better coffee

While everybody else is busy making empty promises about going to the gym and finally cleaning out the fridge, you could be considering making some caffeinated upgrades to your life in the new year. It’s not all that much of a stretch to suggest that improvements to your coffee routine are actually good for everyone, since they will probably make you a happier, more conscious, and certainly more awake person (at least some of the time). So you’re actually doing a public service while taking care of your java necessities; just think about it that way.

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Here are five simple coffee resolutions you might attempt this year, and they’re all as easy as A, B, C (for Cappuccino).

1. Befriend your barista.

Move over, bartenders of the world: Baristas are the true besties of the service industry. Sure, both work behind counters and both have the chance to see you at your most vulnerable, but baristas are there to start your day off right, and the right interaction over a latte or black coffee can set the tone for the day. Plus, when has a bartender ever handed you a scone with maple icing on top? If you frequent a café and manage to see the same employees every morning, don’t be shy about asking how their day’s been going before blurting out, “Gimme a cappuccino.” Who knows what “perks” might come with being a little extra nice? (Did somebody say “free drinks?”)

2. Buy better coffee.

Of course you’re already a coffee connoisseur, and you don’t need us to tell you that you should invest in coffee that tastes great. Now is a great time to make sure that your great-tasting coffee is also hitting the other “better” marks: Is it sustainably grown? Was it ethically traded? Are you happy supporting the business you bought it from? These can feel like huge, sticky questions, but taking them one by one can make the questions manageable to answer.

Cuppa ConvenienceThe Best Coffee SubscriptionsSustainable farming can be determined by whether there are certifications like organic or Rainforest Alliance, though those aren’t necessary. Other indicators are things like pictures of a farm with shade trees, and a story about producers who care about conservation. Ethical trading follows that same line: If there’s a “fair trade” logo on the bag, ethical sourcing is a pretty safe bet. Other ways to tell that the farmer was probably paid a decent wage will be whether his or her name is on the bag, and the actual cost of the roasted beans. (If you’re buying a pound of coffee for anything less than $15, chances are the farmer’s getting squashed, in all honesty.) And lastly, what kind of businesses do you visit for your coffee? Do the employees seem happy and respected? Do they have the energy and resources to provide good and positive hospitality experiences? Do they know a lot about the coffee and seem interested? If you’re being greeted by blank stares (or no stares at all—avoid any café where the staff avoids eye contact), it might be time to take your money elsewhere.

fair trade organic coffee

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3. Sit and savor it.

We’re all in a rush, and every year, every day, every hour seems to go by quicker and quicker. Of course it’s hard to fit everything we have to do into the course of a day or a week, but just having a busy schedule shouldn’t mean that rest time and reflection aren’t priorities. If you are the eat-lunch-at-your-desk type and find that you’re scrambling all day to accomplish all your to-dos, try to find at least 15 minutes every week to take yourself out for coffee, or to set aside a quiet moment to sip and think without any other distractions. This means not drinking coffee in the car, not guzzling it in between taps on the keyboard all day, and actually tasting it and experiencing the sensory pleasures that a good cup of coffee can offer. After all, if the world or your job collapses because you took 15 minutes for yourself, then something seems pretty wrong, don’t you think?

4. Phone a friend.

Once you get a little bit used to taking that 15 minutes out for yourself in a week, try adding a little socialization to the mix once or twice a month. Phone a friend for a pre-work coffee date, schedule a meetup after work at a café instead of a bar, or relax on a weekend to catch up with a chum over mochas and cookies. Whoever you think makes good coffee company, call or text them with an invitation to grab a cup soon: You might be amazed at how much better everything tastes over good conversation.

5. Don’t fear the decaf.

Now, we know we said that these coffee tips would help you wake up, and for the most part we are advocates for coffee as a getting-going resource in the morning. Every once in a while, though, it’s important to remember that there are other reasons to love coffee besides just the jolt it provides, and that occasionally taking a break by doing the decaf can offer some really tangible benefits. For one thing, going full- or half-decaf can help soothe a body during anxious or stressed-out periods, and it can also help regulate off-kilter sleeping schedules. An occasional decaf coffee also means you can share a pot with a friend who’s given the stuff up during pregnancy or nursing. It might even give your caffeine tolerance a reboot, so that a little bit goes a longer way when you get back onto the “regular” coffee train. Join us in the new version of that old rally cry, “Decaf before death!”

Related Video: How to Clean Almost Every Coffee Maker

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Erin Meister (you can just call her "Meister") is both a longtime journalist and a coffee professional with nearly two decades' experience. She has written about food, coffee, film, travel, music, culture, and celebrity for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Rachael Ray Every Day, Saveur.com, Time Out NY, Chickpea Magazine, Food & Wine's FWx.com, BUST magazine, Barista Magazine, and more. She is the author of the brand-new book "New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History (The History Press, 2017)".
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