The Coffee Monopoly

What's Up?

I love my coffee. I usually have between 2-3x a day; one at home, one morning run at work and another in the afternoon. This is a regular day, assuming no pressing meetings, or nothing super-urgent that keeps me glued to my desk.

I used to have 3 favourite cafe places to choose from at work. There was no 1 place that would stand head and shoulders above the rest that would make me order my coffee religiously with them (and only with them). Instead what I did was, float from one coffee joint to another depending on certain conditions..

Determinants of good coffee (and a good café)

All about the coffee

  1. Beans – some places will use a steady brand for example. Most places around Sydney will do the Toby’s Estate or the Campos brands. Some are a little bit more experimental and will go for non-standard beans from some unknown maker or will have their own ‘special beans’ (sounds dangerous).  Others still will use standard beans like Toby’s but then mix it up every other week with an Ethiopian or Cuban blend. But the basic fact is: good beans matter.
  2. Machine – since we are talking about café’s here that serve coffee, I will assume that this is a non-factor and all these shops use industrial-strength machines. (however some other little hole-in-the-wall coffee shops springing around Sydney might use dodgier machines which may impact the final product i.e. the taste)

All about the barista

1. Tangibles

i.     How much coffee they give – when I ask for a double, I want to taste the power of a double-shot. I usually spot a bad barista by the strength of the coffee (since I always ask for a double, I spot the single a mile away).

ii.     How hot they heat the milk – if there’s one thing most coffee-drinkers hate, it’s a cold cup. I ordered a coffee for a guy at work the other day and they were not impressed with temperature of the coffee served. He proceeded to warm up the entire coffee in the microwave, takeaway cup and all.

iii.     How much sugar they pour in – some barista’s will give me my standard 1 teaspoon of sugar; others will give me more (not good if it’s too sweet), others will slide in less (not nice if it’s too bitter). I’ll admit that they tend to do this when rushed – i.e. pour too much or too little. But why should we have to suffer for it? OK, so I will let the one-off event slip; but do this on a consistent basis and you’re off my list.

2.  Intangibles

If you’re lucky, you will make a connection with the barista or someone else behind the counter that will make you want to come back. After all these guys produce 2 things: the coffee (a product) and the ‘good morning, how are you today?’ (the undervalued and often under appreciated ‘service’). Some barista’s get it. It’s usually the ones that have a stake in the business. Others don’t, and won’t even give you any acknowledgement at all even if you have been to their joint for 10 days straight (which I find rude at times, depending on my mood).

All about me

I have alluded to this in the above; my mood will determine which place will provide my coffee for the morning / afternoon. I usually take into account everything I have listed above when making the decision. But in a world of equal taste and coffee quality, it’s the intangible quality of the barista or someone in the café that will entice me to go to their shop. I, for one, would like to start / end my day with a nice friendly hello from a familiar face. It’s like seeing a good friend at work, it’s just a nice feeling.

The monopoly is over

There used to be 3 main cafes at my work which dominated the market. 2 other players have recently muscled in giving us more choice to choose. And choose we did; I tried both and favoured one of the new ones which I frequented for about 2 weeks straight until this week.

Can you guess what happened?

Drum roll please…

The barista that served me for the first 2 weeks has not been in (possibly on holidays – a guess).

What did he do right?

He had the coffee at the right temperature, he spoke to me like a human (in fact he treated everyone like a person and not a number) and mixed it up for me (did the house brew and gave me a taste of the Cuban – but that’s because we spoke about different blends).

What did the new barita’s do wrong?

They don’t welcome you as warm as the old one and the milk was cold. Because of this, there is no differentiator between them and all the other café’s around the place. They lost their edge.

The monopoly is over. I am a paying coffee consumer and if café owners want to get it right, then they would pay attention to the elements above. I believe other coffee consumers think the same way.

p.s. Did you miss my tribute to the coffee around Sydney? I have it:

I haven’t created one of these in a while. Time to get the creative juices (or coffee veins) flowing once again.

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