I work in coffee for 4 years now.
Couple of days ago I had my Portuguese class, and our conversation somehow switched to coffee. What she liked, matter of sugar and milk (yes and no respectfully), how she perceived the taste, especially bitter and sour, how the coffee in Portugal is good, that Starbucks is doing a very good job and she likes the coffee they serve, that home machines are not able to make a good “bica”, but Nespresso recently tastes good enough.
It was a curious experience for me, cause I found that conversation very refreshing.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I was that “barista-nazi” when I was starting. The one who gets seriously enraged when the latte art is not appreciated, or when the customer is adding sugar to that same perfect cappuccino. There was a case in the beginning of my career, when the customer asked me to heat up his cappuccino – and I went to the kitchen, and basically boiled it in the microwave. With the most evil face-expression.
Those days are gone long ago.
The further you go on the road you chose, especially if it is the road of taste, the better you understand, that there is no right or wrong in taste. There is only balance, habit, and education. People won’t drink something that taste bad. And if people are served something that initially tastes bad (overroasted blend with robusta, for example) – they get the habit to improve the taste (hello, milk and sugar), to find the balance. Here comes the habit.
There is no right or wrong, there are preferences. And if I like tea-like black coffee, and my customer likes sweet big cappuccino – it doesn’t mean anything but the fact that we have different preferences. That’s it. And my goal, as a barista, is to serve him the tasty balanced cappuccino. Period.
Education. Some people like to learn, some people just want to have a cup of coffee, and get busy with their things, their works and lifes. The role of the barista is to gracefully transmit the knowledge, the coffee culture to those who got curious. Not from the above, but being next to the customer. And to take this opportunity feeling extremely lucky.
There is one more thing. Art. If you managed to achieve that state, when your work becomes an art for you, doesn’t matter what you are doing – you are in the position of constantly trying to maintain the balance between the direction where you see the growth is, the means to get there, and having in mind, that your work is small, and it is just a part of the huge world. And you have to do it well, that small piece of work you are given, having your customers in mind. They have no time to think about the quality of the coffee, they are busy with other things. It is your job. To serve them, better and better.
And only after that, after having it as clear as possible, that there are things in life much bigger than your craft, that you are just a small piece, and you are here to serve – only after that you can dedicate yourself to the goal of an artist, which is brilliantly defined by J.D.Salinger in “Zooey”: “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.”
So when I talk to the person about coffee, I keep my mouth shut, and don’t say much, and listen. I listen what they are looking for, what they like, what they appreciate. I listen to it, and find my answers, I get the priceless different perspective, that allows me to think outside of the box, to not to be closed in my own world.
There is no right or wrong, there is no better or worse.
There is just taste, balance and art.