As a barista in Brooklyn, I deal with all breeds of customers: the genuinely inquisitive, the indecisive, the stubborn. Then there are others — the worst — and they’re much easier to spot. They always begin with a question: “What’s the roast date of your beans?”
It’s an innocent enough question. Nobody wants to drink crusty espresso, but no self-respecting café (or hands-on roaster) would even allow those dusty beans into a grinder. So the question seems important, and it is, but for a different reason: It’s the type of question that reveals a customer as one who might self-identify at dinner parties, proudly, as a “coffee snob.” The type of customer who will then loudly ask at least one of the following questions:
“You’re using a blend? What are the different regions in there?”
“I like a brighter-tasting espresso. How would you describe yours?”
“Are you dialed in to your machine? When was it last serviced?”
“I was in France, and they pull their shots for about 65 seconds, and then dip a croissant in it. Kind of like a cookie in milk. Can you do that for me? Do you have twice-baked croissants?”
“I want my espresso iced, but can you pull the shot into a centimeter of water, just to save the espresso from souring? Also, do you have almond milk?”
For these customers, going to a café is about testing baristas’ ability to bullshit rather than about enjoying a cup of coffee. And that’s expected. We baristas, especially those of us with four-year degrees in things like philosophy, created this snobbery in an attempt to artificially elevate our profession beyond just pushing buttons and drawing Rosettas. I’m fine with entertaining the questions at a cupping, or when we’re slow, but not on a Sunday morning when there’s a dozen poor folks just trying to buy a takeaway drip coffee.
So, if you’re after an espresso, or are particularly fussy about your coffee, here’s what to do. Ask the roast date, sure. Ask how many shots come in your drink. Ask what kind of milk we have. Ask about decaf. Ask to see cup sizes. Be specific. Don’t expect me to read your mind. If I get your drink wrong, be nice about it. I’ll make you a new one. We all make mistakes.
Just don’t come in asking if our espresso’s flavor profile is baggy, or if it finishes well, or if it has notes of Concord grapes. If you want to taste a grape, go eat a fucking grape. Just order your drink, and be happy. If you’re happy, then I’m happy. Especially if you tip me a dollar or more. Then we can discuss what kind of dung was used in the fertilizer way over in Africa, and how that translates into a nutty flavor. Really, I’ll talk about anything for a dollar. Any barista will.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 30, 2012