Monday, July 14, 2008

Money Talks - sorry, *talks*?!

Money Talks, originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

I suppose this all depends on how snooty / particular / loving you are about your coffee. But it isn’t just about coffee, so please do read on.

So, a guy walks into a coffeeshop in Arlington. Over the water in the United States. The coffeeshop is apparently locally renowned for being Very Serious About Coffee. Just my kind of place, really, and everything that Starbuck’s isn’t. He wanders up to the bar, and orders a triple espresso. Poured over ice.

(Here, I have to explain that pouring espresso over ice destroys the crema, that brown greamy goo that sits on the surface. Inside the brown creamy goo are many, many, many of the flavour and smell elements of your little shot of caffeinated delight. Sorry.)

The barista apologises. Explains that it’s against their store policy to ice espresso. The guy fumes, and orders a triple espresso and a cup of ice separately. Pours one over the other. Gets warned that it will lead to a less-than-enjoyable drink. Becomes insulting. Isn’t thrown out, has another drink made for him (as he says, perfectly delicious) a bit later.

Then, he leaves a tip of one dollar with “FUCK YOU AND YOUR PRECIOUS COFFEE POLICY” scrawled on it.

Many interesting questions rear their heads here. One: who’s in the right? Unanswerable. Two: who’s in the wrong? Slightly more clear — the guy, for that insult. Third: does his dollar give him the right to demand anything from a coffeeshop that advises its customers that it doesn’t serve just anything?

I think it says a lot about the wider differences between the work ethic in his country and my country. Here, receiving a paycheck does not mean that you must put up with any shit thrown your way. Indeed, you may highlight important points about your products and policies to customers using your store, or tell off your boss (and, indeed, your customers) for saying something rude to you.

In the States, I get the impression, when you cash your paycheck you sign a lot of your rights away in a very real sense, and your customers (who, I might add, are also employees themselves and should remember their own workaday miseries when about to open their mouths to others) are practically to be treated as if they are on the same level as god. No space for human interplay in a 10-hour workday. No space for you. Or me. Just the wallet and the product.

I won’t harp on the injustices here, or on my distant admiration for the barista and coffeeshop concerned. I will just say this again, though: in their unashamed dedication to an excellent cup of coffee, they appear to be everything that Starbuck’s isn’t.

(Also, lookee here!)

Update: the coffeeshop owner has commented (in a, well... very fiery manner!) on the issue here.


prodigal said...

Isn't Italy the nation that gave us espresso in the first place? One must wonder why, if ice destroys the espresso experience, iced espresso is such a popular choice there...

You were half-right about who was in the wrong, since you didn't include the barista who committed total fail where customer service was concerned.

Anonymous said...

The barista committed "total fail" because he followed the rules set forth by his employer?

Dave-o-ramA said...

The barista apologises. Explains that it’s against their store policy to ice espresso because it will lead to a less than enjoyable coffee experience for him. The guy gets irate and insulting, and orders a triple espresso and a cup of ice separately.

Your timeline, at least as reported by the customer on his blog, is off.

The barista appologized and told the customer that the store's policy didn't include iced espresso, the customer got irritated, but remained civil and ordered the espresso and ice separately. However, at this point, no explanation has been given for the policy, and no attempt has been made by the barista to suggest an appropriate alternative.

Then when the customer is given his coffee by another barista, he is told in very condescending language that what he is doing is not okay, and THEN procedes to give an explanation that it will destroy the flavor. It is at this point that the customer becomes rude to the employees.

If they'd been upfront about their reasoning when he ordered, and recommended the suggestion that they provided for him the second time around, the whole mess would've been avoided. But they left him hanging when his order didn't match their policy with no subsequent explanation, and then lectured him after serving him. That's just bad customer service. They were rude and condescending when there was no call for it.

10 out of 10 for attention to the craft of brewing, but minus several million for customer service. It's not an isolated incident of snark from the baristas, either. See this exchange.

Anonymous said...

Most baristas in the US are rude SOBs who seem to think that the ability to pour a cup of coffee elevates them to the status of artist. Frankly, I'm not shocked by this at all.

The fact that the company that this place purchases their beans from has a PDF on their website talking about how WONDERFUL a properly made iced espresso is? That pretty well points out that not all coffee snob baristas are that well informed to begin with.

The PDF does point out that it isn't easy to make a proper iced maybe they just aren't good enough at their jobs?

In the end? This is still just a story about coffee. In the grand scheme of things, pretty unimportant. However, the fact that the baristas were the ones provoking the issue? I have less sympathy for them.

Justin Marney said...

btw here is a link to the PDF on Counter Culture's website (the gourmet coffee roasters that Murky gets their beans from) that explains that iced espresso is not inherently crap

giles said...

what next? people putting ice cubes in their fizzy pop? it wouldn't have happened in my day

jonathan said...

It strikes me that if the coffeehouse had put up a sign saying NO ICED ESPRESSO, BITCH they might have saved everyone the bother by establishing their position before any money changed hands.

NO SHIRTS, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE signs are ubiquitous at certain types of dining establishments in the US. You hardly ever see anyone being tossed out by the scruff of their necks.

Sven said...

Good Job! :)