Why Baristas Shouldn’t Condescend.

This morning, Jessie, Chris and I went for a nice walk with an end destination of a coffee roaster that I had noticed on a bike ride the other day. Apparently on our way in, a guy stopped Chris and asked where the cannabis clinic was. Typical Portland.

Anyway, the coffee roaster was in the back of building, down a long white hallway. When I first stepped in I was dubious that there was even a cafe– It was a mess. There was a gigantic messenger bike parked right in the middle of the space, there were pictures strewn everywhere, and the apparent attempt at a divider between the roasting area and the cafe area was laughably pathetic.

The man who greeted us was, to put it kindly, a little snobby. Also known as pretty obnoxious.

I asked a few questions about them, because that’s how I roll when I go into a new roaster. He apparently thought I was a coffee noob, but I chose to ignore that. When I finally asked for a drink, he expressed feigned confusion at how to craft it. Seriously bro, it doesn’t take much brain power to make a cold Americano. Seriously.

Then Chris ordered an Americano with some vanilla syrup in it. “Huh,” the guy snorted, “I’ve never made that drink before. That’s… Interesting.”

The upswing of this little place was that they didn’t have any set prices. You paid what you thought the coffee was worth. We got three Americanos and paid six dollars in total, which for the attitude and the coffee in question was overpriced.

For a roaster who’s been operating for three years and supplies coffee to New Seasons, their coffee did not impress me in the slightest. My Americano was sour, Chris’s had too much syrup in it, and he put whole milk instead of half and half in Jessie’s. (Yeah, we all ordered Americanos. My family is cool.) He obviously was strictly a roaster and had never worked a cafe.

I’m just now getting to the point.

Even if the coffee had been exceptional, which it most definitely wasn’t,  I wouldn’t go back to this place to hear a guy talk about how he pedals a lot and condescends to his customers.

This is why baristas shouldn’t be condescending.

Basically, it’s a guaranteed method to drive people away from the specialty coffee industry. It is an unfortunately common stereotype that baristas have bad attitudes and are rude to people who don’t know much about coffee.

Before I  knew coffee, this was enough to keep me away from higher end coffee houses. I didn’t want to deal with not understanding the menu, so I went to Dutch  Bros. (Yes, there was a time when Dutch coffee was acceptable to Bethany. Let’s stop talking about this.)

Yesterday I was at the Stumptown annex on Belmont. The barista there was extremely impressive to me. The annex does each cup individually with any brew technique you want, so in the hour I was there, the barista spent a lot of time explaining how different coffees would taste for different brew methods. He was not condescending at all. His attitude was more one of sharing a secret with a friend. It was awesome!

I think that people who have a bad attitude toward people who don’t know coffee just need to sit down and get a little perspective on life, because it’s not like we were born knowing how to explain flavor profiles or pull a perfect shot. People aren’t going to learn to love coffee unless you show them how much you love coffee– and people are going to continue to say that everyone who enjoys amazing coffee is a snobby hipster unless we, coffee folk, stop being rude about it.

I do understand how difficult it can be to be kind and not condescending, I really do. When someone asks for a macchiato, (“Traditional, or are you looking for a caramelly drink?” “Make it traditional, but I want it bigger. No, bigger, and drizzle some caramel on it,”) and I get to explain to them that a traditional Italian macchiato is only about 2 ounces, it’s really difficult not to condescend. When someone asks for our darkest roast, but doesn’t know what flavors they’re wanting, it’s hard not to condescend.

But ultimately, keeping the specialty coffee industry exclusive could forever stunt its growth. And let’s be honest– the more places that I can travel to and still find a good Americano, the happier I will be.

Customers, don’t be rude. Baristas, don’t condescend.

Let’s all just drink a latte, enjoy coffee, and be kind.


    • Jessie Hargrove
    • June 16th, 2012

    No body wants to have the drink they order judged… This is why baristas shouldn’t be a-holes, like the guy at that shop was…

    • Jessie Hargrove
    • June 16th, 2012

    And word… Some people just want to drink and enjoy and don’t care what kind of bean is in their cup. AKA: ME!

  1. November 23rd, 2012

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