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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Ruston Reynolds said:
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!

Forgive me if this was not the intent, but this reads totally sarcastic to me. If so, I'm not sure why - there's been lots of effort on the community's part here to help address your question and some associated issues. Its been a good, and revealing, discussion.

If that's not the case, again sorry. However, I'm a little disappointed by your takeaway from the discussion.

1. It is reasonable, not naive to expect shops to pull decent shots, they damn well should! It is perhaps naive to be surprised if they are not good shots, or to expect that a comment from a customer will change a store's approach.

2. Tastes are relative, true... but crap is still crap. Even if it happens to be popular crap, that doesn't make it good. A good business does not necessarily a good coffee shop make... I can point to plenty of successful lousy shops. The owners may not be bad people, they may be great business people, but if they are not making good coffee then they are not making good coffee. Right?

3. You should absolutely order what you want from a shop, even if only once. I've been let down lots, but I've also had plenty of pleasant surprises. I've also kicked myself for making the "safe choice" and ordering something easy from fantastic baristas that I'd not met yet. Go ahead and ask for your money back if it isn't right. Or order "safe" the next time... but don't assume the worst.

To add to what ER said (welcome back, BTW), yes, ask for a recommendation, but preface it with "I love coffee". Lots of first-timers will ask for a recommendation out of ignorance, and I'd steer one of them to a different drink that I'd steer someone like you.

Again, a great discussion. Thanks for starting it.
Wow what a great discussion. I just experienced this last month. I drove from Iowa to Washington and drove all the way down to San Diego. It became a huge coffee tour for me as I went from coffee shop to coffee shop. When I went to shops that did an awesome job, I definetly let them know. Know the other shops that I had a bad drink from, I let them know too. Normally I start out with some kind of compliment...anything that I can compliment them by. Then ask them things like how long they've worked as a barista. Then drop something like, "if you can next time, can you make sure my espresso comes out in 25 second."
Brady said:
Forgive me if this was not the intent, but this reads totally sarcastic to me. If that's not the case, again sorry. However, I'm a little disappointed by your takeaway from the discussion.

No sarcasm, I stand behind my words. I would also venture to say that you are mistaken about my "takeaway." I come away from this knowing that there are some extremely passionate folks in the coffee world. And the rest aren't.
Is it reasonable to hold Domino's to the standards of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana?
Now if I go into Rustica Bakery, (or the Coffee Garden ;p) and get a extra venti white-topped espresso, I'll ask for them to re-make it. I can't stand there and tell them how to correct it. Too many variables, too little knowledge (on my part.) Would anyone here be able to go to Starbuck's and get a great shot made for them?
Thanks, once again, for all of your input. I truly appreciate it!
Ok... thanks for the followup. Sounds like you got about the same things out of the discussion that I did. Internet communication can be tricky, so again, apologies. Great thread, thanks for starting it.

PS... if you ever make it to our store, that white topped long pull espresso is on me.
At my base in Afghanistan, they fielded a small coffee shop ran by some of the locals. Now, I'm a BIG supporter of providing opportunities to our host country's folks, but today I watched a barista in training leave the pitcher on the drip tray while 'foaming' the milk for a latte while talking to a co-worker. He then pumped the cup about half full of syrup. I do know how to say "STOP" in Pashto, but yelling that in a room full of seasoned combat troops probably would have had a few hitting the deck and others reaching for their rifles...

Unfortunately that coffee was for an associate, and I would feel worse about them drinking if it wasn't free (I paid).

Come to think of it.. We don't have real milk here, only dehydrated milk. ...what are they putting in these lattes? Scratch that, I don't want to know.

Now, before I joined BX and started doing my homework on the hallmarks of great espresso, I wouldn't have given this a second thought, but now I'm burdened with the knowledge that superior coffee products exist... My days of comfortable ignorance are over.
Mike,
Please share my thanks and a wish for a safe Christmas and a better New Year with all your buddies! We do appreciate you!
Sincerely
-Richard

Mike Morand said:
I ran into this problem today. Wanting to shake the dust from our routine, my fiance and I thought it might be cool to start checking out the local cafes we've yet to investigate. Usually we try to go to a place when it's slow so we can get a best case scenario impression of a cafe. We'll hang back and check out things, doing that mental checklist an espresso hound really just must do: Adequate grinder? Coffee ground to order/empty doser? Portafilter locked in machine at all times? Dry towel being used to clean portafilter before dosing? etc.

The shop we were at checked out, ostensibly. The owner was there, on bar, and I talked to him for a while, asking about their roaster, flavor profile of their blend, etc; and he pulled me a very decent double for a macchiato —dishsoap foam, but I was willing to let it slide; I was in a good mood. We talked a bit more, asking if they did press, chemex, syphon, etc., as I was in the mood to stay for a while; sadly, it was a large volume-drip only place and I wasn't feeling the Ugandan they were brewing today.

The owner leaves, leaving his 20-something son in charge and we find a seat and start settling in, planing on spending more money. Shortly after finding a seat, my fiance decides she wants a double espresso. I wanted to get a second look at the nice Elektra T1 so I went up to the counter with her. He doses, tamps, knocks the pf hard, and pulls a 10 second shot. I sincerely assumed that because he was pulling it into a shot glass that he was just getting a feel for his grind; however he poured that 10 second shot into a cold demitasse and served it to us with a straight face —no crema, no concern, no, thank you.

I politely asked him to pull her another shot that ran closer to 23-32 seconds with decent crema. We made it clear that we were both baristas and liked our shots a lot tighter than that. We had just spent 20 minutes talking about coffee with his Dad, who bragged about how well-trained his kids were, etc. I thought: maybe he just thought we wouldn't know what was what and didn't feel like changing the grind. He pulled us another set, 8 seconds this time. I looked him in the eye, as to say "really?"

I didn't even know what to say. My fiance hates confrontation. So I contemplated asking for a refund on her behalf before just setting the dreck, untouched, on an unused table and walking out. It was rude of me, and it wasn't helpful or constructive; but I was just at a loss for what to say to someone that so strongly didn't care about what they were serving.
I feel your pain. Where I work it's the staff who try and the owner who doesn't. We're expected to make 5 drinks in 3 minutes so there's no dry towel being used. A tamper? I have my own but the shop doesn't.
I drink espresso when I make it, or I buy it down the road.
Fraser,
Very sorry that talent like yours goes so unnoticed by employers who don't care or only care about the day's end bottom line. For me there could not be a more important staff member. Not only are you, ( when your at the front counter in front of customers ) expected to smile and be nice to customers all day but you have to have barista skills and training to go with it. I opened up my / our shop and went to work for myself because one of my goals in life is to become the employer/manager that I never had. I know they are out there. Just not as common as I would like to see in this very customer service oriented business. How do you fire a boss... I guess it is called "walk". I know that is not practical in tough times but it sure looks good at times. Bad ownership / management always trickles down to the customer. It will come back to the owner in less cash and customer flow through his door. How can it not? Back to that law of Karma.
Joe
--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.


Fraser Jamieson said:
I feel your pain. Where I work it's the staff who try and the owner who doesn't. We're expected to make 5 drinks in 3 minutes so there's no dry towel being used. A tamper? I have my own but the shop doesn't.
I drink espresso when I make it, or I buy it down the road.
And Joseph, I've gone to great pains to email detailed "how to" instructions to them and to everyone else working there. In one ear and out the other. A couple of my co-workers are doing an excellent job but not all.
They steam two pots of milk at once; one is for hot milk and the other is for "foam". Milk is added as the level goes down. It's gross to watch and even worse to sample.
If the location wasn't amazing they'd have no customers. As it is, the location really keeps things running.
Down the road from me there's a place with excellent espresso...but undrinkable drip. Customers are too polite to complain so both places will continue to put out far below what they are capable of.
I just don't understand the mind set of not wanting to do a good job.
Fraser, I wonder if some owners have no clue as to what a good job is?
Joe

Fraser Jamieson said:
And Joseph, I've gone to great pains to email detailed "how to" instructions to them and to everyone else working there. In one ear and out the other. A couple of my co-workers are doing an excellent job but not all.
They steam two pots of milk at once; one is for hot milk and the other is for "foam". Milk is added as the level goes down. It's gross to watch and even worse to sample.
If the location wasn't amazing they'd have no customers. As it is, the location really keeps things running.
Down the road from me there's a place with excellent espresso...but undrinkable drip. Customers are too polite to complain so both places will continue to put out far below what they are capable of.
I just don't understand the mind set of not wanting to do a good job.
I wouldn't recommend doling out barista advice if you're still a newbie. Maybe (if it's slow in the shop) you could try a different approach. Ask them for advice or info about how they did it. I think it might be perceived as offensive if you approach them w/ superiority instead of genuine interest. Chances are you'll learn something from each other and open a a whole dialogue.

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