Sunday, February 14, 2016

Snobbery: Bad for Business

While making coffee with my new French Press today, I remembered a time maybe eight or nine years ago when I was just really getting into beer, which had a domino effect of me getting into other foodie stuff like some foods, tea and coffee. Since local coffee shops are all over the place, I would often pop my head into a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon to try something I've never had before and see if I liked it. This is the way you learn about things.

One day in what must have been 2007 or 2008, or maybe later, who cares, I went to a coffee shop and I looked at their chalkboard menu. There was nobody in the coffee shop and one barista behind the counter. I was a coffee newb, and still drank it with a lot of cream and sugar, before I started going black. (They were right, I never went back.)

I knew a few things about coffee back then: Espresso is spelled with an "S" and not an "X"; French roasts were generally a bit darker than Colombian; and Caffe Americano is basically half coffee, half water, since Americans during the War were such pansies about coffee that they couldn't handle the strength. (It's basically an anti-American joke, and I am nothing if not a LOYAL AMERICAN, so no, I won't order that.)

I wanted something strong, so I saw what was called "French Press," which at the time I didn't know wasn't a type of coffee, but rather a brewing method. I thought that was a little odd, since the other menu items were types of beans, and this one was the way they brew it. But whatever, no biggie, it was on my list, so I was going to try it.

So I stepped up the counter -- and I get nervous at coffee counters since I don't really know what I'm talking about -- and I asked if I could get a French Press coffee. The barista sort of sized me up, and asked me "Do you know what that is?" and immediately put me on the defensive. It seemed like she was trying to talk me out of it.

What I didn't know then was that French Press coffee, while delightful through and through, is a pain in the ass to make. There are a few steps and you have to wait for water to do its thing and then you have to clean all the different parts. It's not easy. It's worth it, but it's not easy.

But this barista, whose job, I might add, is to make me coffee in exchange for money, clearly did not want to make this French Press for me. Not only was it going to be a pain in the ass for her, but I was so clearly out of my depth that I wouldn't have appreciated it anyway. She made me feel very small and very dumb. And instead I ordered a mochaccino or hazelnut or something I've had a hundred times. While I can't say this experience soured me on trying new coffee types, it made me reticent to try new things off a menu because I can feel the baristas judging me.

But for some reason, today, while I was cleaning out my French Press, I thought to myself, what the hell difference does it make whether I know what a French Press is or not? It's on the menu, you know how to make it, what the hell business is it of your whether I have a familiarity with the brewing process? That's what I pay you for.

What I should have said was "NO, I don't know what a French Press is, but you can go ahead and get me one." I'm not one of these The Customer Is Always Right people because customers are usually assholes. But I wasn't being an asshole, I was ordering from the menu. If I was a bartender at a good beer bar, and someone ordered something weird, I wouldn't be like "Do you even know what that is?" I might say, "You're aware that's very sour, right?" or "Have you had it before, would you like a sample?" But I wouldn't talk them out of it because maybe it's difficult to pour.

If I go to one of those frozen yogurt or gelato places where they have like 50 flavors, I don't run into this. If I've never had pistachio, and I want to know what pistachio tastes like, I will say to the person behind the counter, "Hi, I'll try the pistachio." The person wouldn't sniff at me and say "Do you even know if you like pistachio? Why don't you try this nice vanilla, it's nice and safe for you, ya n00b."

I used to work at a video store, and people would rent the worst crap on earth. If they asked me if I had seen something and if I would recommend it, I would give my honest opinion. But if someone came up to the counter with "Chasing Amy," I wouldn't tell them "Are you sure you want to rent this? You know we have like a thousand good movies, right? Let me get you a Andrei Tarkovsky movie instead."

The barista could have used this opportunity to take 30 seconds to educate me about what the French Press was, what its advantages are (such as no filtering out of its essential oils, its biggest advantage), and told me that it would take about 5-7 minutes to make, to at least give me an out and allowing me to save face. (I could have said something like, "Oh I'm in a hurry, so in that case I'll just take a regular old cup of joe!") But instead, she was either lazy or condescending or a combination of both, and now I just drink beer before work instead.