Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Expert Advice: Coffee Tips from Alice Gao


Expert Advice: Coffee Tips from Alice Gao

March 13, 2014

Recently we’ve been spotting beautifully framed shots of cappuccinos and cortados popping up on the Instagram feed of one of our favorite New York City photographers. Alice Gao, whose work you can see in Of What Use is the Tuileries to Us? shares photos featuring her discerning taste in coffee with her 709,758 Instagram followers daily. A photographer by trade, she’s also a coffee aficionado in practice. We wanted to know: what does she look for in the perfect cup of coffee, and what are her tips for brewing a cup that lives up to her high standards?

Photography by Alice Gao for Gardenista.

coffee 1 alice gao gardenista

Above: The view from above; a morning scene in Alice’s Manhattan apartment.

GD: What’s your current favorite spot for drinking coffee when out and about in New York?
AG: It’s hard to say because it’s constantly changing. For quality of coffee, I still really enjoy Blue Bottle. The one in Chelsea has a siphon bar on the upper level, which is my favorite place to linger over a cup of excellently made drip coffee (the Belgian waffles are a bonus). For atmosphere and café design, I love Cafe OST in the East Village. Marble tabletops, Thonets, and beautiful afternoon light. Sigh. I also have a soft spot for Abraí§o, on East 7th Street, because it was my neighborhood shop for so long. 

coffee 5 alice gao gardenista

Above: A cup of pour over, made at home.

GD: When looking for the perfect cup of coffee, what are your criteria? 
AG: Well, for one, the place needs to be able to consistently pump out a good cup of coffee, no matter who is behind the bar. One thing I hate is only being able to go somewhere when “that one good barista” is working. Because I am so precise at home with measuring beans and water, I look to see how the café is doing pour overs. Are they just ballparking it, or using a scale, timer, and temperature-controlled water? As for espresso drinks, it’s all about taste and texture for me. I can’t stand over-extracted bitter espresso, and don’t even get me started on heaps of dry foam in my cappuccino. There should be a nice velvety feel to my cappuccino and a good balance of milk and espresso. 

GD: Do you order the same thing every time, or do you change it up?
AG: I do change it up depending on my mood. In the summer, I like iced cortados. Otherwise, I usually order cappuccinos or drip coffee. 

coffee 4 alice gao gardenista

GD: What are your essential coffee making tools at home coffee?

coffee 3 alice gao gardenista

GD: Any beans preference?
AG: I personally prefer beans of Ethiopian origin–Yirgacheffe is one of my go-to regions. (A 1-pound bag of Blue Bottle Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Gelena Abaya Natural is $24.) When I can find them, Ethiopia Nekisse and Panama Gesha beans are a real treat, but they’re rare (and quite expensive). I trust Blue Bottle and Stumptown the most when it comes to a proper roast. I can always find single-origin beans that were roasted just a few days ago when I go to their locations in the city. I always, always check the roast date. If you want to get truly geeky about it, I especially like Blue Bottle’s small lot roasts of Ninety Plus beans, which are really special. But, I definitely encourage trying out all sorts of regions and roasters to find your preference. 

coffee 2 alice gao gardenista

GD: Coffee pet peeves?

  • Freezing beans. It’s a misconception that this extends the life of beans. 
  • When people take so long to photograph or Instagram their cappuccino that the entire top bubbles over and really, the drink “dies.”
  • Pre-ground beans. Just no. 
  • Inconsistency at cafés (as mentioned above).
coffee 6 alice gao gardenista

What do you think? How does Alice’s routine compare to your daily cup of joe?

Captivated by Chemex? See Amanda’s 7 Secrets: Tips to Make Perfect Cup of Coffee. And have a look at our Coffee & Tea posts, including The Greenest Coffee Shop in the World and A Chinese Teahouse in Paris (with 125-Year-Old Tea).

(Visited 302 times, 1 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Frequently asked questions

Who is Alice Gao?

Alice Gao is a photographer and coffee enthusiast based in New York City.

What type of coffee does Alice Gao recommend?

Alice Gao recommends single-origin coffee beans that are freshly roasted and ground.

What is Alice Gao's favorite brewing method?

Alice Gao prefers the pour-over method for brewing coffee.

What is the ideal water temperature for brewing coffee?

The ideal water temperature for brewing coffee is between 195-205°F (90-96°C).

What is Alice Gao's advice for selecting coffee beans?

Alice Gao advises to select coffee beans based on their origin and flavor profile to match your personal taste preferences.

What is the proper coffee-to-water ratio?

The proper coffee-to-water ratio is 1:16, or one part coffee to 16 parts water.

How should coffee be stored?

Coffee should be stored in an airtight container away from light, heat, and moisture.

What is Alice Gao's favorite accompaniment to coffee?

Alice Gao enjoys a simple croissant or slice of toast with butter and jam alongside her coffee.

Product summary  

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation