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Do I Have To?

November 7, 2008

At work, I’m used to being The Pro. As in, the punters come to me for coffee, and I make it. They shut the fuck up and wait, ’cause I’m The Pro and know what I’m doing.

Their job is to tell me what drink they want at the end, and mine is to make it happen. It is, I freely admit, a simple relationship. I like it that way, and they appreciate the results. However, sometimes folks know enough to pitch in – I usually enjoy this, we enjoy a coffee-nerd moment together and I walk out at the end having learned something.

However, and it’s a giant fucking “however,” sometimes someone comes in thinking they know enough to give me pointers when, in fact, they’ve got no damned clue.  I

I’ve written about them before – sorry, no link, I can’t recall a specific story, but…  I know I’ve run into ’em before.  However, this one got me to such a degree I almost refused to do as she asked.  She’d apparently heard that cooling espresso rapidly will ruin the flavour – definately true, but not suited to the situation.  I was very proud that this lass had even read the whole article, where the writer plainly mentioned that putting the espresso into an un-heated cup will cool it quickly enough to sour the flavour.

Seems, however, he wasn’t specific enough, he’d meant ceramic cups – which are a dense conductive mass, which if left un-preheated, will be cold enough to affect the coffee’s flavour.  However, this same fact is untrue when applied to a to-go cup – those plastic/paper/styrofoam babies don’t “hold” enough cold to affect the flavour of a shot, ours specifically will even keep the contents warmer longer than the ceramic cups.

So this lass, figuring herself now well-educated and a de-facto expert on espresso, stops me in the middle of making her double latte to make a bizarre request – “Oh, don’t put the shot in first,” she says as I lift the shot glass I’d run into towards her to-go cup.  I think I kinda froze, and unable to mind myself, narrowed my eyes and stared at her with a mixture of contempt, pity, and confusion.  She huffed and informed me that putting her shot into a cold cup would sour her espresso, so could I “just put the milk in first?”  I stared a little more while I replayed what she’d said in my head.

I managed to re-collect myself, and quite firmly informed her that it would ruin the flavour of the drink.  The milk and the coffee won’t mix properly.  It won’t taste right.  “Really, honestly,” I said, “you’re asking me to ruin your latte for you…”  She stared back, determined, and launched into some long diatribe about cooling the espresso that reminded me Star Trek’s science terms (“All we need to do is redistribute the chronaton fusion flux transistors so the subspacial sonar ray will work at 126% efficiency, cap’n!”) – it used all the right words, wrong, and still didn’t actually say anything useful at the end.

I took a deep breath, said “You’re asking me to butcher your drink, but you’re asking nicely, so I’ll do it – understand, though, this won’t taste right, and I take no responsibility for any problems you have with the flavour.”

Just to note, folks, the reason that the order of combining espresso and milk is actually important is coming:  When milk is steamed on the machine, the temperature is raised to effectively caramelize the lactose in the milk – it sweetens and tends to thicken, as well.  Even if no bubbles are added.  Additionally, the air in the bubbles “eats” strong flavours (this is why large bubbles in foam are a no-no.).  The sweetening effect of the caramelized lactose and the flavour “eating” of the bubbles serves to sweeten and mellow the espresso, rounding off sharp corners and taking hard bitter tones out of the flavour.  If you add the milk to the espresso, the two mingle as they are poured together, getting them well mixed and forcing foam and milk to mingle with the coffee before the foam settles on top of the coffee – if the order is reverse, the foam will have already settled to the top, and the espresso will just pass through it briefly on it’s way to the bottom, not mixing well or allowing the milk to pull bitter from the espresso.  In short, you get a lot of sweet milk on top over very bitter espresso.  Exactly what she was hoping to avoid.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    November 7, 2008 4:08 pm

    Arg, sometimes I hate customers. Also, my turn to have a customer rant…
    I worked yeaterday, I don’t usually work Thursday mornings, I was covering a shift. Alright, so the weekday morning regulars have no idea who I am. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working there longer than the other girls I was working with, or that I’m not good at my job. I had some incredibly patronizing lady come in and order a decaf americano, not a hard order. I nod my head and go to start making it. And she goes, “You know, if it’s too hard for you, she can make it” And points at my co-worker. I just stared at her, raised an eyebrow, and replied, “I think I can handle it thanks.” So I made her drink, perfectly, and sent her on her way.
    Then I got laughed at by one of the regulars who is there all the time and clearly knows that a decaf americano is not exactly an order that would be too hard for me.

    I love those. Not. Happened all the time when I started at Uptown. Which was made more entertaining given that the girl I was “training” with made noticably worse coffee & milk than I do. She was just teaching me the ins & outs of the location itself.

  2. November 12, 2008 2:28 pm

    Replied. Bitterly.

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