A bit nervous about the specialty coffee menu? Don't be!
I am a coffee professional. After occupying the roles of barista, trainer, and manager, it’s safe to say that I feel more comfortable in a coffee shop than I do at home. I’m in my element when talking shop with other coffee professionals about coffee varietals, brew methods, and roast curves. But, thanks to the honest input from a coffee-confused friend of mine, I’ve realized that people who are new to the full exposure of the craft-coffee scene can feel a bit overwhelmed by its depth. Never you fear, coffee newbies! Read this brief orientation to relieve some of the stress you may feel next time you step into a specialty coffee shop.
It’s a fact that most baristas have rugged exteriors and aggressive passions for the art of brewing coffee. Because of this, pop culture will peg baristas to be the pit bulls of the hospitality industry. But, baristas are more misunderstood than mean. Approaching a barista with any form of kindness will lead them to be your friend for life. If you’ve experienced a bad barista, I’d like to apologize on behalf of my tribe. Good baristas understand that they work in the hospitality industry and are ready to go above and beyond to help you have a favorable experience.
Menus in specialty coffee shops are a total catch-22. On the one hand, they are simple and limited to about ten to fifteen items. On the other hand, those ten to fifteen items look mostly foreign to people who are unfamiliar with the specialty coffee world. So, how is this problem remedied? Look to a barista for guidance. Develop a partnership with them about the menu, even if it’s only for a moment. Don’t be afraid to badger them with questions. Baristas love to talk about coffee! Some career baristas have even undergone courses and training to reach a status that is comparable to that of a sommelier. The more you communicate with baristas about the menu, the more likely you are to find a coffee you like.
As you kick off this craft-coffee expedition, feel free to start with crazy offerings like single-origin espressos and Gesha pour-overs. However, odds are that your pallet won’t make heads or tails of what you are tasting. It takes time for your pallet to acclimate to the nuance found in well-roasted and well-brewed coffee. In your new-formed partnership with the baristas behind the bar, work on finding a drink that is similar to what you are used to like a black coffee with cream, vanilla latté, or a cappuccino. Take small steps toward the extreme side of specialty coffee. There’s no need to rush. But, if you want to streamline your pallet training, cut out foods that contain a lot of high fructose corn syrup and pay attention to the relationship that flavors have with one another. If you happen to not like your drink, or it doesn’t seem quite right to you, let the baristas know. They will do what they can to accommodate you!
The Bottom Line:
The majority of the world gets on with their lives not knowing the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white. However, I urge you to give specialty coffee a chance. People who work in specialty coffee have been thoughtful to curate an experience that revolves around their clientele and products. Industry professionals know there is Joy, balance, and better understanding found in the cups of coffee that they make and in the conversations had around them. So, the invitation to join the specialty coffee world is open and we look forward to seeing you there!