I have a simple algorithm that I use to find good coffee* in places I've never visited before. I've run this algorithm in several dozen places, not all in North America. My success rate is about 80-85%.
- Find a Starbucks. (Use a phone book if necessary.)
- Search in a two-block radius. (Usually one block is enough.)
Here are a few places I've used this algorithm successfully, just in the last 3-4 years: New Orleans LA (RIP), Kansas City MO, San Francisco CA, Palo Alto CA, Ithaca NY, Albuquerque NM, Santa Fe NM, Austin TX, Dallas TX, Houston TX, Nashville TN, Columbus OH, Cambridge MA, Somerville MA, Chicago IL, New Brunswick NJ, Chapel Hill NC, Windsor ON, Ottawa ON, Vancouver BC, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo. In Vienna, there's even a Starbucks across the street from the Hotel Sacher!
I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Really.
Of course, it doesn't always work. In particular, you have to find a real sit-down Starbucks; those new drive-thru joints screw up everything. Sometimes the algorithm leads to another coffee chain, but if the coffee is decent, I don't mind. Much. On rare occassions, I've been led to a locally owned non-chain coffee shop whose product is, unbelievably, even worse than Starbucks' sugar-coated liquid-charcoal crap. Here's a hint, folks: It's not supposed to taste like bleach.
One of the few places where this algorithm fails spectacularly is New York City, where the only cafe within two blocks of any Starbucks is another Starbucks. (The best coffee in New York is in Brooklyn, far far away from any greenly encircled mermaids.)
The algorithm used to fail here in Champaign-Urbana, too, not because we don't have good coffee, but because we didn't have a Starbucks. (We have a different chain.) Now we do. (Yay.) It's one block from Bar Guiliani, formerly (and better) known as Green Street Coffee House.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for another dose.
*When I say coffee, I mean espresso, not that weak acidic swill that passes for coffee in most of the US and northern Europe. That stuff gives me indigestion and the shakes. So no, Tim Horton's doesn't count as a "coffee shop". I'd rather go to Starbucks.