Ashvegas reader: There’s still a big gap in customers’ understanding of complexity of coffee they drink

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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coffee_bleakney_2013Here’s a thoughtful commentary from loyal reader Jay at High Five Coffee Bar, in response to a recent post about snobby baristas:

I must say it’s great to see some good debate about service and coffee, two subjects I feel quite strongly about. I think there are some good points here about the service industry. Without picking out any businesses in particular, I would like to see the service industry in general take a notch up in professionalism. Asheville has a strong and vibrant service industry and I believe we have some of the best and some of the worst servers/baristas you will ever come across. That may very well be a bi-product of having so many people in the service industry and some people are just not very good at service. Nonetheless, I would like to see more businesses take responsibility and ownership of how their staff interacts and presents their product. Whether by way of giving them a decent wage, taking time to communicate effectively about the jobs they are doing, or both, I see a dual responsibility of the business and employee in order to create the proper service experience.

Now to the coffee. I agree with Jared from Waking Life that we in the coffee industry are in an interesting time. The demand for better coffee grows. But even more, it is our job as professionals in this vastly expanding industry to help make this product we and you are so passionate about all the more accessible. I see this less as an uncompromising attitude and more that we as baristas are suppose to lead you the customer into the world of better coffee. As a friend of Jared’s and fellow industry professional I feel I can respectfully challenge the finer points of what we both have committed our lives to.

I believe that baristas have an incredibly challenging job. We sometimes have customers who see a young “hipster” with tattoos and expect him or her to automatically be rude or talk over their head about coffee. We have lost before we ever got a chance. Unfortunately, this scenario, as even mentioned in some above posts, keeps people from even walking through the door. And though it is not a baristas job to just take it on the chin with a fake smile if someone at the counter is rude, it is our job to be genuinely nice and make customers feel welcome. This is certainly one the gripes I have about some of the entitled baristas I have come across in my long stretch in the industry. However, it is important not to paint that brush on all baristas/coffee shops that are independent and serve excellent coffee.

The coffee part is another can of worms. I take the responsibility of brewing the coffee to its near perfection. Whether that coffee be a single origin microlot brewed through a pour over cone, or be it a blend of coffees by way of the espresso machine mixed with velvety hot milk, it is our job to create a veritable work of art in a cup. It is also our job to suggest that you might not want to put cream in that ‘Natural Sundried Ethiopian’ because it not that it’s “just not what you do”, but that cream can make it taste almost sour. But, it is your coffee now. If you like cream in your coffee, I want to help you choose coffee that is good with cream, not scoff at you for putting cream in coffee that I made specifically for you. Here is where the specialty coffee industry has much work to do.

We are not only in a developing industry with more complex combinations of coffee growing and production. There is still a large gap in most consumers understanding how vast and complex the coffee they drink everyday is. But I think this point is even more important in the case of companies like Starbucks who continue to fool the customer into believing they are getting quality coffee when what they truly sell is mediocre, at best, consistency. So be it if that is what you seek. The main issue I have with this scenario is that they are charging basically the same price as we, independent shops, are. Furthermore, the coffee you buy, just like the food and clothes and every other good you put your money into, is part of a chain. Those coffee shops that Jared and I represent spend more time and money to purchase and serve coffee that has integrity throughout its chain of production. That fact alone is an important one. Our job is to make the experience of that coffee a great one. If we fail to do that by way of being rude or by ruining that great coffee by not properly training our baristas, shame on us. If you fail to support ‘third wave’ coffee shops because of your experience with one or two bad ones, or because Starbucks gives you the same mediocre coffee every time….. no shaming here, just give us another try! 🙂 (jay from high five coffee)

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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1 Comment

  1. burnsey September 26, 2013

    Nice summary. When the combination of a great product and a person who delivers it is as great, all is good.


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