Popped into work after college today and met up with mates Deaton Pigot, and Arthur Wynn. There’s far too few coffee professionals actually passionate about the craft in Dublin, and its fair to say that these two set examples. Deaton’s a roaster and barista trainer, working with me in Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton St in Dublin, and hails from that topsy turvy part of the world called Australia. Arthur is one of the best working barista’s I have ever seen and as far as I can tell, doesn’t train more simply so he can stay behind the bar. He works in Avoca cafe on Suffolk Street in Dublin, and unsurprisingly enough, he is also Australian. He’s forever slagging me for not putting more time in behind the bar, which I really do miss, but unfortunately, my college timetable rules the roost these days.
In between people watching and enjoying a few espresso’s, we talked about how we could improve standards in our cafe’s. Its interesting how after a certain point in learning about coffee you begin to focus on the faults. You wish your triple rosetta’s was more defined and as you take your first sip of your first morning espresso, your eyes dart left and right seeking out any imperfections. It does however, make it all the more wonderful when you get those great shots, which, I’m chuffed to say, seem to becoming more and more common.
Its something I’ve talked a bit about with James Hoffman, who, just so you know, I will refer to as Jim from now on. Can we only appreciate coffee if its perfect? Because many of us live and breadth this stuff, do we devote enough time to doing what initially got us into it?
I hate myself when I peer into every new cafe I see, and dismiss it immediately when I spot the absence of a tamper, a crammed grounds chamber, or the portafilter’s lying beneath the machine. Or those times when you go out with friends who don’t share your passion. They choose the cafe that although lovely on the inside, with good food and music, annoyingly serves mucky coffee. Your friend glares at you, daring you to moan or begin critique. You avert your eyes from the ‘bar’ only to cringe at previously unnoticed flaws; the poorly located sugar stand, the misspellllings on the coffee menu, the various claims of freshness and fairly traded etc etc etc
But do the average customers notice these things? (How could they not I know I know.) But from my experience in various cafes, the most common complaint is still that of too hot or too cold. Lack of chocolate on the cappuccinos assaults my ears now and again, and very occasionally, complaints of the espresso being too strong. We know we’ll always foster barista development where we can, but I wonder what areas will impress the customers more? Appearence? Taste? When they don’t like a coffee, due to a particular flavour, what ‘flavour’ don’t they like?
The Dublin cafe scene could better be described as a milk scene considering the litres of milk I see stacked outside cafes in the early hours as I stumble home.(didn’t disturb the peace don’t worry) Espresso is sadly a rare order, bar Italians, so nearly all our coffee’s are presented through milk. It’s so rare that the milk is really off that I wonder what faults in the shots cut through and affected the consumer’s pallette? Granted there are definitely more and more customers these days that understand what they’re tasting and will complain when provoked by a burnt thin cappuccino. However, in my opinion they are still a small minority.
Furthering customer knowledge is clearly an ideal, although some cafe owners might not appreciate the added pressure. We are lucky enough in Grafton Street to have a shop roaster opposite the bar, providing informative eye candy to accompany their drink. Hours are spent each day explaining the bean to cup process to customers, a revelation I think I will never tire of. But apart from this, is latte art, high quality service and cleanliness the only way to impress every customer? Do we resign to the idea that some people will never like our coffee regardless how superior the taste to the nearest cometitor? When we put all that effort in a fluid ounze of liquid, and they still call it bitter, arer they wrong? Crafting great tasting coffee will always come first but if all they want is their latte not too hot, surely it brings a whole new angle to the stable temperature debate?