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Your coffee shouldn't be bitter.... and neither should the buying experience!
How many times have you visited a coffee shop and wondered whether the staff behind the counter actually want to be there, let alone want you, the Customer, to be there?
OK, so that may be a broad generalisation of the UK coffee scene but all too often it feels that as a Customer we're causing a nuisance by asking for a drink to be made. That was certainly part of the reason why we started Exodus Coffee Company - too many visits to decidedly average coffee shops, serving decidedly average coffee, charging too much for the priveledge and, to cap it all, being made to feel like we were just getting in the way of a conversation about weekend plans!
I recently came across an article on one of the coffee industry trade websites, written by Tim Sturk, who is UK Education Coordinator at the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). The article was entitled "The Four Pillars". In his article Tim perfectly summarised exactly what we were feeling about making and serving coffee - that quality, consistency and customer service should be the norm, not the exception. The 'Four Pillars' are key points that all baristas should follow when making coffee. However it is also important that consumers understand that their barista can and should be providing a drink that is always full of flavour, is not bitter, has been made with the utmost care and, most importantly, that the consumer has been treated as a highly valued asset of that business. Without consumers our business has no future, so why wouldn't we treat our Customers correctly?
A good barista will be committed to the following four key points:
• Freshness - coffee should be considered a food and be handled as such. If a barista treats coffee in the same way a trained chef treats food in a high class restaurant then the drink that is prepared will be full of flavour. Next time you visit a coffee shop take note of whether the barista grinds fresh coffee beans for your drink, or whether the grinder is already half (or more) full of ground coffee and your drink is made using coffee that was ground earlier. Ground coffee can lose up to 60% of it's natural aroma within 15 minutes of grinding so why should it be acceptable for you to be served a drink that tastes half as good as it could?
• Clean equipment - take a look at your barista's espresso machine, in particular look at the steam wand. If the machine isn't clean, or the steam wand is caked in old milk residue then it's safe to assume that your barista isn't particularly worried about the quality of the coffee they serve you. It takes less than five seconds to wipe the milk residue from the steam wand after it's used so the barista being "too busy" is no excuse. Of course the cloth that's used shouldn't look like it's three days old either.
• Milk quality - latte art, the pretty picture on the top of your drinks, is cool, there's no denying that but of far more importance is the quality of the foamed milk that is being poured into your espresso shots. The milk should be textured, not frothy and most importantly it should not be burnt. It should be silky smooth and sweet and served at a temperature that can be immediately consumed. If it's allowed to get too hot then the natural sugars in the milk will be burnt and make your coffee taste bitter. The milk needs to be heated carefully to produce microfoam - a barista who abandons the jug of milk while it's being heated to go and do something else is not going to serve you a quality drink. It's that simple.
• Customer service - coffee shops can be busy places but that is no excuse for your barista rushing to make your drink and serving a poor quality, bitter, or flavourless drink, with milk that's so hot that at best it tastes burnt, at worst it's undrinkable, yet you still have to hand over your hard earned money. That's not how it should be.
At Exodus we've positioned our espresso machine so that we're facing our Customers when we make the drinks - we believe that has to be better (and more polite) than most coffee shops where the barista has their back to you. Or perhaps those baristas don't want to talk to their Customers? If there are other Customers ahead of you when you go into a coffee shop surely it's more polite to be acknowledged when you arrive, rather than be ignored until being asked for money? It may only be a smile to say hello as you walk through the door but at Exodus you'll already know that we appreciate you choosing us. When we do then have the opportunity to talk to you personally we'll probably end up having to apologise for boring you - we're rather passionate about what we serve you and that desire to share facts about coffee is hard to contain!
So when you next head into your local coffee shop, or one of the franchise coffee shops in the centre of town, think about the four key points listed above and see how many of them are actually being followed. Sadly, you'll be surprised how few baristas know about them, let alone understand their role in creating your drink. Your coffee shouldn't be bitter and neither should the buying experience.