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?




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That's an interesting test.  I've never thought of things in that way.  I often suggest the blade grinder as a cheap starting point.  I used one in my office for years knowing it wasn't great but better than the sludge we have in the break room.  It seem that anytime you look at taking a cheap(er) short cut vs. just having something done the right way there always ends up being a gap larger than the money saved (if that makes sense)...

Of course grinding fresh is better than bulk grinding.  But maybe grinding correctly IS better than poorly fresh ground coffee.  This is something I will definitely have to test out on my own. 

Eric Schaefer said:

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.

Excellent post Eric. Each person is on a different stage of their coffee Journey and some never seek to reach Nirvanna. Many don't know the flavor possiblilities coffee has to offer yet some want ot learn over time. Definitely baby steps are usually the best approach.

While my heart sinks when a customer asks to grind their bag-o-beans I do it anyway. Usually with a brief discussion of how oxidation and staling accellerates exponentially because of the vastly increased surface area of the coffee after grinding. My advice is to get it home and in the freezer (not refrigerator) as soon as possible if not to be used immediately. Yeah, I said freeze it. Then to measure/weigh out for each brewing and immediately getting it back in the freezer before even starting brewing. Ideally vac sealing if they have the requisite appliance in their kitchen.

Eric Schaefer said:

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...

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