Serve With Pride.

Author: Chris Posted: February 7, 2012

I’d love to start this post off in some clever way, leaving all of you thinking, that Chris is a clever bastard – but instead I’m just going to cut to the chase.

Serve your drinks with pride

Too many times I’ve walked into a cafe, ordered an espresso, and had the barista behind the bar completely re-calibrate.  I don’t want to watch you waste shot after shot and stress out let alone wait five to ten minutes for my espresso.  Then after all is said and done the espresso is served with one of the following disclaimers:

“It’s pulling a little tight.”

“It’s a little over extracted.”

“The weather is messing with my machine”

“Might be a little under, let me know I’ll remake it..”

“The espresso sucks today.”

“I can’t find my lucky unicorn tamper”

“I just got on bar.”

When you say things like that,  this is what goes through my head: “Why are you serving something you KNOW isn’t good!?”

I don’t care.  I’m sorry,  but I don’t.  I just want you to make my coffee with no disclaimers that way I have a fair chance of enjoying it.  Sure, we’ll chew the fat for a bit, but don’t tell me that the espresso you gave me is not as good as it could be.

Before we go on, let me be the first to admit I have done this myself.  Chances are you have too.   Now let’s all take a moment of silence to acknowledge our shame, and bid it good riddance.

Disclaimers are bad.

They tell the person receiving your beverage that something is wrong with it before they get it.  Even if there isn’t, they will perceive it as wrong because you planted that in there head.  You are the barista.  Take ownership and don’t blame it on something else.

Why so much hostility?

This is a bigger issue than appears to be.  It stems from lack of proper training, misunderstanding of extraction, and lack of confidence – more importantly though, it’s disrespectful to your customers; What you’re implying is that all day before I walked in and ordered an espresso, it wasn’t good enough. If it was, you’d have served it to me without fuss.

Let me paint this out for you.

Say your experience starts at 10/10.

You walk in the door, say hello, and order your coffee. Still 10.  You then see the barista start re dialling in the espresso. 9/10.  You then watch as he throws out shot after shot in an effort to redial the espresso (which should have been done in the morning). 8/10.  You wait. And wait. And wait for your espresso (which is meant to be fast, hence the name). 7/10.  Finally, he/she hands it to you, but that’s not it.  As you grab it, the barista adds a disclaimer, taking the onus off of them.. 6/10.  Sorry, but in the words of Murky, “that’s really, really, not okay.”

I don’t order a steak at a restaurant and have the chef come out and say, “Sorry, we over cooked that steak.. Let us know if you don’t like it and we’ll make it again.”

In an effort to make it perfect you’ve compromised the entire operation, making me awkward, wishing I’d just got drip.

My whole experience before I even tasted my shot is at best a 6/10.  Not only did I wait longer than was necessary, you also told me it might not be good.

Come on.

I would have been happier had you just pulled a shot and served it to me with a smile.  I’d say thanks. You’d be happy. I’d be happy.  We’d all win.

Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this, but it doesn’t just happen every once in awhile – it happens all the time.  And it frustrates the hell out of me.

Why do we do this?

Because espresso is seldom treated as what it is – another brew method.

There are variables that need to be (and can be) controlled, just as you would with any method.

Here are 4:

1. Dry dose weight - Amount of coffee in the portafilter. Without the proper tools, this will vary slightly every shot – it varies drastically barista to barista.

2. End weight of beverage – Unless you’re weighing every shot this is very difficult to eyeball and will be inconsistant shot to shot.

3. Time during extraction – How many seconds.  Just, use a timer.

4. Grind.

When you make a french press, you weigh the coffee.  You weigh the water.  You time it.  It’s the same, every time.  If you dialed it in properly – it should taste good, every time.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Here are 3 things that will help control those variables and give you more consistant results – resulting in more confidence behind the bar.

1. Volumetric: It’s consistent (and that’s what this is about). This allows you to program the amount of water you want to go through every shot, every time.

2. Dosing tools: Also consistent. (that’s what this is about, remember?).  More importantly, it provides consistency between barista to barista. I use Scotty Callaghans tools, they are expensive but they get the job done.

3. Brew Ratios: It makes no difference to me what ratio you use. Just make sure that whatever it is, you can replicate it.

Should you need some guidance, this is where I start.

1/1.75 coffee to water

18g dry

31g end weight

24-28 seconds

I know it’s been said many times before: Get your coffee the way you want it to taste.  Log those parameters.  Dial it in. Repeat.  I know most cafes don’t have a volumetric machine, but you can use time as your handle.  Time every shot. It’s so much better than not using anything.

If you apply these 3 things, your espresso will be consistent.  Any one  on shift will be able to walk on and pull a shot of the same quality.

Dialling in without Volumetric.

Set your dose weight with a dosing tool.  If you don’t have one, use something like a butter knife or the top of your grinder cap, etc. Just keep trying items till you get the weight you want.

Place scale on drip tray, start the shot (and timer) and stop it at desired weight.

You now know what time to stop it at.  Of course in a busy cafe, you can’t weigh every shot – but every once in awhile weigh it to see where you are at.

Over all, this will boost your confidence behind the bar, knowing that everything is controlled as much as it can be.  It will in turn let you be more confident serving a great espresso to everyone who walks in the door – without a disclaimer ;)

Authors Note:  I do not mean to sound aggressive.  Take it with a grain of salt if you will.  We are all on the same mission of serving great coffee and espresso to every customer that walks through our doors.  Thank you for reading, I look forward to your comments.

- Chris.

13 Responses to “Serve With Pride.

  1. Robert Cohn says:

    Fair.

  2. David Evans says:

    Thanks.
    A link to this write-up is going to all staff.

    Nothing worse than going in to a shop you respect, serving espresso you know is good and having a highly skilled barista waste 3 shots. If the barista is paying attention the espresso should always be within one shot of being perfect (this is to assume that the morning dial-in was ‘perfect’).

  3. Jared Rutledge says:

    i simply ask the staff to weigh every espresso or macchiato we serve . they come at regular enough intervals that our lattes, capps, and americanos are usually consistent. it helps a lot.

    also, i’ve noticed that almost every time the shot pulls badly, it’s a dosing error on my part. even when i calibrate and weigh the dry dose, a difference of .5g will make a massive difference and, unfortunately, scales that can tare out a portafilter don’t have .1g resolution. i can be far more consistent with my dosing if i don’t overthink it though.

  4. Daniel Larsen says:

    I love this post. The way you present yourself, and the quality of your work, says volumes about the actual work.

    Also bonus points for hammering home the importance of repeatability.

  5. Kristina solgaard says:

    Thanks for this Chris. I hope this article gets read by baristas and business owners everywhere. I’ve disclaimed and been disclaimed to. I don’t like doing it, and I don’t like receiving a coffee after a disclaimer, but it happens. And you’re right, it lessens the experience altogether.
    Thanks for following up your thoughts with dialing in techniques.
    Really helpful.

  6. Anya Sereda says:

    I think this is a really interesting thing that happens. We only ever do it to each other, baristas to baristas. Part of it, for me anyway, is when I’m serving a fellow coffee professional I somehow feel that just because I like my espresso doesn’t mean they would (or should) so you disclaim. And it’s not because I have no confidence in my beans or my skills but because my respect for a fellow barista makes me go the opposite way to boasting. Which of course is different to just handing over an espresso with a smile and a thanks, but still I feel like I want them to feel ok about giving me feedback so by seeming unsure it opens the door for them to do that. Which leads to the other problem in our industry that we rarely honestly tell each other if we’re not happy with the received espresso.

  7. Kevin Lionais says:

    I don’t even like telling people what I’m serving anymore. Taste the espresso first, tell me what you think of it, then we can talk about what’s actually in the cup. The more I know about what I’m serving, no what the brew method or coffee is, the better my service is going to be. I agree with you Chris, I’m so tired of the disclaimer or fus because I work in coffee. Serve me like you serve everyone else, because everyone should be served amazingly well.

    One of the best shots I was ever served was by Andrew at Milstead & Co. It wasn’t even the best tasting shot I ever had but Andrew served it with such confidence and detail, it was impossible not to love. I was inspired.

  8. Bethany says:

    Word Bro.

  9. Jeremy Stothers says:

    One of the obvious problems is that you are so recognizable. I think  it’s understandable for the industry’s regular baristas to feel performance anxiety when faced with the industry’s finest. But it’s not a good thing. You know, you don’t have to be so recognizable,  maybe you could try wearing a pair of thick, fashionable, zero-lens glasses. Kind of like Clark Kent-style. Or if that’s not enough, try the type with a plastic mustache and nose. Really, whatever works.  

    Also, in regards to the author’s disclaimer at the end. I mean, note. It’s understandable. This terrible weather in January and February can really make anyone frame good information in an angry way. You could try editing the post on a warm June afternoon.

    Jokes aside, thanks for the good bit. I hope it’ll up the quality, which is what this is all about. : )

  10. Jeremy Stothers says:

    Dang, I’ll try that smile again… :)

  11. Edwin Martinez says:

    I call this the curse of the artisan.

    and yes it happens more when the customer is someone else that works in the same industry. Unfortunately.

    It almost appears we want to reward each other with crap, when really this goofy charade is about talking the product down enough in hopes of over delivering. Really bad strategy.

    Seems many great artisans in coffee that are passionate about product, enjoy, enjoying their product in the training room and at home but have a hard time delivering to the customer. And this does not develop market, rather it declares incompetency.

    Well worded Chris. This should be a chapter in a very short book titled “serving great coffee with great customers service”

    I’d buy it.

  12. Tyler says:

    Thanks for this, to the point and honest.

  13. Jessica Cole says:

    100% agreement, particularly this: Espresso is supposed to be fast. Of course I’d like it to be good, something within spec, but even as a coffee professional, I ain’t that picky when I’m a customer. In my work, yes, on the weekend, no.

    We’re going to have to stop educating customers. Then they won’t know any better.

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