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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I'm obsessed with roasting and preparing coffee properly and to the best of my ability.  I enjoy teaching our customers about the intricate world of coffee.  I also wonder when the whole coffee nazi fad will die...  

I was reading a certain coffee blog and not only does the author agree with the barista's sentiment, but he does a fantastic job of explaining it so that the average person would understand.

 

To fully appreciate coffee you have to consider it a very time sensitive food, not something that you keep in your emergency kit because it will last forever. Coffee beans are like apples. Once you slice them they have a very limited shelf life before browning and turning to mush. Coffee beans should not be ground unless they are going to be immediately brewed...


The Author? The OP, Greg Aliff

Good ground coffee still tastes better than bad ground coffee. 

Bryan-

Are you still using that grocery store brand coffee in your shop?

Poor thing.

That's an amazing find, and actually, one of the better examples I've heard.  I imagine I'll probably use that reference tomorrow...

-bry

John P said:

I was reading a certain coffee blog and not only does the author agree with the barista's sentiment, but he does a fantastic job of explaining it so that the average person would understand.

 

To fully appreciate coffee you have to consider it a very time sensitive food, not something that you keep in your emergency kit because it will last forever. Coffee beans are like apples. Once you slice them they have a very limited shelf life before browning and turning to mush. Coffee beans should not be ground unless they are going to be immediately brewed...


The Author? The OP, Greg Aliff

True.  

Also true: microwaved good coffee tastes better than microwaved bad coffee.  

However, you wouldn't bring that fresh brewed pour over back up to 212 degrees of radiation goodness just because a customer has a thermos, a long haul and request for it to stay hotter longer, would you?  Someone in some shop out there would, but you probably wouldn't because your opinion is that coffee brought up to a rolling boil in a microwave is pretty damn nasty.  So when the customer asked for his/her coffee brought up to a roaring boil what would you reply?  Probably something along the lines of, "That's just not something that we like to do here, it really compromises the quality and taste of the coffee."  

The shop in question didn't do anything different, they just draw their line in a different place.

-bry

Dennis McQuoid said:

Good ground coffee still tastes better than bad ground coffee. 

Anyone try giving half off on the bag of coffee, if the customer buys (at least) a blade grinder? Seems like a win-win. Am I wrong?

Couldn't agree more

Brady said:

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?

Haha. I thought that sounded well written ;). 

Of course I don't think they should be ore ground!  The post was more about how I thought the situation was handled poorly and whether or not this happens all of the time. Also as I stated before I wondered if I should have spoken up for my friend when it happened. 

Bryan Wray said:

That's an amazing find, and actually, one of the better examples I've heard.  I imagine I'll probably use that reference tomorrow...

-bry

John P said:

I was reading a certain coffee blog and not only does the author agree with the barista's sentiment, but he does a fantastic job of explaining it so that the average person would understand.

 

To fully appreciate coffee you have to consider it a very time sensitive food, not something that you keep in your emergency kit because it will last forever. Coffee beans are like apples. Once you slice them they have a very limited shelf life before browning and turning to mush. Coffee beans should not be ground unless they are going to be immediately brewed...


The Author? The OP, Greg Aliff

Greg,

trust your instincts. (yes, it is a well written explanation!)

You can always get your friend a good hand mill for their birthday.

Let me start by saying that there's often a very fine line between educating the customer and just being condescending - none of us (except Greg) were actually there, so the subtleties of body language, tone of voice, etc. are lost on us.  I'm not writing to judge the barista in the original question, just the broader issue in general.

I think it's safe to assume almost anyone on this site understands the arguments against pre-ground coffee and I don't need to re-state them, so let me just play devil's advocate for the other side here:

I think it's a very useful and important thing for baristas to educate their customers, but I also think it's wise for us to choose the right time and the right approach carefully.  I know plenty of people who feel like they've been insulted when trying to buy coffee and have essentially sworn off specialty coffee.  These people would've enjoyed better coffee (that's why they tried a fancy shop in the first place) but had such a bad experience that they gave up. Most of us wouldn't frequent restaurants, bars, grocery stores, or really almost any businesses that is rude to us.  Why should we expect coffee shops to be any different?

Specialty coffee already has a bad reputation for snobbery and bad attitude, so with a lot of potential new customers, we only get once chance.  If we make them feel stupid, that's it.  They're done.  Now instead of a customer who enjoys quality coffee brewed in a less-than-perfect way (one who will probably begin to appreciate the subtleties over time and eventually will see the need for fresher beans and quality grinding,) now instead we've got a die-hard folgers fan bad-mouthing specialty coffee cause of their bad experience.  Doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

If a barista's approach to educating the customer is friendly, helpful, and sensitive to what the customer wants and needs at that time, I think everyone can win.  In Greg's example I personally think the barista made a mistake by making an issue of it when the customer was with friends.  In my experience, people are much more likely to feel attacked, get defensive, and shut-down if they feel insulted in front of a group of people.  If you had the same conversation alone with a single customer, that person might be proud of their new knowledge, feel empowered, and go back to educate their friends.  When you tell someone in a group that they don't know what they're doing, you make them feel like an idiot instead of a student.

I don't think there's anything wrong with taking 'baby steps' into the world of specialty coffee.  Tasting it in a shop is usually the first step, and for many people the second step (before investing in lots of new, expensive equipment they probably don't have room for in their kitchen) is buying pre-ground coffee.  I say give the customer a chance to enjoy that second step before forcing them into the costs of the next several steps.  If we make it an all or nothing proposition, some people who might have eventually made it to "all" will instead choose "nothing" from now on.

As usual, sorry for my overly lengthy rants...

As for blade grinders, after extensive experimentation we decided at my old shop that the fine powders and resulting inconsistent extraction from blade grinders was far worse than the lost freshness of pre-ground coffee.  Assuming you have good quality burrs and fresh roasted coffee (de-gassing buys you a little time on freshness,) we found you could get around a week out of pre-grinding before it got worse than the nastiness of poorly ground (and thus poorly brewed) coffee.  I know I'm going against 99% of you on this one, but I think pre-ground is better than blade grinding, as long as you don't keep it TOO long that way.

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