Let me preface this post by saying on the scale between coffee slobs and coffee snobs, I probably land closer on the snob side of the spectrum. I live in San Francisco, home to, like, half a dozen different obnoxiously hip, artisan coffee roasters, and so I’ve been conditioned to enjoy a machiatto with a neat little design in it and to prefer an individually prepared cup of coffee over a large breaw. Even the pretentiousness of baristas, who refuse to, say, use skim milk in a cappuccino I find amusing. And when I leave the city, and am iphone-searching to find a coffee house where I can get a nice coffee drink, I know to look for someplace that brews Stumptown (Portland) or Intelligentsia (LA) or Blue Bottle (SF), because I know the coffee will be delicious and the atmosphere will (probably) be appealing.
So, keep this in mind, when I relate a recent incident, which kind of made me kind of hate this whole new coffee culture that’s emerged over the last five years. It happened, as I was walking home from a meeting, at the giant new, immaculately designed (within-reach) coffee roasting space of an upstart roaster in SF’s SOMA district. I won’t say the name, but I will say it’s on Seventh Street, it’s partially owned by one of the founders of Twitter and the name rhymes with tight-ass. Also, it’s called Sightglass.
So, I go in and order an iced americano, which is the drink I regularly enjoy from other local roasters. I like it, because it’s made fresh and has a bit of a bite. Except, the detached, tatted up guy at the counter says, “Unfortunately, we don’t make iced americanos.”
“But you have ice?” I ask
“Yeah,” he says.
“And you have espresso.”
“Do you think you could just make me one?”
“Sorry, it’s against our policy.”
At this point, I now have it in my mind that I need an americano. And I’m going to somehow convince these pretentious coffee snobs to make me one, even if I have to be a complete and total asshole about. “Why don’t you grab the manager to explain the policy to me?” I say.
“I’ll get the bar manager.” He walks over and talks for a minute a to a striking but very icy, blond woman in her early 30s. For a minute, I think to myself. Why am I doing this? Is this really necessary to make a scene, keeping other, less confrontational folks from getting their coffees? And then I look behind me and see there’s no one waiting. And I’m in.
The manager comes over and introduces herself and explains that, “It’s company policy to not serve iced americanos but our cold-brewed iced coffee drinks are quite exceptional.”
“Except, I wanted an iced americano, because that’s what I like,” I say.
I go on to ask her if they can make an exception and she says no, it’s their policy not to make iced espresso drinks, because in their opinion, their espressos don’t taste good with ice.
“But shouldn’t the customer decide what they want?” I ask
And then, she smugly says, “The customer isn’t always right.” From there, I get a lecture about the history off coffee snobbery. “When roasters initially began to refuse to make espresso drinks to go, people were indignant. Now, it’s accepted,” She tells me.
“But this isn’t an issue of manners or decorum, this is about taste. And if I wanted to buy some espresso beans and go home to make it I could,” I say.
“Maybe you should do that,” she says, “because at this point, you’re clearly just trying to make a point.” The subtext, of course, being that at this point, I’m just trying to be an asshole.
We go on for another couple rounds where I ask them to please just make me the thing and she asks me to please just go somewhere else.
“You know what?” I say, “Could you just get me a glass of ice water and a shot of espresso, and I’ll make it myself?”
Relieved to have hit a compromise, she agrees, and I pay, tipping three dollars for being such a dick. I retrieve my order and mix the shot with a glass of water, drink it in full sight of the staff, because I’m still feeling like being obnoxious.
And you know what? Their espresso doesn’t really mix well with ice water. It didn’t taste terrible, but it wasn’t great. They were right all along.
However, if I were Sightglass, I would have tried to warn me off of the drink, and if that didn’t work, then let me have it. You can suggest how someone enjoy your product, but you shouldn’t try to force them. Let the other guy be the asshole, not your artisan coffee roasting brand.
In the end, I guess we were both assholes.
Henry Goldman is the founder of yr an adult. His tweets keep getting more depressing.
Top photo credit: flickr user Niall Kennedy, used under cc license.
Other photos: henry goldman