How to talk to a barista? - Page 2

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.
chipman

#11: Post by chipman »

Pprior wrote:I think in general enthusiasts know more about things than most "professionals ". I've found this to be true in car communities vs dealers, audiophiles, woodworking, on and on
Correction.....Think they do.

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luca
Team HB

#12: Post by luca »

I think that the #1 thing is to be nice. Before saying or doing anything, ask yourself "am I being a pain in the ass?" If they have a line of customers and a bunch of tickets in front of them that they are struggling to churn through, don't speak to them. You can make eye contact, smile, nod, but basically they probably have a million things they're worrying about; don't add another.

Don't ever offer an opinion unless (a) they ask for it or (b) it's positive. You might think their coffee would be better one way than another, but for all you know, they have tried the other way and their customers hated it. If they ask you for your opinion, then it's OK to say that you don't like some particular aspect.

Your barista might be anything on the spectrum from a grizzled 25 year industry veteran that has worked every job in coffee and has an encyclopaedic memory of every harvest that the farm you are being served has ever had, to a kid that doesn't drink coffee and is just pressing the automatic grind and automatic dose buttons that he's told. If you can work out where they sit on that spectrum, you can pitch a question at their level. If you're not sure, and you still want to ask a question, maybe ask something open ended. "Could you let me know how you made this espresso; I've bought a bag of it so I'd like to know how to brew it at home like you do." And then if they give you an intelligent response, you can ask more questions. If they give you a stupid response, just move on. Regardless, leave them with the warm impression that they're doing a good job. Be kind.

There's a quote that I like that's attributed to a bunch of different people - "Never argue with an unreasonable person; they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." It's not really applicable here, but, basically, meet them at their level and don't expect the world from them. They're probably hard working people who are just trying to honestly get by; there are probably plenty of honestly nice things that you can say that will leave them feeling a bit more fulfilled, or at least not hating their jobs because of whatever you have to say, so pick one and weave it in somewhere!
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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luca
Team HB

#13: Post by luca »

chipman wrote:Correction.....Think they do.
I don't think it's useful to make generalisations with this. Some professionals will know less than some enthusiasts. Some will know more. And, yes, some of both will think they know more and be wrong.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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drgary
Team HB

#14: Post by drgary »

I went to a known shop in Portland a couple months ago. I was asked how I liked the shot. I gave basic feedback, something to the effect that it seemed slightly overextracted. He listened and there was no further conversation until I came back after using the restroom and said the aftertaste that was like island rum. He said, "please come back." My point is that a conversation started and a relationship can develop there, where they take some pride in their coffee and care that I am actually tasting it. If I went back often, and I'm not there that often, I might ask questions later if a relationship develops. And I wouldn't say much if they're busy.

Today, same company, different shop. My wife and I were the only ones masked, and we're neither young nor hip looking. They were somewhat busy and the pretty young lady barista was flirting with young guys. We approached and she excused herself to do other tasks. The guy pulling shots asked what we wanted and took our order. I said I'm a coffee nerd and asked what they were using in their iced coffee (it was in the low 90's outside). He named their morning blend and gave no taste descriptors. He hadn't taken me up on responding with any interest to my question. I let it drop from there. A relationship needs interest from both people. The iced coffee tasted like smokey tobacco, very caramel forward, no top notes. It met the need for something cool to drink outside.
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

BogongTiger

#15: Post by BogongTiger »

If it's a stranger behind the machine, I'd generally suggest making normal conversation before giving them an oral exam on coffee making. Depending on the person, it may take a few visits to break the ice sufficiently for them to freely offer their expertise (or they might be happy to talk to you about coffee from the outset).

In the meantime, you'll have the opportunity to work out the level of their expertise - whether they're a qualified and experienced barista or whether they are just pulling shots that someone else has dialed in.

Most people have had the experience of being asked what they do (eg in a social situation) only to be told at length what is wrong with their trade or profession (thinking teachers, public servants, health workers etc).

GDM528 (original poster)

#16: Post by GDM528 (original poster) »

luca wrote:"Could you let me know how you made this espresso; I've bought a bag of it so I'd like to know how to brew it at home like you do." And then if they give you an intelligent response, you can ask more questions. If they give you a stupid response, just move on. Regardless, leave them with the warm impression that they're doing a good job. Be kind.
Lol - you nailed it! I was holding a just-purchased bag of the roasted coffee they were about to brew when I asked my question. What I did not do however, is verbalize my motivation for asking my question. That would have assuaged any concerns for how I'd react to their answer. I'll try that next time. It was a friendly exchange, so I still have a second chance.

Despite the minimal data exchange, this was one of my better 'benchmarking' runs. Their 2-ounce serving was too 'bright' for my sensibilities, and that carried into the shots I tried on my home machine. I like what I've been home-roasting better, which is good news. Although now I gotta figure out how to tamp down the acidity of the bag I bought: raise temp? lower ratio? finer grind?

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Jeff
Team HB

#17: Post by Jeff »

GDM528 wrote:I gotta figure out how to tamp down the acidity of the bag I bought: raise temp? lower ratio? finer grind?
Probably worth a thread on its own!

I'd include which burrs you have and what water you're using.

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drgary
Team HB

#18: Post by drgary »

GDM528 wrote:I gotta figure out how to tamp down the acidity of the bag I bought: raise temp? lower ratio? finer grind?
Here's a start that'll probably get you there.

Espresso 101: How to Adjust Dose and Grind Setting by Taste
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

GDM528 (original poster)

#19: Post by GDM528 (original poster) »

Open container laws - that's the problem.

When I order a cocktail at a bar, they don't ask me if I want that 'to go'. I gotta stay there until I finish my drink, which means they're stuck with me and whatever Q&A I want to engage in. Most of the bars in my town have exactly that - a long counter behind which the bartender stands and interacts with the customers. If you're into craft cocktails you can learn a lot by hanging out at the bar - purely for research ;)

On the other hand, I can proudly walk around in public with a psychoactive drug that's toxic to pets - yay! Many cafes have adapted to this by focusing more on throughput and less on customer interaction. There are exceptions, so the thrill is in the hunt.

Pprior

#20: Post by Pprior »

I don't know how many times I've had to educate car salesman at high-end dealers on model configurations ("we can't order that" - oh yes you can and here's how...) or upcoming changes that they are not aware of. High end audio forums same thing. People that take the time to educate themselves and surround themselves with others of similar niche interests tend to be very well educated about what's in the marketplace.

There are limits obviously- trying to outlearn your neurosurgeon on the interwebs probably not going to work but I guarantee many people here already know more about coffee than the average barista.

The key is finding the experienced and motivated professional that has both experience and passion. Those are the ones that you want to sit and listen to, but unfortunately they are not easily found.