The local coffee shop - Higher expectations, greater disappointment

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

#1: Post by idrinkjetfuel »

Although this may appear to be a rant, it's just more a level of surprise, frustration and disappointment, an acute awareness, in what may be trending in the local coffee shops.

My home espresso journey started about seven years ago. Prior to that, my coffee beverage purchases were limited to franchise shops such as 7-Eleven, Dunkin' Donuts and the like. After purchasing my own equipment, I had never ventured out to explore any local/third wave coffee shops as I was so focused on attempting to learn this craft and perhaps reach some form of espresso Zen in my own kitchen.

However, in the last few years I have visited some local coffee shops to both admire and inquire about their equipment, perhaps engage in some coffee chat and compare the level of quality and taste to what I was preparing at home. Yesterday afternoon, I sampled a nicely prepared macchiato at one such shop and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the skilled barista. In fact, there are several such shops locally that "do it right" which I have visited on numerous occasions and had a favorable experience.

Unfortunately, I have had just as many poor experiences. Several of my recent visits to other shops in the area, most miraculously scoring four or more stars on sites such as Yelp, have been downright scary, specifically for poor preparation methods and sanitary conditions. This includes, but is not limited to: not rinsing or even wiping out the portafilter basket once knocked, not wiping off the group head, not purging the group, not purging or wiping the steam wand after preparing milk drinks, not leveling in any way or distributing the grounds, using the same towel to clean the group, steam wand and the machine, adding new milk to previously steamed unused milk in the jug and leaving milk containers on the bar when refrigeration is just below the counter. One particular shop had a large bowl, yes bowl, of previously ground beans (ground when, who knows) and the "barista" then scooped an indiscriminate amount of overflowing grounds into the portafilter and then tamped with no apparent pressure.

My first instinct or thought has been to in some way politely confront the worker and perhaps attempt to school them on the most basic preparation methods and bar maintenance procedures. Perhaps ask them if they have ever had ANY formal training whatsoever for their position. However, I have yet to verbalize these thoughts, because who the heck am I to tell someone how to do their job, Also, I would never want to be rude or embarrass a worker, or myself for that matter. Instead, each time I have exited with my poorly executed and likely poorer tasting beverage and thought to myself, "Wow, they really have no clue what they are doing" or "That Linea PB deserves much better than that!" Just as I believe that a 4+ star restaurant should be able to prepare and serve a dinner entree equal or better than what I can make at home, I would expect that this would also hold true at an upscale brick & mortar coffee venue.

Okay, should I be so surprised and jaded here? Are my expectations way too high? Is untrained staff common in many coffee shops nationwide? Is the commercial coffee universe in some way just sub par to the home espresso microcosm? Should I check my home-barista ego at the door? All feedback is welcome and encouraged.

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#2: Post by Jeff »

No, yes, yes, depends on your perspective (they are there to make a profit, not stellar coffee), yes

Starbucks dumping the Lineas and Super Jollys both jump-started third-wave coffee and killed it for the general public. Made it because top-grade gear was effectively being given away for free, or nearly so. Killed it because the general expectations for coffee are now somewhere between the 7-Eleven, Dunkin' Donuts, Tim Horton's level and ranging up to Starbucks at the high end.

You can make money selling coffee in the US that is comparable to Starbucks in the cup. It is hard to make significantly more money by serving better coffee. It is probably easier to make more money by serving the same quality drinks but improving the atmosphere and experience of your cafe than it is to serve better coffee.

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#3: Post by ira »

I stopped going to one local shop after watching someone drop a tamper on the floor, pick it up and use it unwashed to tamp the next coffee. I think I told the manager, but I still don't go back.


#4: Post by freditoj »

drop a tamper on the floor
Reviews from customers include the following flavor profile:

burnt rubber, textured mouth feel


#5: Post by chipman »

"schooling the barista" What could go wrong? How do you feel when some some schmo comes and and unsolicited tells you how to do your job?

idrinkjetfuel (original poster)

#6: Post by idrinkjetfuel (original poster) replying to chipman »

Yes, exactly my point "because who the heck am I to tell someone how to do their job,"


#7: Post by Sideshow »

Um, just don't go there again? There's all kind of difference in this world. That's why you evaluate things when you go into a shop. It's like a restaurant. If it's good, go back. If not, don't. No need to overthink. No need to give unsolicited advice. If you know a better way, then good for you. You're not responsible for training cafe employees, who probably don't see this as a "hobby" as much as they do a job. If you meet cafe staff/owners who do things the right way and like to chat, wonderful. If not, then just move on.

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#8: Post by luca »

Their practices seem pretty bad, but so what? Just don't go back there. Coffee is a massive business economically and you have to expect that there will be a wide variety of quality and style on offer. And the hospitality industry, sadly, may be in a bit of a bubble, with more businesses around than there really should be.

If you want to say something, I guess what you could do is ask a question. "Is it sanitary to use the same towel for wiping out the basket and the steam wand?" But you're just on a loser. They're just going to think that you're a pain in the ass. If they cared, they'd know already. I suppose if they are supplied by a large roaster and that roaster offers training and their other accounts are good, maybe a productive thing to do would be to call the roaster and suggest that they might like to offer the cafe some free training. But, still, it's just meddling, and no one is going to thank you for it.

Instead of putting any time or effort into people doing a bad job in coffee, find people that are doing a good job and buy more stuff from them. Leave the others to go extinct, or thrive; whatever.

There's a wide variety of styles and quality tiers in coffee. Don't go telling people that they have to fit into one tiny slice of it. There probably isn't enough production of any one type or style to allow the world to switch over to the same, and since farms plant many different things as a way to hedge against disease and climate change, whatever you like, in some senses you are probably dependent on people liking stuff that you don't like to cross-subsidise the production of the stuff that you like. So maybe just be thankful that others seem to tolerate what you will not.

And let's say you go into some cafe and improve their processes and quality. There's just going to be some new guy that opens up next door two minutes down the track, regurgitates/copypastes the same assertions that every other "specialty coffee" business makes, but has no clue and does a terrible job. And, equally, there's always going to be some guy reading what you post who would look over what you're doing at home and think that you're doing it all wrong, too.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes

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#9: Post by PIXIllate »

I've spent my whole life being around people who don't see/hear/taste the way I do. It use to be frustrating when I was young but then I found a few others who had the same experience and realized it was me who is the odd one. Now I don't try to engage with people on those levels unless there is some hint they might be another "odd person".


#10: Post by BodieZoffa »

I won't waste time or money going into any shop again as I've never been to one that was worth a repeat visit. Why bother when I get exactly what I like/expect with home roasting/espresso?!? Not to mention that I know the cleanliness, water quality, etc. that goes into all I do. I get the support local type thing, but that only goes so far when you're just never satisfied with anything local does. Stick with what you do at home and save money in the process. Leave that for others that are less expecting/more tolerable.