Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Trails of Barista-hood

I want to tell a bit of a barista horror story that happened to me a few days ago, but first i have to give a little preface. About 2 weeks ago my co-worker Danielle and I competed in the SERBC (Southeast Regional Barista Competition). It was for both of us our first competitions, and shockingly enough we did really well. And by really well i mean freaking amazing. We got second and third! Part of the reason we did so well was because we practiced our asses off, but also because we had amazing coaches. My coach was Octane's very own beloved coffee boss, M'lissa (seen with me above) and Danielle's was M'lissa's boyfriend and beloved representative of our roasters, Counter Culture, Chris. We practiced together a lot though, so really both Chris and M'lissa were both Danielle and I's coaches. Another reason we did well was because with one of new things Octane is doing to step our quality and become a bad ass coffeeshop is with a certification process M'lissa designed that all barista's who want to work on the espresso machine have to complete. You can read about this awesome certification on M'lissa's blog. Danielle and I (and JT, though he didn't compete this year) passed all three parts before we left for competition.

I say all this to say that while i admit i have a great deal to learn about coffee and i'm always looking for ways to improve, at the same time i know what i'm doing. I know how to make a pretty decent espresso drink. I'm pretty confident 2nd place in the SERBC doesn't happen by a fluke.

The thing about working in a coffee shop, though, is that a lot of people don't care if you've won an award. Don't get me wrong, a lot of people do, and Octane's customers, especially our regulars, are some of the best customers in the world and we love them all, and nothing makes me happier than working hard to make them an awesome drink. But a lot people just aren't that into it their coffee, which is totally okay. That's not my job. My job is to make them a drink that they like.

The story behind this whole post is that on Halloween, i was working with Gavin, and a very nice gentleman came in and ordered and espresso and said he also wanted something else. He looked at the menu and ordered and macchiato, which at Octane (and traditionally) is espresso with a little bit of steamed milk on top. I politely made sure that's what he wanted, as i was confused why he would want an espresso AND macchiato. Anyways, i made him his espresso first, as i assumed he would want to sip on it while i made him his other drink. I made the espresso, set it down in front of him. He smiled and then waited for me to finish his other drink. After i made it, he took both outside.

Now espresso starts to go bad pretty quickly after it's made. I always get a little nervous when people don't drink it right away. As it turns out, the reason he waited was because it was for someone else. The reason i know this is because about 2 minutes after he went outside a woman came back inside, set the espresso down, and proceed to very aggressively tell me how horrible the espresso was and if she could get something else. Now i've dealt with my fair share of upset customers in my day, but the thing that was different about this particular one was her complaint. She was upset specifically at the TASTE of an ESPRESSO. There's no milk or syrup to change flavors in an espresso. You're skill is exposed, there's nothing to hide behind. I proceed to ask her what was wrong with it and if it was too bitter or something, so i could fix it. She said, and i quote, "Bitter doesn't even begin to describe it."

Wow. At this point, i'm absolutely mortified. I tell her i must have made some mistake and practically beg her to let me make her another espresso. Sensing how badly my feelings are hurt, she proceeds to blame the beans and that she'll just have a macchiato. I make her another espresso really wanting to make things right, but she doesn't even touch it. After i make her macchiato, she takes it outside, and i receive no more feedback.

I tried the espresso i made her, since she didn't touch it. It wasn't the "God shot" but it was fine. First off, the espresso she got sat for a way too long because the guy didn't know any better. Second, it was the Toscano blend, and it can have those high notes it. Third, it was still really fresh and had some gasiness to it. Fourth, i think she was in a bad mood and felt the need to be really dramatic.

Anyways, even though there was a logical explanation for it all, my confidence was significantly weakened. When something that i had a little bit of pride in was so brutally spoken of, part of me wanted to say something to effect of, "Look, lady, you're being irrational. LOOK AT THE TROPHIES. I know what i'm doing!" but thankfully i didn't. That would have done way more harm than good, obviously.

And thanks to few compliments i received yesterday, my confidence is back.

The moral of this story is that being a barista isn't as easy as it looks in the movies...

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