I feel like there's been a lot of introspection within the "Third Wave" coffee community lately, and I'd like to add to it with consideration to the creamer station. We all know the feeling of pulling a good shot of espresso, only for it to be downed with 2 splendas and grimace. For kicks, I tried an espresso with a splenda in it-- it tasted horrible (to me). Now, I don't blame a customer who comes into my shop and orders a double espresso-- almost every espresso you find around this area is high in volume and low in flavor. I suppose a splenda would be fine in that situation.

There's been a huge push in the "barista knows best" direction recently, whether it's no iced espresso or no 20 oz. cups. We're constantly filled with the desire to impart our knowledge of our product onto our consumer, and we all know the adverse reactions that have been sparked from this. You can usually bypass being thought of as a 'pretentious coffee snob' by the way you phrase things-- but it's very hard to tell a customer what to do with their cup of coffee after you give it to them. I've tried casually saying to a customer, "Wow this espresso looks like it's going to have a lot of flavor, you might want to try it before you put any sugar in it." She remarked, "What did you do to it?" Well, I pulled it to a shorter volume to maximize its natural sweetness. She said "I think I'm ok" and put the sugar in.

I've seen people that are so unaccustomed to drinking coffee that they'll order something like a mocha (already sweet and mostly hot milk) and then go put cream and sugar into it. That's probably pretty gross too. Most people know at a fine restaurant not to ask for salt, because you trust that the chef has good enough taste to season your dish adequately. This is not the case with a fine coffee shop. It's ingrained in a lot of people that coffee needs cream and sugar, always. So, as this "Third Wave" progresses, I wonder if the "barista knows best" attitude will find its way into the dissolution of the creamer station altogether? As in, if you don't put the salt on the table, they can't throw a bunch on before they even taste the dish. I'm not even close to curious about doing this in my cafe, but I am curious if there are any shops that have done this already, or if anyone sees this as a future progression within the current coffee movement.

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I say 'let the customer enjoy their drink the way they enjoy it.'

I think its a nice idea to imagine the whole world drinking espresso the way we declare it should be drunk, but I also think its a waste of our time, energy, heart, and soul to try and push something into the customers hands that they don't want.

Yes, most people at a fine restaurant wouldn't ask for salt, but then those people sitting at that nicely set table understand a different set of rules come with the price they're paying. We don't have that luxury. The better cafes of the world don't have black-tie service, linen tablecloths, and $12 6oz cappuccinos. We don't have the most important signal that says to people 'act differently', we don't have a higher price to match our higher quality product.
Perhaps we should - if people have to pay a significant premium to get the best possible coffee experience, then perhaps it'll weed out those less inclined to learn about and appreciate the product... But then, this is a competitive market, you wouldn't be left with many customers if they can get an almost-as-good latte at the cafe across the street.

Although... despite all I've said, I'm lucky enough to work in a country that doesn't have a 'creamer station', 'ghetto lattes', or 'red eyes'. So perhaps my opinion is coloured.

I think we need to learn to relax. Forget about the people who order a single espresso with 2 splenda - they're just customers. Take joy in the people who actually are interested, and do want to try things your way.
Look, as baristas, our job is to make the drinks in the best way possible; and as customers their job is to enjoy it and come back. If your shop stands out for it's quality, then by all means suggest away that the customer try it first. We chemex all of our coffees so we get asked great coffee questions all the time and even some really simple questions,but answer them all with as much info as humanly possible in 2mins while the coffee brews. Knowledge from the baristas will lead to customers trying black coffee or single origin espresso or macchiatoes instead of triple cappuccinos. Trust from customers is huge. That's why people don't put salt on $29 fillets but pour A-1 all over the $10.99 entree meal at an Applebees. Price for quality, teach about quality, show that you care about every customer, and they will take fewer trips to your creamer bar. I can't see the cream and sugar idea going away anytime soon, but then again one cup brewing seemed crazy too. Just think about this, third wave was because a few second waves got better;so maybe "fourth wave" will be more like great wine bar experiences. Nobody goes to a wine bar and puts anything in a $18 glass of wine.
My theory has always been to let them do their thing... If they get a mocha and put sugar into it, and then it tastes too sweet, they will probably recognize that it would have been fine in the first place. As for espresso, What do you do? Those picky traditional italians aren't about to stop dropping sugar in, and as long as people leave happy, thats the biggest part. Because they'll come back again and again, and once you have a rapport with them, they may be more likely to listen to what you have to say, and try new things.
I wanted to reply to idea that people go into fine dining restaurants and don't as for salt. I have over 15 years in the fine dining world as a Chef. My partner in our coffee house waited tables for 10 years. 5 of them in fine dining. Not only do the ask for salt the want to rearrange the meal sometimes! We try to educate the customer. A lot fine dining is about pleasing the customer. We suggest the Steak should be medium Rare but if rock star, actor, rich person wants well done, you do it! Some customers come and just eat as is. But others are just like they are with coffee. The waiter has to persuade the customer with out pisses them off. I have dined in restaurants that won't change a thing, people get pissed! ( It is one of our wholesale accounts) A part of me is a snob and wants to tell people no but the other part knows we are in the business of people. We try to change peoples views softly, with a good reputation and never making the person feel bad about there current choice. Americas are brought up to believe if we are paying for we should have the way we want. We believe we should have things are way. Not to get too serious but we built the US on the notion of having things they we wanted. It a hard habit to break! Also everyone thinks they are coffee expert they have drank or seen people drink coffee all there life. In that way it isn't like wine, people in the US are not around wine there whole life. So they look for suggestions more readily. And even then they ask for ice cubes in there wine.
Jonathon, it's an interesting situation. I think some part of you might be deciding how much of your business is driven by "the art of coffee" versus "the business of coffee." I have always felt that there has to be a balance; if for no other reason than to meet your overhead! My strong opinion, which I see in other responses, is to give the client what they ask for, (as long as it doesn't violate local health reg's), and to provide a non-threatening, un-intimidating access for clients to explore coffee. IE; I've always promoted "dual-menus." One side showing "Traditional American Coffee Drinks", and the other, "Traditional European Espresso Drinks." I've found that most consumers know what they like, but are overwhelmed with the "foreign language menus." I have some great SO's here, test roast during the week, and appreciate a great Cup of Excellence quality coffee, but I also use a small amount of raw brown sugar in my morning cappuccino or machiatto. I'm not a huge fan of coffee straight up. The sweeter the dessert, like a great cheescake, the less, if any sugar I'll put in my coffee. To me, the most interesting advancement in the condiment station is "liquid sugar", maybe with a small placard above the pump that says.... "Suggestion: Push down halfway, take a sip, THEN repeat for added sweetness." Maybe they won't get upset with a "sign" that tells 'em how to drink their coffee?
"There's been a huge push in the "barista knows best" direction recently, whether it's no iced espresso or no 20 oz. cups."

What's wrong with iced espresso?

;-)
Hmmm, if you're really "at war' with the creamer station, then why have it at all?
Has anyone ever put up a sign: "Try it black! Free refill if you don't like it." ?
I had a guy order a 12oz drip in a 20oz cup today, now we all know that he is going to walk over to the condiment cart and fill the cup the whole way up with creamer. So, then the guy comes back up to the bar and asks me to throw his drink in the microwave and warm it up. WTF I mean seriously I don't even know where to begin. I offer to make a fresh pot and bring it out to him and he says that's not the problem it's just that he likes so much cream that it will cools off his drink too much. I offer to make him a au lait but of course he doesn't want to be any trouble and wouldn't want anything fancy. So I nuke the wonderful Peruvian SO and give the customer what he wants. We are after all there to please our customers.
Jason Shipley said:
I had a guy order a 12oz drip in a 20oz cup today, now we all know that he is going to walk over to the condiment cart and fill the cup the whole way up with creamer. So, then the guy comes back up to the bar and asks me to throw his drink in the microwave and warm it up. WTF I mean seriously I don't even know where to begin. I offer to make a fresh pot and bring it out to him and he says that's not the problem it's just that he likes so much cream that it will cools off his drink too much. I offer to make him a au lait but of course he doesn't want to be any trouble and wouldn't want anything fancy. So I nuke the wonderful Peruvian SO and give the customer what he wants. We are after all there to please our customers.

Not to digress too far, but you rang him for a large, right? This has been our policy since day 1, to charge for the size of the cup.

After seeing this post, I almost feel like we should charge for an au lait in that size, to encourage them to go this route. I feel like in the situation that you just described it would have been totally appropriate to charge him for the difference between what he bought and an au lait. If they complain, let them know the reason for the policy. They absolutely understand that they are getting away with something, and I don't understand why so many shops allow this to happen.
Yes he was charged for a large. It's one of those pick your battles things. The guy is not a regular and he was meeting with a pastor from one of the local churches. I bit my tongue. Over the long hall most of my customers are really great and many have become close friends. When we first opened it would have really bothered me and I may have thrown the guy out. Now I'm a happier guy trying to look at the big picture.

John,
Not to jack your thread, My point was that I think the creamer station is a necessity. But I hate it.
Creamer station is not a necessity, there are other ways to do it.

1) Don't offer any cream, sugar, honey, Splenda, etc.
2) Don't leave creamer out.
3) (above) Add cream/sugar for the customer

For us, we don't leave creamer out. ~ 1.75 oz of cream is offered by request with the Americano.
As an alternative, I think maybe if you add cream/sugar for the customer you can raise your level of service.

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