When I opened my espresso kiosk five years ago I knew nothing of the amazing tastes, textures and variety available at the best coffee bars. I thought Starbucks was
good, Peet’s was better and everything else fell far below them. Then I
attended my first barista competition (the Western Regionals of the U.S.B.C.).
The experience was nothing less than paradigm shifting. I tasted how great
coffee and espresso could be and began a quest to learn as much as possible so
that I could provide a similar experience to my customers.  Three years later I have a
better-educated staff, more knowledgeable customers, serve higher quality
drinks and have learned so much about coffee that each day is a more fulfilling
experience for me, my staff and my customers.


 


            Recently I was traveling within a few miles of one of the most award winning shops in our industry, a shop I had heard much about but had never been to, and took the
opportunity to stop in for a drink. Both the roaster and the lead
barista/trainer have won numerous awards and are consistently upheld as among
the best that specialty coffee has to offer. I walked in and saw the telltale
signs of a good shop-a La Marzocco espresso machine, the Mazzer grinders, a
Clover etc. But I also saw pre-flavored coffee (cherry-chocolate was the most
disturbing). Standing there among roasting and barista competition awards
displayed alongside flavored coffees left me confused about the true mission of
this place, of why a roaster would try so hard to source and roast great beans
and then dump flavoring on their hard work.


 


            When I asked for a cappuccino, the cashier turned and pointed to the three paper cup sizes that would be found in a corporate shop, 12, 16, and 20 ounces and asked
which I would like. I responded, “really”? “You don’t offer a traditional size
cap”? She then said, “Oh, you want a competition cappuccino, a 6 ounce for
here”. I was stunned. I had to already know that a 6-ounce cappuccino exists and
ask for it specifically instead of being offered one of the key things that
separates corporate from true specialty coffee.


 


            When the barista passed me my “competition” sized cappuccino the cup was nearly too hot to touch. Admittedly, I like my drinks on the slightly cooler side (145-150
degrees) but what I was given was so hot I nearly burned my mouth. I had to
wait several minutes while it cooled as the foam crusted over before I could
drink it. This may have been a failure of training, although as I have said the
lead barista and trainer is consistently recognized as one of the best. It
could have been a lapse in management, although the owner/roaster was just a
table away when I placed my order. No, I think what unfortunately is happening
here is that this particular business has just found it easier to go with the
status quo and compete as a substitute for corporate coffee as opposed to
establishing themselves as something different and arguably better. They have
found it easier to serve the corporate coffee crossover customer the same old
standardized drinks they have always gotten and save the traditional or
“competition” drinks for those already in the know. What an enormous
disappointment!


 


           Now, when I read online about the troubles with customers and their lack of coffee knowledge, when I hear baristas complain about extra hot or no foam drinks, I
see it is a problem we as business owners and baristas must address. We can no
longer blame corporate coffee for dumbing down the expectations of customers.
We can no longer claim it is the big, national companies that have created new
fangled names for classic drinks (think “Misto” as opposed to cafe au lait ) or
who have fed the demand for larger and larger sizes. We, the independent coffee
shops, the “third wave” snobs, are to blame as well. It is our responsibility
to step up and show our customers how incredible coffee can be. Our enthusiasm
is contagious (ever been to a ‘spro down or a cupping?) and we need to share
it. So the next time a customer asks for a skinny, extra hot, 20 ounce, no foam
Misto, take it as an opportunity to educate. We really do have better coffee,
we really do use better milk and know when a shot is good or bad. We know how
to create perfect, velvety micro foam and we need to share our knowledge and
skills with our customers. It is the responsibility and burden of the small,
truly specialty coffee businesses to do everything we can to teach the world
how wonderful the best coffee can be.

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Here here! We just purchased an Indy shop, now our third Coffeehouse, that was about to fold. It was formerly a Corporate shop up until about 4 years ago when the Mermaid et up Coffee People. Still on Java Nation's menu board 4 years later are listed multiple big gulp sized cappuccinos. (Separately listed is "Traditional Cappuccino") Haven't had time to redo the menu board yet, but they're most certainly leaving the displayed menu ASAP! I will not condone and continue the shop's practice of misinformation just because the Mermaid does it.

Have no problem serving someone a thick foamed latte when they ask for a 20oz cappuccino, and won't correct them when ordering, but it will be served to them and called out as a thicked foamed or cuppuccino style foamed latte. This opens the door for education should they ask. A cappuccino is a specific sized beverage I don't care what the Mermaid with Grande and Venti etc. sizes says, it's like going to a restaurant and ordering a 20oz glass of wine.

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