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Seattle Thoughts: Mediocre Espresso

Kenny laughed. Immediately.

Anyone who has spent a great deal of time around me when I'm talking coffee will tell you, from personal experience, that I won't shy away from being honest when I feel the occasion calls for it. Unfortunately, those occasions are often precisely when others do not want me to be honest.

Allow me to clarify.

As I explained to Kenny and Pablo, it does a coffee shop no service when a barista asks how my espresso was and I tell them, "It was good!" and then promptly walk out and tell my friends and everyone else who asks, " was mediocre." Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, feedback isn't helpful. Sometimes, hurtful truth isn't helpful. I honestly wanted to be truthful, even hurtful if necessary, and I certainly wanted to be helpful.

Allow me to clarify still more.

I told Austin, the barista at 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, that the single-origin Kenya AB espresso I had been served was mediocre. Actually, I didn't say the word mediocre; I had lifted my hand, palm-downward with my fingers spread open, and wiggled it in a motion while making a noise which clearly indicated the word I wanted to indicate: Mediocre.

It was the truth, and it clearly hurt. Kenny's laughter wasn't helping.

At that point, my feedback wasn't helpful, so I expounded. I told him what I had told Kenny and Pablo: The fruit was there, the flavor was there, it just didn't "pop" at all. A Kenya pulled as espresso is a unique animal: wild and flashy, vivid and powerful and woefully dangerous. I felt it should have ascended quickly up my palate and made my eyes pop open intensely in surprise; instead, it just sort of stood there...and boredom.

The reason I gave such honest feedback? They cared. Austin and the other barista clearly wanted to offer up an outstanding product. My aim was not to bash the latest Starbucks project into oblivion; it was to enjoy it for what it was, offer up some critique, and be on my merry way. In retrospect, I think Austin was not prepared for my up-front honesty. Kenny, however, was used to it, and so he laughed. I took the time to explain myself to Austin, telling him precisely why I felt no qualms in being so honest in what I tasted. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was in a Starbucks and wanted to engage in some high-handed, silly game of Charbucks-bashing. No, it was and is simply this: The espresso was mediocre, and if they want to serve up a good espresso, they need to know when they serve up mediocre espresso. Otherwise, how will they know the difference?

posted by Bolo | 9:50 PM
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