miss. But don’t let your guard down, for they are the ultimate enemies. They’re the ones standing between you and that good cup of coffee you long for after a rough day at work. Even the most quality beans won’t escape them.

Lucky you, if you regular cafe boasts serving from an open bar. You can easily look at how the barista is doing with your coffee. Yet most of you may have to peek behind the bar to spot these symptoms. You might not be able to catch them all. Even Ash couldn’t do it. But now you know why you shouldn’t glare at your screen while waiting for your coffee at the end of the bar. That, my friend, is a critical moment.

If glaring at your barista for full 30 seconds sounds lunatic, try having a little chit chat with your master of coffee today. You might as well learn a thing or two about your coffee. Bonus points if the barista is cute.

Oily hopper

See that cone shaped vessel through which you see your beans before it’s ground? If the walls of the hopper looks dirty, you got a serious problem. Either you’re drinking off an old batch, dark-borderline-burnt roasted coffee, or the oil’s simply been sitting there since last week. A.k.a. never-been-cleaned.

Think of the oil as the essence of coffee beans. The longer coffee beans sit after roasting, the more oxygen takes the best out of your coffee, and the by product is this oil. With dark-roasted ones, beans are producing these oils faster. You’re looking at life being drained out of your coffee beans.

As with other chemicals, oil constantly changes and eventually goes stale, too. While not as fast nor as apparent as in milk, oil does turn rancid over the time. This will leave unpleasant taste you don’t expect in your cup.

Think of ordering rujak with 2 chillis, but processed on mortar previously used for a portion of 5 chillis. That’s wild.

Dirty portafilter

While it’s certainly not easy to check this one, this is an ultimate cue on whether your barista lives up to the hygiene. After pulling your espresso shot, barista’s would knock the portafilter onto the knock box to get rid of the coffee grounds.

Now, watch closely.

Right at this moment, you could see whether the portafilter spouts looks dirty. To be precise, it’s the part through which espresso liquid flows. It won’t be tainted after a single use, but after a day long it would be covered by dried-up espresso. If this part still looks black-ish after your espresso finishes flowing, this is a red flag for the café’s hygiene. First clue: this is the most visible part of the espresso machine. If your barista doesn’t bother to clean even this small part, you better hope not he clean up the inner parts. Then you get the same taste problem with oily hopper, if only not worse. So common is this symptom (surprise, surprise!), espresso’s been long enduring that bad reputation for being ‘bland’and ‘bitter’.

For those of you who loves coffee with milk, these upcoming symptoms are especially to look out for. Remember how it went bad for leftover oil cause the taste change over time? Milk would do your cup even worse. Here’s where you’ll usually find them.

Dirty tip of the steam wand

Yes, this part’s getting into your milk in order to heat it. Now, imagine if there’s thin layer of milk, already changing colours as it’s been sitting there for quite awhile. At best, you’ll get a bit of ‘cheesy’ taste. Diarrhea at worst.

You can eye on this part before or after the barista use it. Just like with the portafilter, the barista should wipe the steam wand after every use. So, no. Not a trace of milk is allowed. Again, I hope never in your life you will see this, but there are extreme cases where leftover is left dry, and coated, and dry, and coated, and dry again until it looks like an upside down mushroom has grown on the tip of the wand. When this happens, abort mission at all cost.

Leftover milk

Now, now, watch carefully whether the barista pour fresh milk from the carton onto the jug before steaming it, or….

Did he just grab the jug filled with milk already?

Chances are that’s excess milk from the last cappuccino batch. It was heated and but sits unused. Now that it’s going through reheating… your stomach would feel funny after sipping it. Very, very funny.

The milk, ideally, was meant to be thrown away. But to ‘save the cost’, your stomach gotta go through all that roller coaster ride. And who’s to blame when it happens? The ‘gassy’ Arabica coffee, of course.

Other than reused for hot drinks, the leftover milk also commonly mixed into iced latte. Beware, people. For this one is sneaky.

Hissing steam

Get yourself all-ears for this one.

It may not quite visible to the eye, and may pass as common procedure. But, really, there’s difference between this:


and this:


That’s one evil sound.

It means your milk is only heated, not textured well. When you hear that sound, you can be certain you’re not gonna get instagrammable latte art this time.

Damp cloth / multi-cloth

One to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.

It’s always suspicious to have someone claiming to be know-it-all, hair product campaigning as can-do-it-all. This time, you had a good reason to ask twice.

When all your eyes could see is only one cloth lingering around the bar—you gotta be cautious. There’s still hope, though. The barista may be carrying some mops on his apron. Yet, note that there should be different cloths for wiping the portafilter, steam wand, that rows of glasses above the espresso machine, and the bar area. If you see only one cloth, that’s orange light. When the barista uses that one mop to wipe the table, then wiping off the steam wand… my, my.

Their way or highway, your call.