A Barista's Perspective: An honest open letter

Wednesday, 21 January, 2015
This letter was posted on social media and the response that it garnered from the people in the industry was overwhelming. Wayne Oberholzer is a former SA Barista Champion that has represented our nation at the World Champs. Disclaimer: The Obie tells it like he sees it and pulls no punches, this is his opinion, no sugar added and no language edited. We respect his honesty. See if you agree, if you don't, that's cool too, feel free to share your opinion either way.

For the past 8 years I have, as most of you know, been involved in coffee. In the last year I have been more involved with the front of house operations of coffee. Physically... Day in and day out... Serving coffee to people. Now I use the term people... Very loosely here. I have met some gems of the human species. I'm gonna mention a few situations, and I promise a lot of you may go, Uh no, there's no ways people are that crap?

So here are a few of my "observations" as a barista on the front line.

1. It's ok to greet people.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have said "Hello" or "How are you?", with a genuine tone and smile to only have returned. "2 coffees". People... It's ok to say hello. I'm not a robot. Nor am I a begger. I'm here to help, and most importantly. I am a human being.

2. "2 coffees"
Do you remember when you were young, and your old lady asked what you wanted for dinner? You would respond with "food". This would be followed by swift clip on the ear for being a shit, and more importantly, food is a broad term! Ask a barmen for a drink, you'll get the same stare. Ask a barista for coffee... Most will want to give you that motherly "clip on the ear"... But apparently that's not in our job description. So please... Be more specific. It's not rocket science

3. It is rocket science...
Ok I lied... And maybe exaggerated it slightly. It's a 2 pronged thing. I don't expect you to know the difference between bourbon and geisha. But at the very least... Know the difference between a flat white and an Americano! And if you don't... Don't look at the barista like he/she is the dick for correcting you. Most, and I'm talking most, baristas will happily explain it nicely.

4. Drink sizes
Yes. We know what you're trying to do... You're trying to get "more coffee"... People. All we are doing with a large cup is adding more milk or more water. If you want more, than say a double espresso (which is the "coffee flavored" part of the drink) ask the barista to add more shots. So to answer the usual "excuse"... It won't keep you up longer or wake you up more. It'll just give you more water/milk and dull the espresso flavour. Think of it this way. An espresso based drink, like, a flat white, is a cocktail. Specific parts of espresso to milk in a certain size cup. There is no such thing as a large Capp ( if using doubles as standard ) so when we tell you it's a latte you've just ordered. Trust us... Most of us actually know what we're talking about.

5. Sugar
Now I know I'm leaning into the territory of being a cock barista here. But hear me out. Drink coffee the way you like it... But bare this in mind: Maybe coffee isn't for you?? If you're ordering a single shot latte with 7 sugars, do us a favour, buy a Monster energy drink. Seriously. If you think that a) All that sugar is going to dissolve? Think again bub. b) What's the point?? There is literally no coffee taste. Nut up and order some warm milk with sugar. Please. I beg you... With tears in my eyes.

6. Milk/coffee temp
This is an age old debate. That will not change. If you want to see how your outside environments effect how you "perceive" temp. Come see me. I promise... I'll open your eyes. Secondly, as baristas, we use our hands. Sorry they aren't made of leather and asbestos like your tongue apparently is. But getting burnt SUCKS!! Like beyond sucks. So we'll heat it as much as is safely possible. But anything beyond may I suggest fresh Lava??

7. Ordering and leaving
Come now people. Most coffee shops are simple. If you're ordering take away, or you're at a place that doesn't deliver to your table. May I suggest the following very simple techniques. A. Patience - read the room people. If you see 30 cups lined up on or near the machine and there are 40people in the shop. It's gonna take some time. B. Once you order, try and stick around. If your coffee gets cold, cause you were outside smoking 20cigs and hitting on the car guard. How is it fair on us and our companies to make you another? That being said, within reason, most barista will help you out. C. If there aren't waiters at a place don't be the turd blossom that gets all pissed because the barista hasn't brought you your coffee. D. Once you order, move aside and let the next person have a crack at it.

8. Money
Pet peeve here. Most shops carry proper floats etc. But try stay away from 2 hundie sticks first thing in the morning. As well as, there is a special place in hell for people who either crumple their money up. Or fold the cash tightly and hand it over. Yes people I understand. It's like a little drug deal... But news flash folks. This shits legal. Walter white is eve. thinking of opening up a few stores.

9. Tipping
Peeps. We don't expect to be tipped. We really don't. However, if you dig our coffee, throw us a few bones. A lot of us use this for after work activities and food etc during the work week. But what you must definitely not do, is what I witnessed a few weeks back. Customer ordered 4 coffees and a bottle of water. If I do say so myself, they were some damn fine cups of coffee. Well presented and highly enjoyed by the customer and family. He left no tip. But then proceeded, in front of myself and my colleagues, to give a homeless dude R50. To say I was stunned. Understatement. I'm sorry, but that is not on. Forgoing your beliefs on helping beggers etc... Not cool. We work damn hard and do what we do well. I find it insulting you would think it ok to give us zero tip, but a dude who I know to be a big drinker, you can smell him before you see him, a R50 gimmy. Let's just say I had to really bite my tongue. I guess what I'm trying to say here. Is be consistent. If you got dosh to drop 50 bones on a bonehead. These dogs are hungry as well.

10. We're actually good at our jobs
Now disclaimer here. I'm talking about the places I have worked, frequented or those my friends and colleagues frequent. I cannot talk to the corporates and chocolate give-away-ers about their skill and passion. But when you step into one of the many great coffee places across the country, the chances are high that the dude behind the counter knows what he or she is doing. Nothing gets us more annoyed than a smart ass trying to give condescending instructions into how his/her coffee is made. 9/10... We already make it the way you want it. The other 1/10... You really shouldn't be having it that way. Or my worst... Are the sneaky cockroaches that order an espresso in a certain cup, with milk on the side... And get upset when we charge for the amount of milk you use. Dude. Just cause you've got your espresso in a flat white cup with milk on the side. If you fill the milk to the top, I'm charging you for a flat white. Not an espresso.

11. Takeaway coffee
Espresso - It's 30-60ml of liquid. It tastes better in a cup. So if you don't have 2 min to actually enjoy it.. I think it's time to rethink your life people.
Milk on the side - are you serious?? Come now. Sorry we don't have takeaway jugs. Tell us what you want. We'll make a plan
Tell us it's takeaway... We're busy and sometimes will forget to ask. So be sure to say so.
Sugar. Most places I work will add the sugar for the takeaway coffees. So say how much. (Refer to point 5 for quantities)

12. Smokers
Now you know the old saying. The worst kind of smoking critic is an ex smoker. Well as someone that used to smoke a pack a day, 2 a day on the weekends, I am the worst. THROW YOU BUTTS AWAY PROPERLY YOU FILTHY COCKROACHES!! Jeeze I am so tired of having to pick up after your filthy creatures... Now that's out my system. Secretly I am jealous... Cause to me there is nothing better than a smoke and a coffee. It's the only thing I miss. But please oaks. Don't just flick it in front of our stores. Find a bin or something to put them away please.

13. Speak clearly
Dammit people. I'm pushing old age here. I listen to loud music and an espresso machine/coffee shop are traditionally noisy places. We're not lip readers. So please, make good with the communication.

14. We're on time... You're running late
When you come in like a hurricane and demand 50 coffees and you want them in 20 secs... Secretly baristas worldwide slow down just a bit. Don't come screaming and shouting oaks. We make it as quick as it takes. But there are limits to how fast you can do certain things. We want it to taste amazing, and good things take time.

I am sure there are many, MANY more things that I can add here. But I think the main thing to take away from this is the following.

Just because you don't understand it, just because it isn't a traditional career, don't for a second stand there and look down on us for what we do and how we do it. I have seen more of the world than 90% of the people I know. People who earn 5 times what I do. I pay rent. I take my girlfriend to amazing dinners. I lead a pretty decent social life. I have friends in the same profession with successful businesses, happy families and amazing stories.

So next time you feel like being a chop to your barista...Don't. We know where you get your coffee everyday.

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