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Favorite Coffee Spots From Off-Duty Baristas

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Savvy eaters know that discovering great restaurants sometimes means following the best chefs after hours. But while Eric Ripert can turn a late-night-snack spot into an overnight sensation, would you trail your favorite top-notch barista to their go-to cafe after they finish a shift? Three baristas share their favorite spots, after the jump.

Swallow Espresso & Coffee in Hudson, New York

Being a small-business owner means Jessica Rufo, proprietor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts' funky-fresh Dottie's Coffee Lounge, doesn't get out for other people's coffee too often, but when she does she loves visiting Hudson, New York's Swallow Espresso & Coffee because of the baristas' dedication to detail, obvious knowledge, and passion for the craft. "They are excited about what they're doing so they will talk to you about it all day long," Rufo says. "They'll take 15 minutes to pull the perfect shot if they have to, and it will blow your mind." She also loves that the shop features coffee from different roasters, "so it's kind of like going to your favorite craft-beer bar."

Cafe Grumpy in Brooklyn, New York

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[Image: Cafe Grumpy]

"Friendliness and cleanliness" are what Everyman Espresso owner-cum-barista Sam Penix wants from his regular haunts, and he says his neighborhood shop, Café Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, "has both of these. Plus it's really spacious, and the roaster's in the back [of the cafe], so we sometimes pull up a chair and chat it out with [head roaster] Liam." Penix's girlfriend, Sasha, a pro barista at Manhattan's Joe, loves when the couple gets to be on the other side of the counter, Penix says: "Sasha's favorite thing to do is go hang out at coffee shops when we're off, so we can just relax." (Coffee always does seem to taste better when someone else is making and serving it to you.)

Octane Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia

But sometimes the best baristas don't stray too far from home (why buy the cow, if you know what I mean), even on their days off. "I know it's lame, but the shop I work at is my favorite coffee shop right now," says Ben Helfen of Atlanta-based Octane Coffee. "Almost as important as having good coffee, I love cafes that just feel nice and make you want to relax. A good cafe can be a cultural hub for a neighborhood, where a community exchanges ideas," Helfen says. He also leans toward joints that offer less stimulating brews (e.g. beer). Luckily for him, all of this that means he very rarely needs to leave Octane. "I work there because I was hanging out there so often that I figured I could try and get paid to be there," he says.

What do you look for in a favorite coffee shop? Does coffee quality trump comfort, or maybe the other way around?

About the author: Erin Meister (just "Meister" to friends and enemies) trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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