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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I'm really glad to see another fan of Kopplin's and Rustica. Also, there is a shop in South Saint Paul called Black Sheep that can turn out some really good espresso. And hey, next time you are in Rustica, check if there is a guy named Justin working. He has a ton of really curly hair. He can get you an amazing espresso. Just let him know I told you to get one from him. You will definitely get the best service and shot possible.
Chris/Dale said:
My approach would involve the following four things:
3. Talk to the barista, for sure, I've got a few questions that I ask in these situations. I usually start with something like "What kind of coffee are you working with?" And Then let the conversation unfold. I typically don't tell people that I work in coffee because they can get a little weird / defensive about it. If they ask you how it was, be honest. Be polite but be honest. Don't tell them how to fix it because that's not what they asked. At best you've made a connection and have an opportunity to help them down the road once you've developed a connection...at worst you know that you're not headed back.

4. Finally, what you've admitted is that your new to the scene and have a long way to go. I would remember this whenever I walk up to someone else's bar and consider offering correction. Believe it or not there may be instances where you could learn a thing or two from a barista who pulls a 6 oz espresso.

This excactly. Here's my opinions

3) If a barista has any pride in his/her work,s/he'll give value to your feedback. Few of my favorite customers are home baristas who truly understand their coffee and can give feedback. Feedback will be easier for the barista to accept if it has both positive and negative sides. For instance what you liked in the coffee (the bright tones) and what the coffee lacked (body for example). During long shifts when I've had too many espressos to tell what's actually good the feedback from these customers has been absolutely godsend.

4) No matter how good one is this should always be kept in mind. I know there's a huge temptation to walk in a cafe with a clint eastwood-look to show how things are to be done. Resist the urge. It's rude and arrogant.

Some coffee connoisseurs have driven me mad more than a few times with criticizing the way I don't knock the portafilter with tamper or how we don't 'weiss distribute' (we are a coffee shop with equipments to match, not a friggin' home kitchen).

If a place is serving shots that long, it's probably a lost cause anyway.
Jared,
I'm afraid I have to disagree with you again.

I disagree that coffeeshop operators are "dumbasses." Many of them are making money. Merely because their standard and practices differ from my own is not enough to discredit them as operators.

Because of this, I'm not "getting" the "incompetence" you speak of. These are operations that are serving their communities, serving their customers and have followings. Granted, I probably wouldn't drink their product, but I'm not their customer either.

Quite frankly, I just don't see the need to police other businesses and coffee shops. What do I care about "coffee quality" across the United States? Truth is, I don't. I'm concerned about building a company that delivers high quality product to our customers in a wonderful atmosphere to my standards. I would prefer to let that standard be seen by customers and championed rather than myself walking into random coffee shops across the country "demanding" that they make better coffee. Let me prove to the people that the quality coffee model works successfully and then maybe other operators will change their directions.

To me, it's just a waste of time and energy getting worked up because some other shop(s) don't match the quality or standards I set for myself, my baristas and our company.

And truth be told, coffee shops in comparison with restaurants are less maintenance and easier to build and open. Also, there are more restaurants that fail every year than coffeeshops mainly because so many people take the plunge without learning or looking.


Jared Rutledge said:
well, i think as consumer education improves, the old stalwarts will either fail and go bankrupt or have to step their game up. but certainly the newcomers will drive it - that's what i'm hoping to do. so i don't necessarily disagree with you there.

i'm sure there are bad french restaurants scattered across the states, i was more saying that the incompetence in the coffee industry is just on a different level. it's rife. even if 30% of all french restaurants were decent, only 3-5% of all coffee shops would be. coffeeshop owners are just dumbasses of another breed altogether.

also, very few people would get some money together and be like "man, i sure do like beef bourguignon, i'll open a french restaurant!" however, tons of people have, and still do, get a little money together and say "man, i like my morning cup of folgers/starbucks, i'll open/buy a coffee shop!" that strikes me as really weird. like coffee shops are a low-maintenance high-reward business or something.
Ruston,
After reading this last post by you and all above and Mike McGinness's, I would like to say that I target the spro connoisseur. When someone asks for a double shot or a straight shot I tell them out right that they are who I'm marketing to. I tell them that I have been in business as a roaster/barista/shop owner for a little over a year and any and all feedback if greatly appreciated. Once in a while I get critical or negative feedback and I check all factors I feel may have gone wrong. Once I found dirty pf's. I apologized, cleaned them and pull another round for them. All better. I thanked them for catching an over site on my part. Now I religiously clean and buff Aurelia nightly. Feed back I aggressively request. I have much to learn and will spend much of my day on this list for that purpose. Grant, I have a small shop with a light traffic daily flow, but my mission to provide the best I can and to try and improve daily with never change...
Enjoy your quest Ruston,,
Joseph


Ruston Reynolds said:
Thanks for all of your replies. Like I said, I usually just walk after a crapresso. Excellent espresso takes talent and attention, decent espresso takes attention, bad espresso, hmmm, a lack of effort or training?
I think Brady gave some excellent advice. But the place that gave me the el grande double had their own roaster, great reviews on Yelp! (albeit none mentioned their espresso). The barista seemed enthusiastic at the fact that I wanted espresso. 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?
jay, i totally understand where you're coming from, and i'm not going to police coffeeshops across the states. i just mean that if i walk into a coffeeshop and pay $2 for a double espresso, i'd at least like it made to a reasonable global standard. and i feel the discerning consumer has the right to let the owner/manager know that the coffee isn't being made to the global standard. that's all.
Jared,
as fellow shop owner I encourage and expect this from the customer. We are on the same page here.
Joseph
--
Ambassador for Specialty Coffee and palate reform.


Jared Rutledge said:
jay, i totally understand where you're coming from, and i'm not going to police coffeeshops across the states. i just mean that if i walk into a coffeeshop and pay $2 for a double espresso, i'd at least like it made to a reasonable global standard. and i feel the discerning consumer has the right to let the owner/manager know that the coffee isn't being made to the global standard. that's all.
If the shop hasn't been recommended by people I trust, I don't bother going. And even then, if everything looks great, often times the results are just "ok". There are other places worth going, but for me, they are all out of state.

I REALLY think about asking for another, or to "send it back" when I have tried other shops, but I've found that if they don't know, then they don't care.
Jared-

I don't mean to come off as argumentative, but what is this "global standard"? Is it some "standard" arbitrarily set by the SCAA that, somehow, everyone must adhere? Granted, I'm coming at it from the other end where I find the SCAA "standard" to be broad and designed to accommodate everyone.

Yes, I absolutely agree that for your $2 you should get your money's worth, but doesn't that discretion fall upon you? I certainly do not walk into any establishment to spend my money without vetting it out first - especially when it comes to coffee shops. I want to be reasonably sure that I'm going to enjoy what I ordered.

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.

Even someone like myself (perhaps especially someone like myself), who is interested to know what his customers think about their product - even I would be a bit put-off by someone who, on their first visit, came in critiquing our methods and telling us that we weren't performing to the reasonable global standard (whatever that may be). Really, forget the global standard thing, what I actually hear on occasion from new customers may be that the coffee isn't "strong" enough, or dark roasted enough, or "like Starbucks" enough. Arguably, Starbucks IS the global standard, and if someone came to me complaining that our coffee wasn't enough like Starbucks, I still wouldn't be much of a rush to conform our standards and practices to that "global standard."

Yes, that may seem ludicrous to the BX crowd, but I think it sounds just as ludicrous to the operator you just met imploring him to implement some SCAA global standard.
As to any SCAA standard ... I've been to many SCAA member shops, I've had espresso and coffee while AT the SCAA event, and honestly, most of it was horrid. The only difference between shops claiming to adhere to an SCAA standard is that they're out money for the SCAA fees... but still produce bad espresso.

The only standards you should seek to improve are your own.
i dunno, i'm thoroughly grateful for the things the SCAA has done for specialty coffee in america. sure, a lot of shops don't follow the standards set forth, but even a basic attempt to get things to a workable standard is fantastic in my opinion.

and i understand your point about starbucks being the global standard, jay. i think you're being realistic and i'm being idealistic. however, i recall reading in my aesthetics class an author (i think it was wilde) discussing how criticism is done best by those with the most experience in the field. thus, the baristas most capable of criticism are those with the most good experience in the field. i don't think a standard is arbitrary if upheld by the most experienced and flexible people in the business. what do you reckon?
Keep it up guys, Very interesting discussion. Only on BX....can you get such varied and critical point of views on a subject I live and bleed.. got to love it.

Jared Rutledge said:
i dunno, i'm thoroughly grateful for the things the SCAA has done for specialty coffee in america. sure, a lot of shops don't follow the standards set forth, but even a basic attempt to get things to a workable standard is fantastic in my opinion.

and i understand your point about starbucks being the global standard, jay. i think you're being realistic and i'm being idealistic. however, i recall reading in my aesthetics class an author (i think it was wilde) discussing how criticism is done best by those with the most experience in the field. thus, the baristas most capable of criticism are those with the most good experience in the field. i don't think a standard is arbitrary if upheld by the most experienced and flexible people in the business. what do you reckon?
A standard is just that: a "standard." It must be adopted and championed.

What we have been discussing are shops that either do not have a standard, or whose standards differ so drastically that the product quality is quite poor.

Certainly the standards as set by the SCAA are workable for many shops. However, it's getting those shops to "drink the Kool Aid" that is the problem. If we presume a shop producing drinks at a quality level below those advocated by the SCAA that is profitable, making money and serving their community, then what is the impetus to change to those SCAA standards? They're making money and their drink quality is to a level that their customer base purchases their products. What is your argument to that operator for the supposed higher standard?

Sure, the "argument" is that they'll make more money. But to change their standards requires more training, more attention to detail, more expense. Greater expense also means that it might offset the supposed increase in revenue, but it also might mean that you're just spending more to gross the same amount of money and less profit.

What's missing is commitment. Commitment to a greater/different standard. That's something that the operator has to desire and champion - not some coffee lover "customer" championing the SCAA standard. Earlier, you posited that the operator will change if the competition increases - true, but the key is for the area to develop new operators who are pushing the limits, making money and stealing business before the stalwarts will change their ways. That's called competition.

Until then, meaning until new operators jump in the game delivering product superior to that of their competition, nothing will really change because it doesn't have to.

I'll go along with your rationale that criticism is done best by those with the most experience. If we look at "the best" they all have standards. And while those standards may have similarities, the differences between them tend to be large - except for the common trait of pursuing excellence. Not to say that most of "the best" coffee shops in America even do that: pursue excellence.




Jared Rutledge said:
i dunno, i'm thoroughly grateful for the things the SCAA has done for specialty coffee in america. sure, a lot of shops don't follow the standards set forth, but even a basic attempt to get things to a workable standard is fantastic in my opinion.

and i understand your point about starbucks being the global standard, jay. i think you're being realistic and i'm being idealistic. however, i recall reading in my aesthetics class an author (i think it was wilde) discussing how criticism is done best by those with the most experience in the field. thus, the baristas most capable of criticism are those with the most good experience in the field. i don't think a standard is arbitrary if upheld by the most experienced and flexible people in the business. what do you reckon?

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