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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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.
Dry processed?

-bry

Ricky Sutton said:
I had an experience yesterday that reminded me of this thread.

Went to a locally known indie shop serving the same coffee that i use on slightly better equipment than i have. (their Linea has flow restriction, mine doesn't. they have a Robur, i have Super Jollys) I watched the barista pulling the shot and he did everything right. Very close to the same perimeters that i use. And the shot wasn't good. It probably would have been a god shot to a shop outside the coffee communities that we travel in. Any home espresso aficionado would have been pleased. But for the beans they were using and the equipment they have, i at least expected as good as the average shot that is pulled at my shop. I'm very familiar with the coffee and know what it's capable of. I'm even using the same batch roasted on the same day at my shop currently.

Sometimes i think that there are intangibles involved. Either the magic happens or it does not.

To stay on topic, i said nothing to him. There's no reason that a second shot would have turned out any better. I can tell the difference between agricultural weirdness and simply not being "in touch" with your product.
Just curiious, was the shot bitter, sour, flat, acrid, astringent or just boring and blah. I'm still amazed sometimes how as little as a gram or less dose difference pulled the same time same temp can make a world of difference. Then there's the time difference a second or two either way can change the taste, or the temp up or down a few tenths degree.

Which is why I wonder how some baristas can call themselves serious baristas and never drink or even taste straight shots. Can't become one with what you don't commune with!

Ricky Sutton said:
I had an experience yesterday that reminded me of this thread.

Went to a locally known indie shop serving the same coffee that i use on slightly better equipment than i have. (their Linea has flow restriction, mine doesn't. they have a Robur, i have Super Jollys) I watched the barista pulling the shot and he did everything right. Very close to the same perimeters that i use. And the shot wasn't good. It probably would have been a god shot to a shop outside the coffee communities that we travel in. Any home espresso aficionado would have been pleased. But for the beans they were using and the equipment they have, i at least expected as good as the average shot that is pulled at my shop. I'm very familiar with the coffee and know what it's capable of. I'm even using the same batch roasted on the same day at my shop currently.

Sometimes i think that there are intangibles involved. Either the magic happens or it does not.

To stay on topic, i said nothing to him. There's no reason that a second shot would have turned out any better. I can tell the difference between agricultural weirdness and simply not being "in touch" with your product.
Yeah I'm pretty sure that's all washed as well... if it's the flagship I think it is. Well, there goes my theory, haha.

-bry
Yeah, I went to a local shop here (the only one in the town Im staying in & a pretty busy place) and ordered a double mocha (12oz). I watched him pull shots for a few minutes & ended up pouring over half of the 12oz cup with espresso & then topping it off with a little hot milk. Worst drink ever. I couldnt even drink a quarter of it before throwing it away. I was so discusted I just walked out & havent been back. This place roasts their own coffee & has a great menu & does a busy business. One of these days I'll try to go back & give them another shot to see if that was a fluke but for a barista to put over 6oz of espresso into a cup & consider that a double, somethings wrong!
My philosophy on this is pretty simple. I like Brady's techniques of doing quality checks; if things are looking really grim by the time you get through the line, just walk away (or get iced tea or whatever). At that point there are too many things wrong for you to point out, and the shop will either fold, or realize that it has to step up and start learning how to run a cafe, or it will gimp along for years, making money on people who live close by and don't care that much.

However, if the cafe looks even sort of decent, and the baristas seem to be making a genuine effort, they should be receptive to critique. Maybe they're just learning, maybe they just forgot to rinse the gasket or whatever. When our cafe decided to up its game and I started learning more, if a customer even hinted that their drink was lacking, I'd ask for it back, dump it in the sink, and try again in quick order. Most owners will agree the price of the wasted drink is worth not losing a customer.

but again, if you see that full pitcher on the espresso machine, and customers walking away with soap-bubble foam, what can you do? What i always want to do is just say YOU'RE DOING EVERYTHING WRONG, go behind the counter and make it myself. but that's not very constructive.
I completely agree, as I do the same thing!

My approach when wandering in to a new, unknown shop is to hang out for a second and assess the situation before ordering. No interview necessary. I have a couple of red flags, and if I see any of them I'll go for a small drip. My red flags include:
Dirty steamwands.
Milk pitchers with thermometers in them, sitting half-full on the machine or counter.
Full dosers.
Espresso misspelled on the menu board.
Auto steam wands in use.
Superautos.

Brady said:
As you are seeing, this is not an uncommon problem.

I think there are two scenarios - a) you are trying out a new shop, or b) you are contemplating trying to fix your neighborhood one.

In both scenarios, I think it is difficult to change what the barista is doing. I'd venture to guess that one of our collective least-favorite things is the smirking know-it-all customer. Regardless of how solid your technique and product, someone that just started at the chain store around the corner will wander in from time to time and act like a jerk. Even if you happen to be a customer that knows what you are talking about and are trying to help, you will probably be dismissed as being "that guy". For this reason, I personally don't attempt to correct technique. I would love to see some more suggestions for how to get the point across though.

My approach when wandering in to a new, unknown shop is to hang out for a second and assess the situation before ordering. No interview necessary. I have a couple of red flags, and if I see any of them I'll go for a small drip. My red flags include:
Dirty steamwands.
Milk pitchers with thermometers in them, sitting half-full on the machine or counter.
Full dosers.
Espresso misspelled on the menu board.
Auto steam wands in use.
Superautos.

There are a couple of others that I can't think of right now, but you get the idea...

I also watch a couple of drinks before stepping to the counter. How do the shots look? How does the milk sound?

I have been known to just leave as well... if your steamwand is brown, nothing good can come of the experience. I work too hard for my money...

My 2 cents.
My thoughts exactly!

christopher myers said:
What i always want to do is just say YOU'RE DOING EVERYTHING WRONG, go behind the counter and make it myself. but that's not very constructive.
Since this thread's come back, I'll note that in recent weeks I've begun doing this. I'm tired of paying for subpar espresso from stores in this town that claim to be the best. I'm tired of ordering drip to avoid having to watch well-paid, well-regarded baristas pull shitty shots. I've decided that turning a blind eye changes nothing, and I don't really care who thinks I'm an asshole. I'm going to pick the shops that act like they are the best and expect them to deliver at least an acceptable product. I'll tip well when they get it right and ask them to try again when they do it wrong.

I'll try it for a while and see how it works. Will update with my observations.

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