I posted my previous post without having read the entire thread. Now that I have, coming back to root of the thread, in response to this:
AlexKilpatrick wrote:How hard can it be to communicate the basics of how to pull a good shot?
It's actually a lot harder than it seems. You picked it up "without much effort" because you wanted
to, because you have an interest specifically in coffee, because you're drinking it yourself. You're also spending your own money on those beans, and you own & maintain the equipment you're using; your only ROI is linked directly to your experience with these goods, and so of course you'll be a quick study. You're also a sharp guy, capable of negotiating a variety of fairly complex factors all at once, and you don't have to do it with a line 10-deep staring you down on their way to work.
I live in a place with virtually no top-quality coffee, and almost as little top-quality baristas. On the whole, as of today, I'd say the staff at the shop where I work is the best in town, which is not to say that there aren't skilled baristas elsewhere, but just that our entire staff ranges from pretty-good to very-good (I'm humble enough not to lump myself into the "excellent" category, having seen competitions. Also, we have a very small staff, so it's pretty easy for me to say these things.) A couple of us came in with experience, a couple were trained from square one by me (and I've trained folks in other cafes on other coasts as well), and we've had a fair amount of turnover the past couple years. Lemme tellya, if you don't drink coffee, if you don't particularly care about coffee, and if you don't have a cool head under pressure, you will definitely not pull decent shots with any regularity in a cafe setting. Even at Starbucks, where consistency & speed come even before quality, they probably turn down the heat or AC during closed hours. Therefore when they open up again, the temp & humidity in the room will have changed quite a bit, and if they want shots that morning that are the same as the night before, they'd have to adjust the grind (or blacken the beans beyond recognition). Starbucks notwithstanding, the vast majority of coffee shops, even halfway decent indies, probably don't afford that level of consideration. Top tier aside, any shop that doesn't also enforce strict usage of measuring glasses & timers is probably serving "off" shots most of the time (or, most busy times, anyway). Even at my place of employ, when I'm not around, the grind can end up way out of whack because so many shots get pulled straight into cups and there's just too much other stuff to be attentive to (milk, food, cleaning, speed). And let's face it -- even for the average "snobby" consumer, if there's a lotus on the surface, what's underneath will be given a lot of slack (to put it generously).
Pardon the rant; in retrospect I clearly take a bit of umbrage at your suggestion, with all due respect. After all, what are we doing here anyway, if not reveling in the pleasure of a thing to which there's so much more than meets the eye? This isn't "PBJ-geek" or "Home-Lemonadista", although I don't mean to discount the vast expanse of notes between a hand-squeezed San Diego-grown Bonnie Brae/Turbinado with large cubes versus a metal-lever-squeezed New Zealand Meyer / Panella with shaved ice.
Disclaimer: This is not a defense of Starbucks. This is in general recognition of the work of skilled baristas.