What would you have done? Barista wouldn't grind bag of coffee.

I was at a coffee shop last night with a few friends.  One friend who likes coffee but doesn't have a home grinder asked them to grind a 12oz bag of coffee for him.  The barista said that they prefer not to do that because it causes the coffee to lose its freshness, blah blah blah... So my friend, feeling stupid, puts the bag down and doesn't buy it. 

This wasn't an intelli or anthing big.  Just a bookstore coffee shop that serves counter culture and has a little training background. 

I was pretty pissed off by it but didn't say anything to the barista. 

What would you have done?

Thanks,

Greg

www.nextlevelcoffee.com

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If I really wanted the coffee, I would have expressed that I know it loses freshness but that is my only option for home-brewing without investing in a grinder.  Or just said thanks for not letting me give you money.

Despite their lackluster location, as long as the barista was polite, showed him grinder options and explained why this is their policy, then the barista should be commended.

 

You can judge the shop by their quality of product and standards, but you can't judge them by their location. Throwing in that it's "just a bookstore coffee shop" sounds like pure venting. There are many large, well-heeled shops that maintain poorer standards.

Some shops don't grind for two reasons, 1) Quality 2) No bulk grinders. For many shops, grinding would not be an option.

 

There are plenty of places that don't care about what they sell, only that they sell it.

Schomer doesn't grind. He's doing just fine.

If you had come to Spro, asked for whole bean coffee and then asked us to grind it for you, our response would be:

"How do you brew at home?"

Which would then lead us towards the grind setting we think is appropriate for that method of brewing.

And your friend would have his coffee, and you wouldn't be pissed.

+1 on everything here.

"This wasn't an intelli or anthing big.  Just a bookstore coffee shop that serves counter culture and has a little training background."

Really?!

What would I do? I'd tell your friend to buy a grinder. If you "like coffee" and brew at home, you should have a grinder. Do you disagree?

John P said:

Despite their lackluster location, as long as the barista was polite, showed him grinder options and explained why this is their policy, then the barista should be commended.

 

You can judge the shop by their quality of product and standards, but you can't judge them by their location. Throwing in that it's "just a bookstore coffee shop" sounds like pure venting. There are many large, well-heeled shops that maintain poorer standards.

Some shops don't grind for two reasons, 1) Quality 2) No bulk grinders. For many shops, grinding would not be an option.

 

There are plenty of places that don't care about what they sell, only that they sell it.

Schomer doesn't grind. He's doing just fine.

I think that the hardline of "buy a grinder" is a bit myopic.

Sure, it might be nothing for the coffee professional to purchase a grinder for home and grind fresh each time while weighing out the coffee and ensuring perfect water temperature.

But for most people, that's a bit more than they're willing to commit.  What they want is to have nice coffee at home that's relatively easy to make.  For a number of people, scooping ground coffee into their basket filters is the commitment they're willing to make.

And let's be honest, regardless of what you may feel about pre-ground coffee, that same pre-ground coffee that's been sitting on their counter for the past week is still head and shoulders above anything that they can buy in a grocery store.

Hell, the aforementioned Counter Culture Coffee makes a damn good percentage of their revenue selling their coffee IN grocery stores - with the grocery store staff grinding the coffee for their customers!

If we're going to bitch and moan about "buying from your local independent coffee shop" then what is with all of the rules and hoops to jump through to buy our great coffee?  If we want to "spread the word" then we need to get that great coffee into the brewers of as many people as possible.  Let them taste the difference.  And even that week old, pre-ground coffee that they bought from you will be better than coffee from the grocery store.

Especially considering I've seen Counter Culture at a local grocery store that was four months old...

Let me clarify a couple of things from my rather quickly-composed post last night, and ask a couple of questions.

You said: "The barista said that they prefer not to do that because it causes the coffee to lose its freshness, blah blah blah..."

I think that's spot on. If we know anything about coffee, and care anything about coffee, we (as baristas) should prefer to sell coffee whole bean over preground. Regardless of a quality preground's relative superiority vs grocery store stuff (which is a pretty low bar, btw) it is reasonable to prefer to sell it whole-bean. It will be more flavorful for longer, and a better value for the customer.

A question for Greg: did they refuse to grind it, or just say that they preferred not to? If the latter, then it sounds like a customer-ed conversation. Many customers still don't realize the benefits of home grinding, so this is a conversation worth having... especially with ones that do like coffee. I'll say this though, if you and your friend left angry, the conversation probably wasn't handled properly.

The jab about the shop in question not being "an Intelli or anything big" was inappropriate. That little bookstore coffeeshop is someone's business, and from the sound of it someone that actually cares about what they serve. This conversation can occur without belittling anyone.

So, what would I have done? If I were behind the bar, I would have followed store policy. Without knowing store policy, I'd probably have asked if they had a grinder. If they'd have said no, I'd suggest that they consider it, since it does give them a better cup. But I'd tread lightly - I'd rather sell coffee. And I would have ground it and sold it with a smile.

If I were on Greg's side of the counter, I would have talked with my friend later (after everyone calmed down)... and explained the benefits of home grinding. Unless said friend is totally unable to afford a grinder, of course. That said - brewing coffee at home is an activity that requires an investment in equipment. That's what I was trying to say in my previous post.

Look, I do sometimes use preground too, usually when travelling. I know well that the coffee will stay surprisingly good for longer than conventional wisdom suggests. I also know that grinding at home isn't something everyone is going to do. I guess I just read that interaction differently. If your friend is not going to grind at home, they ought to consider buying in smaller quantity.

Intelli offers grinding options for all of their coffees on their website. To refuse to grind misses the point that we are here to serve the customer and make them happy. Nothing wrong with mentioning that a good grinder is the easiest way to improve the quality of their coffee at home. But you certainly shouldn't hammer a customer about it.

If it were me, (not a barista yet) I would have politely explained the benefits of grinding and using the grounds asap. Then offer to grind enough for a few days perhaps, and they can bring some more and have some more ground up. From a customer standpoint, I would be happier with that approach, and from a Barista standpoint it would get the customer back in more often with a higher chance of purchasing more when he comes back.

Just a thought...

I reread my initial post and it did seem a little like an angry rant. Sorry about that.

To clarify about the "bookstore coffee shop" comment. I meant that I would have expected that response if I were say in intelli Venice ( although Intelli along with many roasters offer ground coffee on their site). I did not expect it from this casual of a setting in the middle of suburbia.

They didn't flat out refuse to do it but they made it pretty clear they did not want to. There was a short staring contest after they said they prefer not to then my friend put the bag back on the shelf. Hard to believe they would lose a sale with a 50% mark-up over this.

Would have been a great Segway into talking about how he makes coffee and ask him to try to see if he can notice a difference in the taste week to week with it preground giving him a reason to return and report on it creating a repeat customer and maybe even sell a grinder.

The reason for my post was mainly wondering if I should have spoken up. I told the guy after that the response he got was wrong but I know they made him feel a bit like an idiot for even asking.

Thanks for the clarifications, Greg.

Sounds like poor customer service, for sure, and a missed opportunity.

No, you shouldn't have spoken up at the time. The reason your friend didn't buy the coffee was that he was made to feel like an idiot and didn't want to give the store his money, wasn't it? No amount of you jumping in will change that.

So, when you told your friend that the response he got was wrong, did you have any sort of conversation to help him understand what the response was about? Does he understand how crazy it is to drop so much money on a top-quality coffee that he isn't going to see the benefit of? Does he get that for the price of two bags of that coffee, he can pick up a grinder and get so much more from his future coffee purchases?

I operate a coffee shop where we roast in shop. I spend quite a bit of time training staff as well as customers to optimal conditions for great coffee. While the methods we use for roasting and brewing are not flexible in shop and consistantly the same across all of my barista's, we certainly don't force a CUSTOMER to do it the way we do. We do take the opportunity to ask questions and educate when the opportunity presents itself. I know our reputation as a shop that really understands coffee has increased our following and it has been great for business. However I, nor my staff would ever go beyond explaining benefits of doing things the way we do. In the end if the customer wants coffee ground we happily comply. Everyone has different reasons for doing things in different ways, as long as we help explain optimal conditions I feel comfortable leaving it at that, and customers don't walk away with a negetive experience and maybe even hesitate to come visit again and possibly learn more. This is just how we choose to operate. Hope this helps.

 

Nick

I'll explain to a customer that the aroma they get off of coffee when it's fresh ground is actually nothing more than proof that what they smell won't end up in their coffee.  Once you can smell it, it's airborne never to return again.

When a customer says, "Could you grind this for me" my automatic response is "I can, but I would rather not.  If you want your coffee at home to taste anything close to what you get here then you need to be grinding per use, even if it's just a blade grinder."

We really try not to grind for anyone for any reason.  If a customer insists then while the coffee is grinding I'll suggest buying one of the grinders for the next time.  If a customer wants their coffee ground "for espresso" I just say no, no amount of begging will change that one for me.

I also tell customers that if they will let me hold onto the coffee for them while they go out and buy a quality burr grinder I'll give them the bag for free when they show me the grinder/receipt.  I tell them it's their reward for graduating from coffee kindergarten.

Buying a high end bag of coffee and then asking for it ground is akin to buying a high end wine and asking for it uncorked for you.  If  you know enough to buy coffee that isn't already ground while it's sitting on the shelf then you should know enough to buy a damn grinder.  It ain't hard and I commend that barista for sticking to his stores' policies.  Not every shop tries to be everything for everybody and there's nothing wrong with being a business that chooses their battles.

... and Jay, we all know that you and CC don't like each other anymore.  You can stop whining any month now.

-bry

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