Monday, March 20, 2006

General rant about quality and apathy

"To have good espresso you must become serious about good espresso." - coffeeDirtDog(Jaime Vanschyndel)

If you have ever read my posts on, you may recognize the quotation above. I put this quotation in my signature for a specific reason.

Why would anyone even consider the possibility that their espresso is good without having done significant amounts of research, practice, and trial & error?

It makes about as much sense as trying to start a fire by rubbing two random green sticks together, or thinking you could handle the challenge of quantum physics without ever having taken even a highschool physics course. It's just not smart.

In any trade, a practitioner of that trade is expected to know his/her craft extremely well before going into business, or the business will obviously fail. Why is it that so many people venture into the specialty coffee industry as though just any Joe Schmoe off the street is perfectly capable of being trained within a week (let alone a couple of days) to pull decent (let alone good, or great) shots of espresso and froth milk (let's forget about the art of microfrothing and the skill of latte art) to be, at best, palatable?

I know the reason.. Financial capital is the heart and soul of any profitable business.. yes.. but it should never be the only reason (let's forget about the sole reason) for its existence. When the focus is strictly financial, all concern for quality is lost because the mentality is in mode for pinching pennies and holding back as much money as possible while maintaining "open" status.

In my opinion, these people miss the point entirely.

There is a popular saying in the industry that says, "People are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product." (I apoligize, but I have no idea who to credit for this quotation/concept)

Absolutely! And what's more, the quality shops are usually LESS expensive than the mediocre shops! "How is this possible?", you may ask. It's simple. When quality is the focus, and the business is in place to serve the best possible product to its customers, the customer base grows. Word of mouth gets around, and before you know it, people everywhere know just where to go for the best cup of coffee in their neighborhood. More customers equals more sold product, which means the average price for that product is decreased due to the volume of sales bringing in enough income to easily maintain "open" status, and much more beyond that. Striving to be the best one could possibly be (and perhaps, even beyond what they believe they are capable of) in the industry will only skyrocket the status and popularity of the business.

There are more than enough examples around to prove this point, so I won't bother naming names, but it's not hard to see if you happen to be in the Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, D.C., Charlotte, etc.. etc.. etc.. area. Great coffee is abundant.. but unfortunately, it's far from the norm.

I simply don't understand how some business owners can be content (let alone in good conscience) serving their customers a sub-par (let's not mention flat-out horrible) product again and again, day after day, week after week, year after year. The customers keep coming back only out of either: A. convenience, B. lack of a better option, or C. Ignorance. (none of these is a good reason, quite frankly).

These business owners are the ones who are convinced that their customers cannot tell the difference in the little nuances between an average espresso and a truly great espresso. If you ask me, that's a nearly direct insult to the customers that keep the business afloat! Thatt's absolutely absurd!

Do I sound angry? Yes, I sound angry. And why shouldn't I be? Why shouldn't every coffee house patron all over the country be angry? They're all paying top dollar for a "specialty product" that is expected to be the best they can possibly get. 9 times out of 10, it's FAR from the best possible on the machinery at hand (let alone the best possible given the financial capital in posession).

Seek out good espresso. Even if you can make great espresso (the best you've ever had) in your own home, and you have a quality shop with high standards in your area, support that shop. Visit it often and help keep it alive. In some places, Starbucks honestly is the best shop. I hate to say it, but it's true.

In ANY shop, if the person behind the counter (or if you're lucky, the barista) truly cares about what they are serving , then, chances are, even if it's not the best, it's at the very least drinkable, and maybe just a step above that, truly enjoyable. Drinking a great shot of espresso for the first time is an inspiring experience. Most people in that situation had no clue that coffee was capable of such complexity of flavors and such enjoyment.

Some people will never change, but we can help broaden the minds of future shop owners and young to-be baristas. People should love what they do with great passion.

This rant is over, but on that note, I'll leave you with this.

In the words of Chris Deferio, "May your coffee be deep."


Kevin said...

Nice post but here's something I wish to add. Sometimes the barista or even the PBTC is handcuffed my management that insists on doing things a certain way and will not budge from their views. I'm not talking about huge chains but rather independent shops where they think saving milk for re-steaminmg is good business practice and putting old coffe in the fridge qualifies it as "iced" coffee. The barista's hands are tied when the owner literally looks over your shoulder and insists that "it's my shop and my rules". They thing because they grind espresso for each shot that makes everything ok but meanwhile they grind their drip coffee ahead of time and let it sit in the brewer for hours before actually brewing it. Sometimes they let it sit overnight and use it the next morning! The barista in these shops can't always afford to just leave and find another job and so we are stuck doing things we KNOW are not right and couinting the days until we can have a place of our own.

Kevin - A lonely barista in North Carolina

Jason Haeger said...
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