Your precious coffee policy

Wow, this has gotten really out of hand. A guy walks into Murky Coffee, orders an iced espresso, and is informed that the store doesn’t offer that drink. Flame war ensues.

I was at Murky when the incident happened, sitting outside away from the action. I was amazed even then at how quickly the story spread. Immediately after the guy, Jeff Simmermon, left the infamous dollar tip, the barista David came outside to show it to my friends and me. Within minutes another customer blogged about it, a friend emailed me the post, and I’d taken a photo of the bill for posting. I later decided not to post it because, really, this isn’t the kind of thing that deserves to be taken beyond the shop. It’s too late for that though: BoingBoing and Metafilter picked up the story and there’s a Washington Post article on the way.

Now I do want to write about it because my friends and the shop where I got started as a barista are being slandered as pretentious jerks who don’t care about customer service. This is especially unfair to the barista, David, who was following the store policy. There’s a sign on the register clearly stating that Murky will ice any drink except for espresso and cappuccino. David made this clear and explained why the shop doesn’t offer those. Whether or not he could have handled the interaction better (and I suspect he in fact handled it pretty well), that should have been the end of the matter. Instead Simmermon made a scene, left a vulgar tip, and got one of the world’s most popular websites to repeat his story portraying the barista as a pretentious hipster who takes coffee way too seriously. It’s frustrating to then see Murky mocked all over the internet and this guy taken to be a hero for mistreated customers.

Simmermon does raise a fair question about whether the shop should have a policy against icing espresso. It’s something the store could physically do, and isn’t the customer always right?

Well, maybe. That’s one way to run a business. But there’s a constant tension in the coffee world between giving the people what they like and trying to raise the bar for specialty coffee. If Murky was really selling customers everything they wanted, they’d be installing blenders and a giant rack of flavored syrups, too. That’s the road to becoming Starbucks, with its frappuccini, Vivanno-whatevers, and push-button mediocrity. The higher end shops define themselves not only by what they offer, but also by what they say no to. A lot of places won’t make blended drinks. Others are cutting out 20 ounce and even 16 ounce cups. At Murky, they define espresso and the classic cappuccino as their signature beverages. They won’t ice them, they won’t serve them to go. It might cost them a few customers, but it shows the pride they take in their work and their respect for the coffee. I think that’s refreshing, and it elevates the company’s image as the most dedicated shop in DC.

It’s not an arbitrary policy, either. As owner Nick explains at the Murky blog:

Espresso is a fairly volatile thing, and when it hits ice, it seems to go through a chemical change that we can’t fully explain (and I haven’t seen a good explanation within our industry quite yet). It does appear to have something to do with ascorbic acid, but when we make our iced americanos (espresso + water + ice), we pour the shots into room-temperature water before adding the ice. Believe it or not, it does make a difference. Pouring espresso over ice creates unpleasantly acrid flavors.

Maybe Simmermon’s just being sarcastic, but it sounds like he really enjoyed the iced Americano he eventually received. If he’d listened to the barista’s advice in the first place, he would have discovered the drink sooner. And at the very least he shouldn’t have publicly mocked the barista for upholding the store’s policy.

Anyway, there’s three things to take away from this. One, don’t be a dick on the internet. Two, trust your barista. Three, pay a visit to Murky. Despite the insults swirling around online, they’ve got a friendly, talented crew right now, and they make a damned good espresso.


5 thoughts on “Your precious coffee policy”

  1. You had a better view of it than anyone online, so your opinion is certainly worth adding to the mix (you’re like ice into an americano, not an espresso).

    That being said, it’s one thing for the store not to stock an item, or to explain to customers why they might not really want what it is they’re asking for, but it’s odd to refuse to pour some ice into a cup for a customer when you’ve got the ice and you’ve got the cup.

    From my slanted hindsight, it seems like the better course of action, and the one more likely to convince the customer that what they want isn’t the best option available to them, is to politely explain that while you’re happy to provide what they’ve asked for, they might prefer the alternative drink which provides a much better taste due to the complex interaction between coffee and ice (or whatever). A polite explanation to explain the policy, versus a steadfast refusal pair with a “that’s not cool” is a lot more likely to both win over customers and provide a heightened coffee drinking experience.

    The explanation about not giving out ice to avoid the ghetto latte scam made more sense.

  2. @RumorsDaily

    That’s not why David said “That’s not cool.” I posted a follow-up a couple hours ago on:

    Jacob: nice blog post. Thanks for the props.

  3. Ah.

    Do you guys have security footage of this whole thing? I’d like to watch the whole thing now and pull out the “he said” from the “she said.”

  4. I read about this on boingboing and was going to email you to see if you heard, but obvs you were there! 🙂 The whole time I read the original story, I just knew the guy was being a douche. I could just tell even in the way he wrote it. Even if he had bad service or thought it was weird to have such a policy, the normal thing would be just to say “that’s weird, you weirdo! you just gave me a cup of ice and espresso to let me do it myself!” and let it go. To have such a reaction makes me think there was some assholery going on. Maybe it’s just cause I’ve been a barista before (nowhere fancy, but not a Starbucks) but I’ve had shitty service from many a stuck-up Portland server and never felt the need to 1) leave such a rude tip and 2) go blog about it. But that’s just me.

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