First of all, I'm a newbie to espresso. Although I've had many lattes throughout the years, most have been mochas. I tired of paying $5 for way too much sugar and way too little coffee flavor so I bought an espresso machine. Hey, you don't need 30g of sugar in a latte or a capp! In fact, you don't need any sugar at all. Hmmm. Then I went to a Coffee Fest here in Minneapolis. Wow. First time I had a shot of (multiple shots, really) of espresso that wasn't bitter. I was blown away how good espresso could taste. I don't mind a bit of bitter, but most of the shops here have terrible espresso. (There are a few excellent exceptions, Kopplin's, Rustica.)
Now, to the point. I sorta want to interview the barista when I check out a new shop. Do you drink espresso, do you adjust the grind daily, how many shots do you pour out a day? I don't know how you could pull a good shot if you don't like the taste of espresso. It's not my style to be confrontational. I went to a shop the other day and was served a 6oz "double." I couldn't choke it down. Took 4 or 5 sips and left. I'm sure most connoisseurs would dump 75% of the shots I pull. I probably dump 20% of mine.
What should I say to not come off like a jerk? How about if they ask me, how was it? I have my doubts about asking them to remake a shot. If they're over-extracting a double to 6oz, what are the odds they'll pull a good one the second time?
Thanks!
Rusto

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Jay Caragay said stuff that included:
Jared-

My thought is that the person coming into a shop and telling the owner/manager that their product isn't being produced to a "reasonable global standard" will most probably be dismissed as an asshole than someone interested in helping their business - especially if their business is doing well. It is my contention that this approach does nothing to move the discussion forward. Before really getting down to it, one must build rapport, comfort and trust - and that takes time.

This, to me is the bottom line. Are we more worried about the action or the effect? I think, if one decides that they are going to try to improve other shops, it would be best to focus on what will make this happen.


Within this discussion so far, in addition to the "I don't think it helps, so I don't try anymore", there have been some suggestions for things that people have TRIED that have WORKED. I may actually try some of these. Thanks guys.
Hey Gang,

While I am sympathetic to the idea that a coffee shop with a set customer base, solid profit margins, and a steady staff might be hesitant to change their standards upward, it isn't clear to me why that hesitancy should be an obstacle. Surely, in this economy (is anyone else awfully sick of that phrase by now?) any type of additional expense (in the form of training, consultation, etc) is going to be a scary prospect, especially if that additional expense comes along with the challenge of breaking that shop's status quo. I can dig that, that seems like a sensible thing to give pause to.

That being said, while I don't know much about the Global Standard, I do know that there is a distinct lack of a serious standard in the U S of A, with two ideas seemingly duking it out (Starbucks and the SCAA) for the title. I also believe that, as dedicated professionals with a general sense of agreement on what makes for a good espresso and what makes for a rotten one, it really is our responsibility to our industry and our community to help people produce better product, and that starts with recognizing substandard product - regardless of what standard you're using. An overextracted, sloppy espresso is unacceptable by any standards, or at least ought to be. And it IS our job to bring up the general level of awareness on quality, and we aren't going to do that without some kind of outreach, be it personal or organizational. I don't think an isolationist stance will serve our community in a sustainable, long-term way.

SAO
Hey Guys , standards aside, Isn't it a lot simpler that all this??? Does it not boil down to, you have shops that care and shops thats don't care. Let's face it, or should I say let's put a face on it. We are really talking about the owners here. It all trickles down from the top. If the top gives a hoot than it will be reflected on down the pecking order and the customer will benifit.
I, as a shop owner am encourging every one and any one who's cares about Coffee and Customer service to join BX. Matt is helping the industry and all of us with this Facebook of coffee business network.
For me, first you have to care, then it's about awareness and education.
Joe

Simon Ouderkirk said:
Hey Gang,

While I am sympathetic to the idea that a coffee shop with a set customer base, solid profit margins, and a steady staff might be hesitant to change their standards upward, it isn't clear to me why that hesitancy should be an obstacle. Surely, in this economy (is anyone else awfully sick of that phrase by now?) any type of additional expense (in the form of training, consultation, etc) is going to be a scary prospect, especially if that additional expense comes along with the challenge of breaking that shop's status quo. I can dig that, that seems like a sensible thing to give pause to.

That being said, while I don't know much about the Global Standard, I do know that there is a distinct lack of a serious standard in the U S of A, with two ideas seemingly duking it out (Starbucks and the SCAA) for the title. I also believe that, as dedicated professionals with a general sense of agreement on what makes for a good espresso and what makes for a rotten one, it really is our responsibility to our industry and our community to help people produce better product, and that starts with recognizing substandard product - regardless of what standard you're using. An overextracted, sloppy espresso is unacceptable by any standards, or at least ought to be. And it IS our job to bring up the general level of awareness on quality, and we aren't going to do that without some kind of outreach, be it personal or organizational. I don't think an isolationist stance will serve our community in a sustainable, long-term way.

SAO
Let me clarify:

I am not trying to help other shops make better coffee. It is not my intention to visit other shops and try to coerce them into elevating their standards. I agree with Joseph - that it "trickles down from the top." If the owner/operator isn't interested in pushing their standards to higher levels, then the effort is wasted. Better to expend your efforts/energies finding shops that do care about standards and quality.

I would like to think that my company is working to operate at the highest level. We seek out knowledge and information to improve our game. We push and test our standards, and step beyond our comfort zone in order to do so. But that would not be possible if I weren't interested in being the best we can possibly be. As the owner/operator, I alone decide where we are heading and what is important to our company. And if you're talking about an owner/operator who really doesn't care, then you can talk, rant and scream until you're blue in the face and it won't make a difference because the commitment to excellence is not present.

By now, it should not be uncommon here on BX to find a barista who really wants to learn the craft find themselves in shops and situations where the owners just don't care. They've got sub-standard equipment, commodity grade ingredients, a lack of standards and the barista is just floundering, asking for help on where to find a quality-oriented shop where the barista can learn and thrive.

If you really want to help the coffee community, then get out there and open a quality-focused coffee shop. Create the place where the company truly cares about coffee and coffee quality. Create that place where interested baristas can come, learn and express our craft. You can talk to the uncaring owner until you're dead without changing anything because that owner can't see what we see - until you build a place that actually threatens his own.

Quite simply, if your concern is to elevate our national standard, then you need to start building and opening coffee shops that promote this standard. Otherwise, nothing will change. If it's got to start with us, then we need to get cracking and building places that show the public exactly what an amazing espresso is all about.
Hi All, what a great and lively discussion this is! Lots of constructive debate and great points made by everyone involved! Many of my arguments formed while reading have been made by others further into the discussion, but I couldn't help from jumping in here.

My main reason for possibly speaking up about crappy product would not really be an altruistic desire to help this shop owner excel for his own benefit, but to quite simply NOT GET RIPPED OFF BY SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING AND HAS NO FRIGGING BUSINESS MAKING MONEY OFF OF EQUIPMENT THEY DO NO KNOW HOW TO USE!!! This really makes me angry! Also, it makes me sad for the other, less-discerning patrons who are being ripped off and don't even realize it.

In this case, I'm speaking only about those shops that really have no clue, not those whose methods are loosely in line with a loosely-defined industry standard and whose product is passable to pretty good to sometimes great. I'm talking about people who, for some unknown reason, say to themselves "Boy! wouldn't it be fun/profitable/trendy to open up one a' them coffee shops like you see everywhere in them big cities? Whoo, dawgie, wouldn't that be somethin'!!". And then, they proceed to buy an 'expresso machine' and grinder and go to town ripping people off.

Now, really, it has been quite a few years since I was naive enough to be taken in by one of these places, but there are many more these days who do a better job of looking like the real thing, so I really agree with the opinions stated earlier about looking around for the 'signs'. One of which, and I didn't see it mentioned earlier, is when you see the portafilter upturned and laying on the drain grate. That's really common around here. I'm of the opinion (only half-jokingly) that there should be espresso machine police that will confiscate the machines of people who are using them for profit-making reasons and have no business doing so! I mean, I'm talking about some bare minimum essential standards, like grinding the coffee right before it's used, keeping the portafilters in the machine and at the correct temperature, and, for God's sake!, not recycling used espresso to make 'extra shots' - that's called ripping people off, or charging them for something you're not really giving them!

So, having said all that, I think maybe it IS best to just keep your trap shut and just observe before you decide to either order or walk away, and not bother to share your insights, experience, suggestions with shops and baristas who don't get it.

And Joseph and Jay and Simon have gotten to the real meat of the issue with the problem starting at the owner level and the fact that these total hacks will continue to be profitable and successful (to the detriment of the Cause of Good Coffee) until we who care get out there and set up shop doing what we truly love and are committed to, and trying to germinate that kind of love and commitment on to our customers, or at least an appreciation for it. With enough good competition and knowlegeable consumers, these bad, bad owners won't have to have their machines confiscated because they'll hopefully be selling them to some newly-formed shining star in the Good Coffee Universe, who might one day, blow our minds with their artistry!
I usually stand to one side for a while before ordering anything and watch the barista pull shots. Although you may not know exactly how the shot will taste you can at least tell whether the barista knows what they are doing. See how they groom the portafilter, count their shot yourself, etc.
The answer is very simple really. First of all you need to be as humble as possible. Second, if you are researching a shop to spend your time and money and want to ask questions do it during a slow time. During busy times observe. Remember that (good or bad) they are trying to make a buck so don't interupt the flow of their business. You really want to find out if the shop meets your expectations. If not, try to educate them as to what your expectations are. If they cannot meet them, move on.
Unfortunately the quality of espresso seems to be lacking in a lot of coffee shops. Usually it is because the shop really just wants to make money, which isn't horrible, but as such they are focused more on what sells and how to make more money by spending less.

When you find a quality shop that really cares about the beans they serve and the coffee and how it tastes, you can tell. You can almost taste the care that goes into a drink.

That's why I go out of my way to get good coffee, and avoid sbux like the plague. Most of the employee's at sbux just don't care, I should know, I work with them all daily.

I personally don't say anything because I figure if the Batista pulled a really bad shot, and even worse didn't care to ask you if you liked it, then they probably just don't really care.
Great point Jack!

And that's something I've been trying to impart with my new staff. Yes, we want to make the absolute best coffee in the nation. Yes, we want to be the baddest baristas on the planet. Yes, we want our public to adore us.

BUT...

None of this can happen unless we understand and remain cognizant that this is a for profit business and the only way we can continue to source the best coffees is to remain profitable. In order for the company to pay its' baristas and give them their means of living, then it must remain profitable. Profit is not inherently greedy or evil - it is an absolute necessity if we are going to sustain ourselves, thrive and grow.

It's also a reason why I don't really care what the other coffee joints in the city are doing. It's not germane to my discussion. Perhaps they make poor coffee, so what? If they're not meeting a need then they will go out of business. My task is to deliver a completely different coffee experience that, hopefully, people will find amazing, respond to and increase their expectations of coffee. By increasing their expectations, perhaps they'll start to realize that other places are no longer to their tastes and visit us more.

The less they visit other places, the greater the potential for the other places to adapt, change or go out of business - with the notion being that the public's expectations are increased and we make more money. Win/Win.

Jack Groot said:
There are a lot of people who want to get into coffee simply because they want to be in business and make money. There is nothing wrong with that. They are not necessarily evil, manipulative, greedy or naive people. They are capitalists. They for whatever reason want to be in business and happen to see coffee as a venue to do so. They care about business first, coffee second. Not evil, just a reality. Some of them can or will be brought along the quality path and improve. Others will never care about coffee because they care only about business, not about the widget "they" sell.

I'm just pointing out that one day one of my employees will make a mistake and I don't want the newly deputized coffee police to come to my door.

It also boggles my mind when people think that anyone trying to make money at business (especially if they disagree with the way they do it) is somehow flawed or greedy or less then the "pure coffee lover" they are. If I don't make money I go out of business. How can that be good for anyone? Not me. Not my community. Not the coffee industry (unless I serve crap). If I make money, I can do a better job at running my business, instead of being like so many coffee shops that aren't even paying their bills or updating their store or investing in new equipment or paying themselves any wage.

The best way to change the coffee culture in America for the better is for ME to make better coffee, better espresso and do better at everything I do.

The buying public will reward me if I do it well. And they will stop coming if I don't.
Hi Ruston;

there's a lot previously said that I agree with, but as for

Ruston Reynolds said:
(snip) The point that was missed by everyone was, what do I say if they ask how was it? "Fine!" and skedaddle? Just stare at the ground and shuffle my shoes?

yes, be honest; if they have asked you, I've found it's for one of 2 reasons - 1) they always do, to pre-empt any complaints (a some-time restaurant practice to catch you off-guard) or 2) they really do care, and want your honest opinion. If it's good, I say so; if not, I ask them to pull another shot (if they haven't already offered) and if this is still not good, ask for my money back and not go there again. As a roaster/barista/business owner it's what I expect, when I ask customers. (FWIW) :-)
Jack,
I love your bottom line....it is mine as well.
Joseph Robertson

Jack Groot said:
There are a lot of people who want to get into coffee simply because they want to be in business and make money. There is nothing wrong with that. They are not necessarily evil, manipulative, greedy or naive people. They are capitalists. They for whatever reason want to be in business and happen to see coffee as a venue to do so. They care about business first, coffee second. Not evil, just a reality. Some of them can or will be brought along the quality path and improve. Others will never care about coffee because they care only about business, not about the widget "they" sell.

I'm just pointing out that one day one of my employees will make a mistake and I don't want the newly deputized coffee police to come to my door.

It also boggles my mind when people think that anyone trying to make money at business (especially if they disagree with the way they do it) is somehow flawed or greedy or less then the "pure coffee lover" they are. If I don't make money I go out of business. How can that be good for anyone? Not me. Not my community. Not the coffee industry (unless I serve crap). If I make money, I can do a better job at running my business, instead of being like so many coffee shops that aren't even paying their bills or updating their store or investing in new equipment or paying themselves any wage.

The best way to change the coffee culture in America for the better is for ME to make better coffee, better espresso and do better at everything I do.

The buying public will reward me if I do it well. And they will stop coming if I don't.
Dang. Just lost my last reply!
1. I was naive to think that every shop should be pulling decent shots just because they have good equipment and SHOULD!
2. Taste is completely subjective. Longs lines out the door at Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Once on "Hell's Kitchen" Ramsey made cheese soup with spray cheese, pate with hot dogs and served catfish cavier (you can't even GIVE this stuff away!) They all raved about it because they wanted to like it. I'm happy with the majority of my shots. A year from now, I might be dumping the majority of them.
3. I won't blindly go into a new shop and order espresso. I will only go to Kopplin's and Rustic Bakery and other shops that have been recommended by people with good "taste."
Thanks for everyone's input!

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