Checkmate.

At Intelli in Silverlake, we’ve had a set policy from the get-go… A policy to do whatever it takes to make sure a customer is leaving with a smile. This means iced espresso, espresso tossed into brewed coffee, odd milk steamed to all kinds of unholy ways, and so the list goes on. For me, it’s simply different because my coffee “upbringing” was so much the opposite. How our drinks were made was black and white. What things we could do and things we would not do were the same.

The catch to the rule is the same thing that most of our baristas and apprentices have the hardest time learning to do well. The catch is you can negotiate. The most common example of this would be convincing someone to have the iced coffee and espresso seperate, and tell them they can have the espresso for a smaller price, or how about instead of iced espresso, we’ll give you an iced coffee to try. With these negotiations, many people have completely switched over to drinks we feel proud to make.

Yesterday, however, I met my match.

A very interesting-looking gentleman hopped into our line. I was to busy shoveling ice for some iced lattes to hear him actually place the order, but I heard the request for an Esmeralda to be brewed on the Clover. Then, the apprentice on shots (Christopher- a tall, lanky character who’s deep low resonating voice is the beign of his own existence in our terrible acoustics) leaned over to tell me he would be pulling an espresso to have added to the Esmeralda.

Now, the Esmeralda is the one coffee where we’ve been taking a more proactive stand. If anyone orders it, we highly recommend that they have it in a ceramic cup. If they’ve had it before, then we’ll bend more and cater to their need. But if you just popped in for this coffee and you’ve never tasted it, then we really recommend you either have it in ceramic or try another coffee to-go… And maybe come back when you have time to sit and enjoy it (You know, to make it worth the higher price tag). I’d say 90% of these people have no problem taking 10-15 minutes out of their day to actually enjoy the coffee.

So back to my story! After hearing the news, I grab homeboys attention, asking him whether my colleague had offered to give him the components seperate to try… How the experience would be so much better… yada, yada, yada… The response I got was more of an eye-rolling with some muttered words of, “Well, we sell it at my work, and I’ve had it a lot, it’s great, but I want my espresso in it…” Immediately my curiosity is peaked… Upon further conversation and inverstigation he tells me he works at Peet’s. Then he tells me about how much he really likes the sharp lemon acidity of this coffee. Finally, when all is said and done, I hand him the coffee, crema floating on top, sitting somewhat elegantly in a ceramic mug… And then he asked for a to-go cup.

Alas, I was defeated.

In the end, I managed to let go… Remembering that there’s more to life than just one cup of coffee going out with an espresso in it. Needless to say, it’s time to reevaluate and try to balance myself better.

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9 thoughts on “Checkmate.

  1. I feel your pain. The first Esmeralda we sold last month went into a to-go cup, into which the customer heaped a few shots of simple syrup and an ounce of cream before tasting it. We have one shop-made syrup, vanilla, for lattes. One customer always gets a Flecha Roja with a shot of vanilla. Sure enough, one Esmeralda with vanilla, coming up. On the flip side, I gave a vac-pot demo with the Esmeralda for the local Slow Foods chapter yesterday. It was sublime. One older woman keep on trying to get my attention. Finally, she asks what flavoring I put in the coffee to get it to taste so flowery. “It’s really just the flavor of the coffee coming through.” No, really– what did you put in the coffee. After assuring her that is how the coffee tastes by itself, she smiles, turns to her friend, and says “I just never knew that coffee could taste like that…”

  2. It definitely helps to think of the good stories and brilliant moments. I’ve really worked on letting things go the last couple of days. Loosening up. Not on quality, but on caring about what people are ordering. Being as uptight as I’ve been lately hasn’t helped anything. If anything it’s gotten me into trouble. By relaxing and enjoying myself more, it’s definitely helping me enjoy the “Wow. They got it!” moments.

  3. It’s kinda like that time at ritual, when a manager from Sbucks insisted on “helping” Owens, Ford, Drew and I profile the Biloya for SFN because she “had a clover at her store and knew a lot about roasting”.

    Thank you Sbucks manager lady, your input was invaluable…

  4. I had to hold myself back today. We’re lucky that we don’t do syrups at all, let alone condiment stands.

  5. Very timely post. At the beginning of this week I was finishing up some dishes and while walking back to the front of the store I overheard “large blahblah with 4 shots of espresso”. I heard my barista say “we can’t do that”. I trust my people so I just went with it. The customer said “against the rules, huh? I’ll have the costa rica then with 4 shots”. I jumped in and pulled two doubles and then dumped them over his flecha roja and he was on his way. I really don’t like putting espresso in any coffee. The guy always orders the most expensive coffee on the menu and then adds 4 shots to it. Whatever. Didn’t think anything of it and went about my day. So another customer came in and asked about the esmeralda. I’m like “it’s really great but you should only order it if you can sit down and have it here”. My wife happened to be there and made a joke about the customer being right etc so that I didn’t come off sounding snobby and I tell the customer that we like to recommend how a customer enjoys their drink but of course they can do what they want. About an hour later 4 shot most expensive coffee guy comes back and orders an esmeralda… to go, then starts dumping cream into it (probably about 1/3 cream since we brew 10oz esmeralda). I stutter out a “but but but…” and he smiles and says “it’s for someone else, she said she wanted cream in it”. Hope she enjoyed her coffee flavored milk. It probably didn’t taste like anything. Then I realized that when he came in earlier he tried to order a 16oz esmeralda with 4 shots in it! I just let it go… deep breaths.

  6. To end the week on an up-note, we just brewed up a vac pot of the Ndaroini so we can work up clover specs. I’ve been so happy with the auction lot coffees, and I think this one even has a slight edge on the Gaturiri. Wonderful stuff. Thanks, intelli, for another great coffee.

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