A bump in the road...

So yes, I had an excellent coffee, in this nerdy shop. Big whoop.

Well, I didn’t have much for hobbies… so it was a pretty enriching experience for me. I immediately sent an email to the owners just dripping with saccharine praise. To be honest, it was probably a bit stomach churning… I’m pretty sure it was vaguely sexual at parts… it was weird. At the end I asked if they were hiring. 

Unsurprisingly, they said, “no”.

Less predictably, they seemed genuinely delighted to receive such an oddly astute adulatory message. They had recently moved to a larger premises… and in my honeyed email I happened to touch on all the things that they had recently added for the new shop. Cha-ching.

Unfortunately, they were a small operation and they were fully staffed.

So I did the next best thing. I got a job nearby. Now, nearby happened to be a little café that claimed very vehemently that they served excellent coffee. I had been in once before and had a really bad “iced coffee”. This consisted of an ice cream and espresso milkshake , with chunks of ice added to the blender.  I still have no clue why you want a milkshake with toothsome ice shivs in it… but hey, it’s a job. 

While at this new job, things just got more and more annoying…

One of the important things about speciality coffee is that you cannot half-ass it. Half-assing is not really the recommended course of action for most art forms, but to get anything out of speciality coffee, you have to go whole-ass. It’s probably the most annoying thing about it. You don’t always get what you put in… that is, if you only put in half the effort, you don’t get halfway to your goal, you just don’t go anywhere. Speciality Coffee is a pitiless fire goddess; her domain is steam, sweat, and second-degree scalding.

So this cafe I was working in… take a wild guess as to how many asses they put into it..? 0.5 is the answer. (Author’s Note: I did not originally plan on using the word “ass” so early in my speciality coffee blog) Now, the funny thing is this; I honestly don’t find a ton wrong with that. Not morally anyway. My personal interest is in coffee, so naturally I want a very enriching, deep coffee experience. Yet, the average person might not be in the market for mind-blowing single origin espresso. They might be happy with a coffee with well textured milk that has a reliably chocolately espresso in it. There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With. That. Trust me, I’m a coffee nerd, I like really geeky coffee… but it’s not an issue of moral superiority, it’s just something I’m interested in.

My issue with the café I was working in was this: they did not deliver on what they were selling to people. They didn’t have the knowledge to get the most out of their espresso. Which isn’t surprising, as the information is harder to get than one might think. They sold single origin filter coffee, but they didn’t find an ideal recipe and try to replicate it for every customer. They just ground about the right amount of beans and threw it in a Hario v60. No technique. Not even a wetting of the paper filter.

Yet when a customer asked to have it with milk, a line was crossed. We refused to serve milk with our coffee we had half-assed. This is a policy that came from management. Our coffee was too good to ruin with milk… the coffee we threw into a filter and made like we where hungover at home twelve minutes before we needed to be at work… instead of making it like coffee professionals.

Not only were they selling a product that they didn’t have (excellent artisan coffee), they also had coffee attitude issues. They would let people order a coffee and make a scene of huffy pride when people weren’t “in the know” enough to have the coffee black. Yet, the coffee that they made didn’t demonstrate any real coffee understanding. It would be equivalent to an amateur dog show judge lording their knowledge of poodle lineage over me. Never has so much pride been taken from so little achievement. It’s damaging to the industry. Now there are customers that have had a bad experience and a bad coffee, after a huge fuss was made over how good it all was. Now those customers will have an aversion to speciality coffee, and think that the whole concept is like putting glitter on a turd. When there is a well made speciality coffee in front of them, and a friendly suggestion is made to try without milk… they’ll just brush it off. They’ve heard it all before and they think the whole thing is bunk. Wouldn’t anyone?

Next time: Coffee Wars - A New Hope

Jason Gonzalez

bath, uk