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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disclaimer: I hate Trader Joes, I just do. And yet I was shocked to discover that their store-brand, or West Soy, or whatever their cheapest 64oz box is, costs less per ounce than a case of 12 1L Vitasoy from a big-box Restaurant Depot-type place. I haven't tried it in a latte, but the cost comparison is there. If TJ's can do it, surely there's a distributor out there that can, too.

So, what if I walked into a shop not my own, and brought my own soy milk, and asked you steam just a bit of it, toss a few spoonfuls onto some ice...

oh -- for the record, though, I agree on the element of ethics vs. control. The beauty of veganism is that, mroe often than not, it's all about control. Therefore I don't think the ethics of charging more for soy or not resides in that element, so I agree with Janvier there. At the same time, whatever gets Benza to continue in his non-upcharging ways is cool, too. I just think it ought to be consider a basic cost of doing business, that shouldn't be passed on to the consumer. Like the cost of toasting a bagel -- we don't have to do it, but we don't charge extra for it.
Hello -

Jumping in a bit late, but want to comment on the original discussion.
Would you ask a bartender to prepare your cocktail a certain way? Do you request the chef as your favorite cafe to prepare your food to your liking?

There are socially appropriate and inappropriate ways to request special preparation. Please also look at this situation as the cafe owner who does not know that the drinks they are serving are not appreciated and not preferred by the local clientele.

I am a firm believer in talking through the issue. Be sure to begin your conversation when the cafe is not busy and you can complete your conversation, and be sure not to offend the owner or put them on the defensive by your remarks.

State your case, you live locally and the cafe is very convenient. You enjoy coffee beverages and are somewhat particular in how you prefer your drinks prepared. Ask if they would consider making your drinks to your liking. If they agree then you have just made an important connection from both perspectives: consumer to cafe!

If the conversation is not productive and the cafe stands by their recipe and preparation methods then you now have an obvious question to answer: find something on the local cafe's menu to enjoy or take you thirst and your wallet to another cafe.

Coffee is not different than any other foodservice. Each has their own quality and customers service standards, and individual beliefs in production and service.
I good barista will always make you feel welcome the minute you walk into their store. They should also be approchable on subjects like this. The fact that you a raising this subject would suggest that the place you go isn't forthcoming with the great service otherwise you would feel comfortable asking them right away.

I they don't have the "you can approach me as I just want to make you happy" vibe about them then I would find another coffee place.


soysucker said:

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.

Soysucker, how much milk do you have to steam to get that "little bit" of dry foam? How much do you waste?

Let me get this straight... to make your "easy" drink, I'd have to steam up a couple of ounces of soy, spoon a little of the foam over ice (dump the rest?), then add soy and a single shot simultaneously over ice? And you don't want to pay extra for the soy? And you want to tell them how to make their shots better (which is ok for you to do, since your drinks are "perfect")?

I'm with Janvier on this, either find something you like on the menu or find a different cafe.

But I am going to try your drink. It sounds delicious, (sans-soy).
Dang. Alright, it's true; it's impossible to steam 3 spoonfuls of milk and not create waste. Can you steam exactly the amount for a macchiato, and not a drop extra? While I naturally don't enjoy or intend any waste, I do work in a cafe that basically specializes in hiring/training teenagers, often in their first job of any kind. So, some element of waste is more or less an unspoken given in a lot of what we do, not that we're happy about it. At any rate, we take it somewhat for granted.

But dammit, I don't wanna pay extra. The precedent's been set; some places don't upcharge; pandora's out of the box! All the same, I pay it. It's the corner cafe, what can I do? I'm not gonna take the issue up with them. That is, for sure, a faux pas not even I would dare commit. Unless of course we were getting all buddy-buddy about stuff, but I'm just not there enough for that.

So, fine, maybe my fancy-pants iced latte will have to remain an on-the-job delicacy. One more reason to look forward to coming to work on a nice hot day.
OK, so I finally tried one of these. Meant to do it during the whole iced cappuccino discussion a while back but never did.

What a great drink. I had two this morning (with moo-juice). I'll make it again, serve it to favorite customers, etc. Its actually the perfect "scoobie snack" to follow a no-foam latte... just hold back the foam when pouring and save for a treat when you are done.

Frankly, I'm not sure the "add shot and cold milk together" aspect really adds, and I did give mine a little stir.

soysucker said:
Dang. Alright, it's true; it's impossible to steam 3 spoonfuls of milk and not create waste. Can you steam exactly the amount for a macchiato, and not a drop extra?

No, but this is built in to the drink price. I can get decent microfoam in my micro-pitcher with about 3oz milk... it almost doubles during steaming and I use around 2 oz in a double wet macc. I dump 3-4 oz, which is above my goal of 1oz max.

Regarding milk waste, I think of it this way - if I make a 12oz drink with 10oz steamed milk but dump 3 oz... I've increased that drink's milk cost by 30 percent. That's like throwing out a gallon of milk for every three that you open.

If I were to make this drink (off-menu), I'd probably make it a 12oz double and charge the same as a 16oz iced latte. There's usually zero waste in an iced drink, so doing that captures the extra waste involved in the steaming process. Unless I found that it using the whole 6oz of microfoam wouldn't dilute the drink, in which case I'd just charge the same as the small iced latte. I am ok not charging for extra effort... that doesn't cost the store anything.
I was thinking about this this morning. There is one way you could try this that might work quite well (and frankly you should be doing this anyway). Cultivate a good relationship with their baristas first. They probably already know that you are one too anyway... we're pretty easy to spot, after all.

When I'm on bar, I almost always chat up the staff that visit from other shops, make specials and freebies (that I pay for, of course), some even end up hanging out behind the bar. If one of them were to suggest that I try an oddball drink (and we weren't busy) I'd probably do it.

Once you get to know a few of them (and have drinks their way for a while), you could share the recipe for your favorite "fancy-pants" iced latte for them to try. More of a "hey have you ever tried..." than a "hey, can you make me..." Invite them to your shop, if they come you can make them one (comped, of course). If they like it, getting one for yourself in the future shouldn't be an issue.

This is a win-win. You get your drink and some new friends. They get to try a neat drink and maybe learn a few things. It just might work...

But still, find something on their menu that you can drink.
You're right; your suggestion is a nice one, though it also reveals a sad truth about me and my kind... It's not always so easy for me to find food-bonding things in common with most folks, being both vegan and mildly lactose-intolerant anyway. I can chat a fella's ear off about indie rock all the live-long day, which it seems most baristas around here are pretty good at, too... If we're talkin' rice milk lattes (which tend to suck) or almond cappucinos -- awesome! Though generally, I understand this is a dairy-heavy field, and so creative drink-swaps may not be my best route into the local barista's inner circle.

Also, just as sadly, I don't find myself chillin' and shmoozin' as often as I'd like in other cafes. I would love to, both for the social and the educational aspects, but at the end of day, I've got 3 jobs, a dog, a gym membership, blah blah blah. Really, I feel like the best way to chat up the corner guy is through both our newnesses... I've lived on the block less than a year, he's been working there a few months at best; how does he like it? Hey, that's great, I work a few blocks over and I love the job, too; hey, come on by sometime, I'll whip you up my specialty... Eh? It just might work. 'Til then it's overfoamed lattes, capps and whatever, I guess.

Or maybe I'll try ordering an iced cortado. :)
soysucker said:
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...
The solution to the problem of needing/wanting an espresso beverage while working at home is really very simple, a solution I'm surprised hasn't been mentioned, and one I employed just before typing this. A solution anyone truly serious about espresso I'd think should be able to do. I walked up to my grinder and espresso machine on my kithen counter at home and made my wife and I after dinner Misty Valley Americanos. No need to tell some other barista in their shop how or what to pull or steam...
All I've got's a Bialetti, an insulated french press, and a crappy battery-powered milk frother thing, the metal stick thing with the little whisk at the end. A fancy home set-up would be great, but with 4 days a week in front of La Marzocca, it's yet to be an expenditure I can justify.

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