#9 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

We get all the way to the end of this list of 10 things that baristas hold secret or won’t tell you and honestly only these last two are really list-worthy.

9. “We don’t always clean our equipment.”

Espresso machines are like cars — they need constant upkeep. But when baristas are caught in the 4 p.m. rush, it’s easy to let maintenance duties slide. If an espresso machine needs cleaning, you can taste it, says Scott Rao, author of The Professional Barista’s Handbook. Coffee oils can go rancid easily, and caked-on grounds can mess with water flow, he says. And “if the steam wands have a lot of old, dried milk caked on the outside or inside of the wand, that can influence the milk flavor,” Rao adds. (That spoiled milk can also be hazardous to your health.) The best way to gauge machine cleanliness, says Boni, is to taste the coffee black before adding any extras.

After reading this one I imagined all of the people who would be so disgusted and so upset at this idea but they probably have a coffee machine and/or grinder at home that has never been cleaned.

This reminds me, I should make a post about how to clean your drip machine.

#8 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

We’re getting close the end of the list.  Here’s one that a barista wouldn’t tell you.

8. “We’ve got a secret menu.”

Tired of the usual offerings? Most coffee shops have at least a few unlisted drinks for patrons in the know. “For some shops, there are unwritten drinks, based on popular drinks some customers may ask for,” Dominy says. Most established baristas can make off-the-list fare, he says, though managers prefer they stick to the menu. So what’s popular in the unposted coffee drink arena? The Dirty Chai, a chai latte with a shot of espresso. Another is the Espresso Panna Cotta (listed on the Starbucks website, though not in stores), an espresso topped with whipped cream, he says. And if you’re after a megadose of caffeine, order the Red Eye or Black Eye, a drip coffee plus one or two shots of espresso, respectively. At Starbucks, says Duong, one of the most popular off-menu orders is coffee served through a French press.

These secret menus exist more at local coffee shops than at the big chains like Starbucks.  I’ve seen a French press at a Starbucks occasionally but the Dirty Chai is something I’ve seen more often now.  People have figured it out and started to tell others.  If you have a local coffee café ask the barista to surprise you.  If they aren’t busy it’s fun to show off what they know.

Did you know that Starbucks even has a menu for dogs?  I know someone who gets something off of the dog menu almost every morning.

#7 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

I think this is the first one that fits the title.  It feels like that secret information that a barista wouldn’t tell you.

7. “You can really milk us.”

At Starbucks, extras such as soy milk or a shot of flavored syrup are offered free of charge to rewards-card holders. But sometimes these freebies come at the discretion of the server. “Most baristas would charge for an extra [espresso] shot, but things like whipped cream they wouldn’t,” says Kaitlynn Vogt, a University of Nebraska law student who spent four months working at Starbucks after college. But there are other ways to save as well. For one, you can create your own cheaper latte by asking for a double shot of espresso in a larger size cup, then pouring in milk at the condiments counter. And on a recent road trip, Vogt says she was able to get two free coffee refills after purchasing her first iced coffee earlier in the day with a prefilled Starbucks card. (Technically, paying with a Starbucks rewards card gets users free refills on brewed coffee only during the same visit at the same store, says Duong.)

I’ve heard about the poor-man’s latte before many years ago.  The free refill options don’t seem to be offered much anymore unless it’s late afternoon.  It’s funny to think that people going to Starbucks are finding ways to make cheaper versions of their espresso drinks.  Even though it hurts the company’s revenue (very slightly), it’s a compliment that people are trying.

By the way, why does a college law student that only spent four months working at a Starbucks get to chime in?  This is an article about baristas.  I think a law student who spent less than 160 days at a Starbucks does not qualify.

#6 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

If you are from Yahoo and you interview a barista in 2012 about things that a barista wouldn’t tell you, this is #6.

6. “You might want to stick with the coffee.”

Sure, the lemon poppy-seed scones, blueberry muffins or buttery croissants on display at your local coffee chain seem enticing — that, after all, is the idea behind those bountiful glass-counter displays. But look before you leap; they may not live up to their promise. Coffee shops don’t usually prepare their food in-house, so the offerings may not be that fresh or well-made. What’s more, they’re often high in fat, calories and sugar. Consumers may unwittingly end up snacking on, say, a 500-calorie scone. Even with chains like Starbucks revising their menu to include healthier choices, such selections are generally small in comparison with the cakes and muffins. Says Starbucks’ Duong, “All of our food is under 500 calories,” and natural flavors are used wherever possible.

I think this is more obvious than the barista thinks.  Most people don’t see ovens in the coffee house and can figure out that the food wasn’t made there but often the food is brought in daily making it quite fresh.  As for the taste, that depends on the person.  I think most people who enjoy the coffee are only getting small cookies but if you’re looking for a bigger snack or meal then you’re probably not going to the coffee house to eat.

I’ve had two experiences that were the opposite of this skip-the-food idea in #6.  Of course, I’ve also had many times where I can tell that the food options are really quite poor and I know when to skip them.

My old neighborhood coffee joint was a great place to get food and you could watch them prepare it for you. Unfortunately they closed.  One of the only coffee shops in this neighborhood.  http://gravesendblend.com/2014/01/09/the-neighborhood-coffee-joint-part-1/

My other good experience was in Williamsburg where I sometimes work.


#5 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

#5 on the list, much like #1, doesn’t fit in this article that is supposed to be about things that baristas won’t tell you.  I’m sure they would tell you this.

5. “Your Web surfing won’t pay the rent.”

Coffee shops walk a fine line between being a business and being an extension of customers’ living rooms. Since many baristas rely heavily on tips for their income, customers lingering over their lattes without adequately tipping can put a serious dent in their take-home pay. As a general rule, suggests Dominy, if you plan to settle in with your laptop, it’s best to make at least a small purchase every hour and tip accordingly. For their part, coffee shops sometimes take measures to tame loitering with subtle reminders that they’re a business: They’ll provide Wi-Fi passwords only with purchase, keep bathroom keys behind the counter or even post signs limiting table time. On the other hand, many places like to cultivate a more leisurely hangout vibe during off-peak hours, like early afternoon. For example, Ritual Coffee Roasters, a San Francisco roaster with four locations, often hosts free tastings for patrons interested in learning the differences between coffee beans.

This shouldn’t be news to most people but, unfortunately, it is news as I see people acting as though the coffee shop squat is their right as a human being.  If it’s a big chain like Caribou or Starbucks then you get the attitude that since they are a huge corporation then they can afford to have me sit here all day with one small coffee.  Then that same person complains that the small coffee is $2+ dollars.

#4 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

Continuing with the secret list of things a barista won’t tell you…

4. “Not all beans pack the same punch.”

Differences in coffee beans account for more than just flavor; they actually impact the milligrams of caffeine in each cup. A Starbucks 12-ounce brewed coffee, for example, contains 260 milligrams of caffeine, while the same cup from Caribou contains 230 milligrams, according to Starbucks and Caribou coffee, respectively. After a few cups, these differences can add up, says Ted Kallmyer, former barista and editor of Energyfiend.com, a site that tracks beverage caffeine content through nutrition labels, lab tests and scientific journals. Pros say they can taste it: “Lighter roasted coffee, like Central and Latin American coffee, has more caffeine,” says Dominy. Coffee companies aren’t required by law to post caffeine content; however, most do so as a courtesy to their customers, says Kallmyer.

This is some interesting information but it’s probably something a barista would tell you.  The one issue with this information is that it doesn’t really have much impact.  Most people don’t drink enough coffee to see the difference between the Starbucks 260 milligrams and the Caribou 230 milligrams.  If they did drink that much then maybe the barista should tell them about the difference.   Isn’t that one of the benefits of having a barista??

Click this link and take a quick look at the top caffeine beverages on that website energyfiend.com.  Pretty interesting stuff.  Lots of cold brew coffee is loaded with caffeine.

#3 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

This one seems deceptive.

3. “Need a bigger jolt? Don’t reach for a venti.”

Need an extra dose of caffeine? Simple — order a bigger coffee. But the same rule doesn’t apply for more complicated drinks, like a skinny mocha cappuccino. Often, larger sizes of such concoctions are topped off with milk or extra foam instead of additional espresso. The popular caramel macchiato from Starbucks, for example, gets two espresso shots whether it’s a grande or venti, says Starbucks spokesperson Marianne Duong, and both small and medium lattes at Peet’s likewise have two shots, according to Peet’s communication manager Cheryl Magat. How to tell what you’re getting? The complicated descriptions on the menu probably won’t help. Instead, ask about the number of espresso shots in each drink at a given cup size — most have two or three.

I was right, this is a little deceptive.  They word it as if larger sizes of coffee don’t have larger amounts of caffeine but we’re talking about specialty espresso drinks in #3.  If you’re looking for a jolt (of caffeine) and you’re ordering a large (venti) caramel macchiato then you don’t understand coffee and it’s relationship with caffeine.  As a matter of fact, you probably wouldn’t be looking for an espresso if you’re looking for a bigger jolt since coffee has more caffeine.

I’ve never liked it when people who claim to enjoy drinking coffee treat it like a speed drug.  Most people who enjoy drinking coffee don’t like the caffeine because it means we can’t drink as much as we want to.  I get the shakes if I drink too much coffee but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy the taste.

#2 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

This is a series of posts about an article I found back in February of 2012 that was titled, “10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You.”

2. “Actually, our coffee is underpriced.”

As coffee-making has gotten elevated to an art form in recent years, the $1 cup has been rapidly disappearing. Not only are high-end coffee brands like Intelligentsia or Stumptown more expensive, but so is the common bean: Coffee futures were at a 10-year high in 2011, at more than $300 per pound, double the price in 2009. And other key ingredients, like milk and sugar, are not far behind. Then there’s personnel — a few serious coffee venues now pay as much as $17 an hour for top baristas. “It’s becoming more artisan,” says Marcus Boni, director of community development at the Specialty Coffee Association of America. To meet the rising overhead, some businesses adjust their pricing to stay competitive. Rather than charging, say, $3 for a basic coffee, they’ll keep it closer to $2, then make up for it by upping specialty drinks to $5 or more. It’s how they stay in business, says Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist.

This is definitely something that a barista wouldn’t tell you.  People think coffee is very much over priced but those costs they mention are real.   Let’s not forget the rent on locations for these businesses, the water bill and the laptop person that takes up a seat all day for the cost of one coffee.  I’ve noticed a trend of coffee houses banding computer use in the cafés. 

I’ve also noticed a trend of those specialty drinks.  I’m that guy on line that simply wants a regular coffee at 7am and I’m often stuck behind someone who is getting a dessert-in-a-cup (aka specialty drink) and takes up those precious minutes that just made me late to work.

#1 out of 10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You

I had saved this article I found way back in February of 2012 that was titled, “10 Things Baristas Won’t Tell You.”

Quick side note, how many articles now have this ridiculous headline?  It really turns me off to think that I’m being lured in by such secret information in this article posted on a gigantic website like Yahoo.  It’s always things that someone-with-power won’t tell you.

I’m going to post each thing in a separate post.  This will give me plenty of room to make comments.   😆

1. “We didn’t exist 30 years ago.”

Coffee is serious business: There are roughly 50,000 coffee shops in the U.S., posting $18 billion in annual sales, and according to a survey by the National Coffee Association, 24 percent of Americans reported drinking coffee outside the home in 2011. This wasn’t always the case; before 1982, finding a perfectly pulled espresso was a rarity, and there was no special name for the person who served up your morning joe. Today, baristas are expected to master a wide variety of frothy concoctions, and an uptick in training has helped legitimize the profession. In addition to new-employee drill sessions, some chains, like Emeryville, Calif.-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea, recertify their java masters on an annual basis. Indeed, for many, barista is a career choice, not a part-time job. “There’s a giant misconception that baristas are all slackers and hipster kids,” says Jason Dominy, outreach coordinator at Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, a specialty roasting company in Olympia, Wash., and a barista of 15 years. “But a lot of the people have college degrees and are in coffee because they are incredibly passionate about the product.”

Why is this something that a barista wouldn’t tell me?  I haven’t met a single person who thinks that the onslaught of coffee houses is something that has existed for the last 50 or 100 years.  Everyone knows it’s a recent phenomenon.  It’s just like bottled water.  Prior to the bottled water phenomenon people used water fountains or just waited until they got near a faucet to drink water.  Prior to having a coffee-house on every corner & rest stop people used thermoses to take coffee with them.  I remember my grandfather and his olive-green thermos.

So #1 on the list is lame.  Baristas are new and there is a lot of training required for baristas that don’t work at most chain coffee cafés.