Is it ever okay to ask a fellow barista in a different coffee shop to do a certain drink a certain way, just for you? I'm a local, but not much of a regular...

I'm a barista at a shop that takes a lot of pride in its coffee, and I take a lot of pride in my drinks. And yet, spoiled by my own stuff as I am, I don't want to have to go to my own cafe every time I want a quality drink. There's a coffee shop at the end of the block where I live, yet they make terrible coffee drinks. Would it be a terrible faux pas if I were to mention one day that I'm also a barista, and then ask the guy, as politely as possible, if he might try making a latte the way I do it on my own? It's really no harder; just different... and better.

What's the etiquette here?

PS: I should add that when I'm not working at the cafe, I work from home as a freelance writer. As deadlines near, coffee becomes essential, but I really don't want to have to pack everything up and go that far just for a latte...

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Something you can try is just mentioning that you are a Barista in another shop in conversation. Sometimes the Barista making your drink will ask you what you think about the drink or something to allow you to suggest a certain way to make a drink. This way it looks like you where asked instead of just telling them. If they dont give you the opportunity, the next time you are in & they know you are a fellow Barista, maybe you can make the suggestion without it sounding like they are doing a bad job & you think you can do it better (of course, this is still probably how they will take it since us Baristas are a pretty proud race!) I personally am willing to take criticism as long as its correct :-) I may not take criticism if some kid comes in that I know has worked at Starbucks for 3 months & tells me that Im not making my drinks correctly. But if I had a customer come in from another city (cause I know there are very few quality coffee shops in Memphis) that I've talked to a little & feel like he (or she) knows what they are talking about, I'll take criticism. No one is ever perfect. So, as long as you go into it trying to make the Barista comfortable it should be fine.
This reminds me of the start to a bad joke...."A Barista walks into a bar & the bartender says....." Or "A Barista, a Priest, & an Ethiopian walks into a bar....."
hey guys,
thanks for the quick replies! Very handy, as I've got a couple deadlines within a week and I'm devoting today to getting some writing done at home (which includes the corner coffee shop, of course). I guess if I don't here any loud "Don't do it!" replies within the next couple hours, I'll be testing my powers of politeness in making a somewhat awkward request... I'll let y'all know how it goes.
janvier said:

It's basically the biggest faux that ever pas'd in faux pas land to go into another shop and criticize their drinks. Regardless of your intentions* that's exactly what you're doing. I would be really surprised if somebody was able to react in a non-defensive manner to something like this.

I have respect for anybody behind a bar. Period. Regardless of training (or lack there of) if you spill purocaff in his eyes, does it not burn?

What's the specific issue? Espresso profile? Milk texture? Consistency? All of the above?

You might tell the owner about this website. Maybe it will inspire him. Or you could organize a barista jam and invite them.

I have a friend who owns a shop here in town and he's universally reviled and mostly unwelcome for being a jerk and trash talker for trying to "help" other shops up their quality. Trust me, you don't want to be "that guy". If you criticize their drinks it will make them feel extremely awkward and self conscious every time you go in.
Its not straight up criticism if you want a drink to be made a certain way. It would be pretty crass to drink their offering, then go "well, that blew, I can do it much better". Its all in the delivery, and how you go about asking them for a specific way. I get these requests from time to time, and it never offends me. What REALLY turns my knob is when someone drinks the entire drink, then says "well, there wasn't enough foam, unlike at my shop, where we do it better".
Hmm. Y'know, I'd pretty much felt that it was inappropriate... I guess that's why I posted. But if there's no one else on line and he's not doing anything, I may still ask for what I want, but just not give it a name, therefore maybe making it seem like a some hyper-specialty thing that's so off-the-wall that it won't hurt his latte pride...

The corner place goes by typical American sizes -- S, M, L. Or maybe just M and L, as the smallest cup I can see behind the counter is what I'd call a medium. At my shop we've yet to standardize fully into one system or another; we've got the 3 different paper cups, though whatever info the customer includes in their request we generally round out with the gamut of questions (single or double? In what size cup? etc), or just feel it out if it seems like they don't actually know because they've never been asked before.

Anyway... What I want, on a nice hot day, is this: A small (8oz) cup with just a couple ice cubes in it. A single shot, 1 oz, not burned, not 2.5 watery oz. overflowing a single-shot pitcher, just a nice single shot with decent crema. A tiny bit of milk foamed in a clean pitcher, dry but not scalded. 3 or 4 spoonfuls of said dry foam dolloped first over the ice. Then the shot with some fresh, cold milk poured slowly and simultaneously over the ice, into the mix. You get the sweetness and velvety-ness of the steamed milk but the cool refreshment of ice and cold milk in a caramel-colored swirl of espresso that cascades slightly, with a nice little head of foam that rises to the top.

That's how I make every iced latte that I serve, and it's probably the easiest drink that never fails to please. Granted, that's not how most places make iced lattes, but hey -- I like what I like, y'know?

The corner shop doesn't seem to do singles; from what I can see, every shot gushes from a deep, double-spouted portafilter... So, I can accept that it'll be a little more robust than I'd prefer. At any rate, they invariably just go with the scoop-dump-dump method (big plastic cup scooped to the top full of ice; shot dumped inside; milk dumped on top). Last time the guy started steaming the milk but then stopped, turned and asked if I wanted the milk steamed. I said "just a tiny bit, in fact what you've already done is fine --" but before I could get the "in fact" out he'd already turned away and continued blasting heat into the milk, then dumped the hot froth into the cup now half full of ice-watery espresso. I took it, tipped the requisite buck, and gulped it down over the course of an hour, basically out of necessity. The fact that they charge $.50 extra for soy is certainly an insult added to injury, but I can't blame the lowly barista for that. Nor can I blame him for coffee that I'm not sure is either organic or fair trade. Frankly, I wouldn't go to this place if it wasn't right there at the end of my block. Even their bagels suck. But they've got art on the walls, it's on the border of a very nice neighborhood; I think they're going for some element of niceness, and I don't think they'd be opposed to picking up a couple easy tricks that nicen-up their easy coffee drinks...
oh, baloney. Universal though the practice may be, I think more often than not, the initial supply cost of soy is only a handy excuse to go with the mark-up flow; with all other costs considered, it's really just what the market can bear...
In fact, I'm going to start up a whole other discussion for this one. Suffice it to say, though, that Mission Pie in SF charges not a penny more, and though I'm not a manager, it's clear that whatever losses are incurred are negligible enough that we don't bother passing it on to our soysuckin' contingent.

As for switching up the order on the corner -- yeah, I suppose I could give that a try, although it's pretty unlikely their specialty will be a soy drink, which is the only type of drink I'd enjoy. Hence my picky-ness in this whole situation. But then again, aren't we all kinda picky? I figured that came with the territory, coffee-wise.
I dont think soy should be an extra charge. When you think about it, yes, its more expensive, but unless you're doing a gross amount of soy based drinks (esp 16oz lattes), then why not let it slide? Especially since some (if not, most) of the soy customers cant do lactose?
On the same token, if you were getting a splash (as it sounds like) of soy at Temple, I wouldn't charge ye. But then again, I would never put foam over ice, either.
I love where this is going. I agree with everything above. Let's take it over here:

I'm still curious about more opinions on the "asking for a special drink" etiquette, though...
the foam over ice thing sounds dubious, by the way, but try it... Huge difference. Totally transforms the iced latter into something super-delicious. I used to dig it the old way, but now I'm fully sold on the little bit of foam. We charge the same for iced vs. hot, anyway.
I've done it both ways, and it just isn't for me personally, and I won't serve it that way, either. If I have to steam up milk for an iced drink, I shall charge extra.
janvier said:
but not for soy?
No, and here's the reason:
Some people cannot drink cow milk, because they cannot break down the lactose. I cant, ethically, charge someone more because of something they cant control.
But if I have to make HOT milk for an ICED drink, then hell yes I will charge extra.
I'm talkin about traditional milk based beverages.
No duh we're talkin about luxuries. Specialty Coffee.

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