long espresso.... sigh....

the business of coffee houses

Postby Sean Starke on Mon Feb 12, 2007 4:26 am

I think your reply was very well written and struck the right tone, Brad; you didn't succomb to the petulance of that customer and you clearly and firmly stated your position on the issue.
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Postby Bill Sze on Mon Feb 12, 2007 4:13 pm

Brad, maybe you should find out the one time this customer did get a 6 oz drink did he enjoy it? If he truly enjoyed it, then from his point of view, he is right. If he didn't then your reply, again from his point of view, will makes a lot of sense.

In a somewhat related situation, some of you probably have very fine teas too. How do you handle it when customers put lemon and honey in green teas or oolongs?

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Postby Brent on Mon Feb 12, 2007 6:39 pm

BillS wrote:In a somewhat related situation, some of you probably have very fine teas too. How do you handle it when customers put lemon and honey in green teas or oolongs?


One way of looking at this, and how customers "abuse" their coffee is "as long as you are happy and I don't have to drink it..."

People like what they know, and know what they like :)
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Postby Jason Haeger on Tue Feb 13, 2007 12:25 am

conerad wrote:one method i've used is to pull a good shot, then stick another cup under and keep the flow going for another 30 seconds, and let them taste it. i only ever got a chance to do this three times, but every customer ordered a mini americano ever after. unfortunately this still doesn't solve the problem of how to refuse to make a drink without being a jerk. it does, however, keep the problem from occurring as often.

I've done things like this... a whole lot of times.

Some customers have found their new favorites or occasional treats this way. Others have appreciated the effort, but didn't give a positive response.

Others still decided I was being a snob.

This is precisely how I've been given nicknames such as "the Waterboy of coffee", "the Coffee Don", and "the Coffee Nazi" by regulars.

For better or for worse, it's all in the pursuit of perfection. Some appreciate it, while others still have a commodity perspective of coffee and think it a waste of time or an act of elitism/snobbery.

You can't please all the people all the time, and sometimes, all those people are your regulars.

So much of that is culturally based.

I VERY much agree with the notion of a second-hand looking shop serving drinks at 300% the cost of the equivalent from the shop down the street as... off.

Consistency goes beyond the level of drinks.. there should be a consistency of culture and purpose. Sophisticated drinks require a sophisticated environment to be taken seriously.

Just my $.02

Even still, I think it's ALWAYS better to avoid the "me me me" approach. I find it good to suggest something else in a friendly manner rather than a direct refusal. Most of the time, it's well-received.

If they decide after trying the suggestion that they'd rather have their bastardized coffee in a cup, I would say something to the effect of, "No problem, but just this time. I can't keep serving something not on our menu, but let me know how it is."

If done with the proper attitude, the odds of retaining the customer will probably be pretty good. They will feel like the barista went "above and beyond" their duty rather than as a refusing snob.

Okay, I guess that's $.04
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Postby Peter Van de Reep on Sun Feb 18, 2007 12:14 am

I like using the diagram from Illy's short paper in Scientific American where he has plotted concentration of espresso components against extraction time. He uses the big 'scary' names like 2,4-decadienal with the associated flavor (in 2,4-d's case, rancid), and shows how it goes way up after an optimal 30 seconds. Most people figure if a guy brings up high pressure liquid chromatography, he might know what he's talking about. Also, maybe it's a liability issue. What is the recommended daily dose of 2,4-decadienal anyways? :twisted:

But I really shouldn't be commenting. I work at Wicked... (never did serve that customer though...)
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Postby JaanusSavisto on Tue Feb 27, 2007 5:32 am

jim_schulman wrote:My information from various people (contradictory as usual, but this is the overall) is that it is done fairly fast, 20 seconds or so, using almost a drip grind, and almost always with lighter roasted regular brewing coffees rather than espresso blends (which in these countries people mostly expect to be dark and mildly oily sheened.

With a grind that coarse, I'm guessing the basket will be filled with about 60% to 70% of the normal dose.



mr. Schulman nailed it... in Estonia, it is the coffee preference of most people in a cafe, although different cafe-latte styled (possibly flavoured) are steeply rising in popularity...

what most coffee-shops here do is that we have a separate grinder for Cafe Crema alongside the one(s) for espresso based drinks...

but i have to admit that ive had loads of finnish origin customers who have sent my cafe crema back... just because they say they ordered a black coffee *sigh* so ill just scoop the crema off (i work in a place that doesn`t serve drip coffee :roll: )... that might be cause over there the vast majority of coffee is still consumed as drip (and it is not specialty coffee they're drinking, it`s mostly some hideous pre-ground, vacuum-packed, low-grade stuff that has enough kick to get them up and running)
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Postby barry on Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:34 pm

Marshall wrote:The problem was they didn't anticipate customers ordering good cafe cremas. For them, I suppose the proper response is something along the lines of "Our grinder isn't set up for those. We'd love to accommodate you, but we'd have to throw out 10 drinks adjusting it up and down."



i'm not so sure the original customer wanted a cafe creme instead of a long shot. there are lots of different ways that coffee is prepared around the world, many of which are not, and never have been, en vogue (of even acceptable) in north america, just as american coffee is often scorned overseas as dirty dishwater.

i would like to propose that the original customer wanted a long shot... all that water run through the grounds, making what many/most/all of us would consider a bad shot of espresso. it might just be what they prefer. it requires no adjustment of the machine, just tolerance and accommodation on the part of the barista.

the reason i say this is because a long time ago i went 'round and 'round with one particular customer over this very subject. every time he'd come in and ask for the long shot, he'd get the lecture about volume and extraction and all that, and he'd say, "yeah yeah. i know all that, but i want a long shot." over the years he has been one of our most loyal customers, even after his tour at the local air force base was up. he was stationed in germany for awhile, and now he's at andrews afb in the washington dc area. the guy is no idiot. he is not underedumacated. he is an air force spook. prior to his posting near our shop, he had spent a few years in spain, and the long shot was how they were brewing his coffee over there and it's what he came to prefer. just as many of us have come to prefer ristrettos of one sort or other, and just as there are some folks in the world who prefer rioy coffee, there are those who prefer a long shot.

after about his third visit, we stopped trying to convert him and just made his damned drink the way he wanted it. i don't feel it was a dilution of our standards because we did not inflict the drink upon him as part of our normal operations; rather, he requested special service and received special service after we were sure that's what he really wanted. he now visits whenever he's in town, he takes staff out to dinner from time to time, and he stays in touch when he's overseas. if we'd sent him packing all those years ago, think of all the stories we'd have missed out on.

--barry "yessir, you can carry your MP5 on the plane, but you'll have to hand over your nail clippers"

PS: "disrespect" is not a noun.
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Postby barry on Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:46 pm

bradinvancouver wrote:it is extremely hard on the expensive pump that pushes the water through the espresso machine.


cough coughbullsh*tcough cough
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Postby Marshall on Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:30 pm

barry wrote:PS: "disrespect" is not a noun.


Yes, it is. But it's not a verb.

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Postby barry on Tue Feb 27, 2007 3:40 pm

crap. see what i get for only reading the first entry????


:oops:


--barry "still not recognizing 'proactive'"
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Postby onocoffee on Wed Feb 28, 2007 10:11 am

barry wrote: it requires no adjustment of the machine, just tolerance and accommodation on the part of the barista.


Haven't you been a Coffeed participant long enough???

Tolerance and Accommodation ARE NOT part of the Third Wave "Code"...



barry wrote:--barry "yessir, you can carry your MP5 on the plane, but you'll have to hand over your nail clippers"



Oh let's not get started on that....

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Postby Richard Hartnell on Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:34 am

onocoffee wrote:
barry wrote: it requires no adjustment of the machine, just tolerance and accommodation on the part of the barista.


Haven't you been a Coffeed participant long enough???

Tolerance and Accommodation ARE NOT part of the Third Wave "Code"...


See, this is what I always try to avoid in the "obsessive-quality" vs. "it's the customer's money" debate - the idea that either concept can be one's *only* criterion for successful business usually causes both camps to start name-calling faster than you can say "pre-ground CoE." Coffee people I know are always accusing business people of being Starbucks wannabes, and business people often seem to assume that quality obsession just equates to pretense and narcissism.

Obviously, people on one side of the bar are thinking that coffee is just some silly little commodity that they suffer through to get their morning perks. On the other side of the bar are, well, guys and gals like us - those for whom the clouds have parted, the beam of light has shone down, and lo! it was the Shot That Changed Our Lives.

To me, there are few commodities (especially ones consumed at such magnitude) that have such a resistance to their progress. People drool and lust over the next Mac, Playstation, Ferrari, or whatever, and start saving up months in advance. Ask many of these people to pay two bucks for a cup of coffee, and they'll spin on a heel and you'll never see 'em again.

So how do we strike the balance between the want for progress and the possibility of snootiness? 'Cause it seems like that's really going to be the only way to move the craft forward.
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Postby Jim Schulman on Wed Feb 28, 2007 1:19 pm

Velveteen wrote:So how do we strike the balance between the want for progress and the possibility of snootiness? 'Cause it seems like that's really going to be the only way to move the craft forward.


Most of this will have to do with the reputation of the cafe, and the communication style of the baristas.

If you go to a regular restaurant, usually where you pay between $15 to $50 for the meal, you'll see patrons giving very precise instructions on how everything is to be prepared. The ability of the waitstafff and kitchen to carry out these instructions marks a competent restaurant in this class. Diners, fast food places, etc, below this level are too systematized to be this flexible.

If you speak to a non-foodie crowd, you'll get the opinion that a flexible restaurant is better than an inflesxible one; "hold the pickle, hold the lettuce" is a sign of quality.

Foodie restaurants have become even more inflexible than any McD, and few diners paying $75 and over per head are going to be giving instructions on how to prep the food, other than listing their dietary restrictions. In the restaurant stratosphere, giving prep instructions would be done and interpreted as a deliberate insult. It implies that the diner, an amateur, knows more about cooking and serving than a star extablishment which most people visit for inspiration and delightful surprises.

How many cafes are considered in this class by their customers? How many baristas can say exactly and in detail how the proposed deviations will effect the drink's quality? How many can do that in a way that conveys that the customer is a true connoisseur, but not in the stratospheric league of the restaurant's staff?

The "professional consult" tone of a foodie restaurant is relatively new, a baby boomer phenomena, and meets an expectation mostly restricted to foodies. My grandfather would have expected a top restaurant to excel in obsequiousness, and treat him as if he had been born with more taste than anybody who actually worked in a kitchen would ever develop in ten lifetimes. Most non-foodie people still believe this is the tone they should get in a top establishment.

It is a risk to adopt foodie attitudes in a cafe; but I don't have a "survey says" on how much of a risk.
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Wed Feb 28, 2007 2:46 pm

jim_schulman wrote:It is a risk to adopt foodie attitudes in a cafe; but I don't have a "survey says" on how much of a risk.


Nick pointed out the cost of "extra foam" earlier. One of our best customers who always drinks dry capps has become progressively worse, lately asking for an additional pitcher to be steamed to provide even more foam.

He gets it, along with the phrase, "That'll be another $1.00, please." Generally speaking it doesn't screw us up on the line and the margin works.

Same extends to our panini business. Want mayo? 50 cents, thanks. (And if I had my way it would be $5 more, the cretins).

When it comes to special requests, people here either pay to get what they want or don't pay and get what we want. We've never lost a customer who's gone "our" way. Hard to say if the customers who wanted it "their" way would remain customers very long anyway.

While we mildly disagree with Jim on the foodie aspect, we do agree that in an absurd twist, it's appearing that "have it your way" has become the commodity level of service.

Then again, I've never been sure whether it's really the ability to order a precise drink, the faux-coolness of speaking an ordering "lingo", or simply the ability to boss some PBTCs around that is the true appeal.
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Postby Sean Starke on Thu Mar 01, 2007 6:56 am

I'd pay $5 for Hellmanns but don't bring that Miracle Whip cr@p anywhere near my sandwich!
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Postby onocoffee on Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:33 am

I don't think it's a "foodie" v. "non-foodie" thing. I think it's a hospitality thing.

i recently had the opportunity to eat at both Charlie Trotter's and Alinea in Chicago. For those of you who may not be familiar, these are two of America's top restaurants in terms of food, passion, presentation and hospitality. They were equally amazing and challenging experiences of which I am still sorting out my experiences. At both restaurants, I chose the option of the kitchen "cooking for me." And at both restaurants I was asked whether I have any food restrictions or limitations so that the kitchen could custom-tailor my experience for me.

Somehow, I think if I had told either kitchen to "hold the liver" or "hold the cilantro" they would have without any fuss or hullabaloo about how they were "compromising" their standards.

It seems that the prevailing Third Wave attitude is that this "customizing" of the menu would be "too much" compromise to the "purity" of the coffee.

And while we, as a collective 3W Community, like to posture ourselves as the next Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz of the coffee world, we're really doing little different than the local Starbucks. Perhaps we're achieving an "Outback Steakhouse" level of greatness, as opposed to a Peter Luger. Either way, it seems that we're just deluding ourselves.

Walk into the standard 3W cafe and what does the general public find? Poorly presented environs featuring shabbily-dressed "baristas" sporting pretense and condescending attitudes while pretending that they're offering something worthy of a ten dollar bill for $1.50. Quite frankly, we're a joke and its' no wonder why the rest of the world finds it difficult to take this "3W Thang" seriously.

I don't see this as a "coffee people" v. "business people" either. That's the kind of misnomer that creates division and misunderstanding. Coffee cannot survive without business and the sharpest people I've met in this industry are the ones who understand that equation. It's too easy to be seduced by the romance of coffee - especially for the 3W Barista whose exposure to the business side of things is extremely limited. The 3W Barista needs to educate himself and learn the business side of things in order to create his/her own career path.
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Postby Jason Haeger on Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:34 am

Jay, well said.

In regards to the opposition to drink customization, would it be such an issue if the customization weren't with 90% sugar content flavored syrups, but instead, were done with raw natural ingredients?

I don't often seen anyone complain that the signature drink concept is a "defilement" of the coffee, or its presentation. In fact, in a lot of cases, the added ingredients actually enhance the presentation, flavor, quality, and experience of the coffee itself, making for a much more (pardon the term) "gourmet" experience.

This is not to say that syrups are a bad thing, per say, but what's accepted as the standard for the industry just doesn't match up with our view of the coffee being served with it.

No wonder baristas cringe at the idea of drink customization.

Can it really be considered a "culinary art" if it's being prepared with high fructose corn syrup based flavoring additives?



I have said before, that I agree with the physical presentation of the "artist" to be of equal importance for the quality of the experience.

I wouldn't expect a punk kid to prepare the meal served in a high end restaurant, yet somehow we are confused when a customer doesn't "get it" when served from someone who looks LESS professional than a mere mermaid.

It's quality down the line, or there's a weak link, and the concept is lost on the way to the customer, unless that customer is an "insider" on the culture or community. A random off-the-street customer would not be likely to return, I would think.

This is also dependent on the location, and local community, but on an average, I think this is true.

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Postby Jaime van Schyndel on Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:15 pm

Velveteen wrote:See, this is what I always try to avoid in the "obsessive-quality" vs. "it's the customer's money" debate - the idea that either concept can be one's *only* criterion for successful business usually causes both camps to start name-calling faster than you can say "pre-ground CoE." Coffee people I know are always accusing business people of being Starbucks wannabes, and business people often seem to assume that quality obsession just equates to pretense and narcissism.

...
To me, there are few commodities (especially ones consumed at such magnitude) that have such a resistance to their progress.


Richard,
The customer is King... unless they want a drink I don't like... ;-)

I think if anyone wants to be a true specialty store, you must narrow your focus and you are no longer a high-volume based business. This would mean large average ticket prices and more specialized foot traffic. You can no longer appeal to the large audience and you no longer are in direct and obvious competition with Starbucks. As of yet, the American coffee scene is still in a volume model where specialty is a label much like premium or gourmet.

It is no to reject customers like a soup nazi but to have a store which simply cannot cater to them.

onocoffee wrote:And while we, as a collective 3W Community, like to posture ourselves as the next Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz of the coffee world, we're really doing little different than the local Starbucks.


please explain this better.
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Postby onocoffee on Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:24 pm

Jaime van Schyndel wrote:
onocoffee wrote:And while we, as a collective 3W Community, like to posture ourselves as the next Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz of the coffee world, we're really doing little different than the local Starbucks.


please explain this better.



Jaime van Schyndel wrote:The customer is King... unless they want a drink I don't like...




A fine example of what I'm talking about.


The Third Wave - "Attitude, pretense and condescencion with baristas who look worse than the average Starbucks."
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Postby Jaime van Schyndel on Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:38 pm

onocoffee wrote:The Third Wave - "Attitude, pretense and condescencion with baristas who look worse than the average Starbucks."


I don't know what third wave is but it sounds like a lot of fun 8)


it was an inside joke BTW, Jay. Richard had an excellent point.
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Postby Richard Hartnell on Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:52 pm

Jay, you make a great point about food customization at five-star restaurants; these days, it's courtesy for a waiter to ask whether you have any food allergies. "Hold the liver" and "hold the cilantro," to me, sounds a lot like "No cream, I'm lactose intolerant." Within reason (Nutrasweet sux), nobody should necessarily suffer due to special dietary needs.

I do feel a need to discuss the current difference between food customization and drink customization. To me, there's little comparison between someone adding salt to their baked potato and someone adding three ounces of cream and two sugars to a delicate central CoE. You'd never ask "hold the liver" on foie gras, but a barista gets funny looks if you hesitate at the order for a dry soy cappa.

Again, it's not about soup nazi-ing these customers out the door - it's not even about a private eyeroll, since these people are either not knowing what a cappuccino is, not knowing how soy works, or basing their experience on someone using some kind of wacky foamy soy (like Pacific Soy Steamers). But I'd suggest that it's just as unscrupulous to present a five dollar cup of coffee (while wearing a suit and tie, because we're not all from the PNW) and then let a customer put things into it (high fructose corn syrup, for instance) that will muddle everything that makes it worth five bucks in the first place.
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Postby Rich Westerfield on Thu Mar 01, 2007 3:08 pm

onocoffee wrote:I don't think it's a "foodie" v. "non-foodie" thing. I think it's a hospitality thing.

Somehow, I think if I had told either kitchen to "hold the liver" or "hold the cilantro" they would have without any fuss or hullabaloo about how they were "compromising" their standards.

It seems that the prevailing Third Wave attitude is that this "customizing" of the menu would be "too much" compromise to the "purity" of the coffee.


Jay,

I don't know if I agree with your analogy of "hold the cilantro". Seems to me this situation being discussed is more like the customer telling the waiter that, "I'm going to wait for this olive oil ravioli to harden a bit before I taste it. I really don't like my olive oil wet. I'll wait till it becomes a jellybean, thanks.*"

In other words, what was the point of going through the effort to make the thing in the first place? You can argue it's the same reason Flo Ziegfeld bought his dancers only the best petticoats - although the audience didn't care, the dancers certainly did. And as a shop owner that should be reason enough.

But if I'm a 20-something on the line and consider myself at the top of the espresso slinging trade, I can easily see getting pissed off. I'm knowledgeable and enthuastic about everything that went into that cup and the customer just dissed my efforts as well as everyone else's in the value chain.

Hell, don't you remember being idealistic once? Somebody somewhere is making money doing 3rd wave even if it's nobody east of Chicago.

As geezer owners compared to 99% of this forum, we're somewhat more pragmatic and firmly of the camp that the customer can do whatever they want, but if it's not part of the process and isn't necessary for dietetic reasons we'll figure out a way to charge more. That's a fair trade-off in our book.

Once we talk with the customer about how much milk goes into dry foam and that the Meyer lemon aioli really is close enough to mayo, we let the customer have the option of still having it their way for a little bit more. We don't see anything wrong with that.

To do otherwise and just give in would be akin to suggesting that ghetto lattes are fair game.

Then again, that's just our opinion and we're decidedly not third wave at this point. We don't know the ambient temperature of the UPS truck that delivers our coffee.


*and by the way, is your alginate shade-grown?
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Postby Jim Schulman on Thu Mar 01, 2007 3:44 pm

onocoffee wrote:i recently had the opportunity to eat at both Charlie Trotter's and Alinea in Chicago. For those of you who may not be familiar, these are two of America's top restaurants in terms of food, passion, presentation and hospitality. They were equally amazing and challenging experiences of which I am still sorting out my experiences. At both restaurants, I chose the option of the kitchen "cooking for me." And at both restaurants I was asked whether I have any food restrictions or limitations so that the kitchen could custom-tailor my experience for me.


I doubt this. I took my family to Trio (Achatz's old place in Evanston) four years ago, before he had developed much of a rep outside Chicago. They are not foodies and have a variety of allergies or dietary restrictions; they are used to good service. The dinner was extemely uncomfortable. The staff thought we were being disrespectful of their efforts, my family thought the staff were pretentious whiners acting like robots in an infinite loop.

To save the evening we made a game of counting how many times we could get the staff to say "I trained at Charle Trotters." There were bonus points for a perfect tone of offended snottiness.

The debacle was mostly my fault: wrong restaurant choice for this crowd. Nevertheless, I haven't been back. A restaurant that wants to play in the big leagues should either have staff trained in old style service francais (plating at the table) to handle such situations, or tell people exactly what to expect when they book.

Charlie Trotter's manages to pull this style off well. Most of the other places I've tried have had a distinct whiff of pretentiousness. It only works when customers are persuaded to suspend their disbelief at the door, go with the restaurant's imposed flow, and withhold judgement until the evening's end.

For a cafe or its staff to adopt this style is extremely risky. Most cafe patrons will be unaware they are entering a culinary theatre.
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Postby Peter Van de Reep on Thu Mar 01, 2007 10:07 pm

PaniniGuy wrote:I'm knowledgeable and enthuastic about everything that went into that cup and the customer just dissed my efforts as well as everyone else's in the value chain.


Well said Rich.

It's great though when someone who claims not to know that much about coffee, but recognizes a good cup and likes drinking espresso, acknowledges that what you are doing is well above any other cafe he has ever been to. It kind of makes up for all the customers who refuse to realize that I do in fact love coffee and have put a ton of effort into researching techniques and methods in making proper espresso, alongside my heavy geology course load.

I wish I could have a culinary/foodie coffee shop...
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Location: Vancouver, BC
full name: Peter Van de Reep
company: Elysian Coffee

Postby Richard Hartnell on Fri Mar 02, 2007 2:00 am

Peter Van de Reep wrote:
PaniniGuy wrote:I'm knowledgeable and enthuastic about everything that went into that cup and the customer just dissed my efforts as well as everyone else's in the value chain.


Well said Rich.

It's great though when someone who claims not to know that much about coffee, but recognizes a good cup and likes drinking espresso, acknowledges that what you are doing is well above any other cafe he has ever been to. It kind of makes up for all the customers who refuse to realize that I do in fact love coffee and have put a ton of effort into researching techniques and methods in making proper espresso, alongside my heavy geology course load.

I wish I could have a culinary/foodie coffee shop...


That's one thing I wish were addressed more when people suggest that 3W is all about pretense and glamour and rockstardom:

That amazing coffee really does speak for itself.
Richard Hartnell
Festival Espresso
Bellingham, WA
Richard Hartnell
 
Posts: 171
Joined: Sun May 14, 2006 8:40 pm
Location: Bellingham, WA
full name: Richard Hartnell
company: Festival Espresso

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