Issue No. 8 by Ethan Cullingworth
After throwing a serious amount of information your way I figured it appropriate to change pace. Today I’m not educating. I’m going to lay waste with wonton disregard for all things educational. I’m going to describe the café feeling from my own perspective.
I used to sit at cafés and wonder how the baristas flowed so effortlessly behind the bar, steam and coffee molecules melding to help creating the ambiance we know so well, as I sipped my drink and conversed with friends. After a few years I got the opportunity to find out first hand.
I started drinking coffee at about thirteen. Regular house brew stuff. I graduated to the café experience a couple years later; my brother, friend, and myself would surf early in the morning then leave the boards with my friends dad while he went to work and us to downtown Cape Town. We would then coffee shop hop across our favourite spots in town, among other destinations of our choosing, immersing ourselves in coffee culture and learning everything we could manage.
Walking into a cafe I immediately feel at home or not. I want to sit down and soak the energy up or turn around and walk right back out that door. Having been inside many café’s, and worked at a few, I usually know what to expect as soon as I step inside. One look at the the bar is all it takes. There are times I’m pleasantly surprised, but only rarely.
Café’s always have their own community and culture. What energy do I get from the patrons? Are they the demographic I usually find myself around? Are people interacting or is everyone keeping to themselves? Are the barista’s genuine and inviting? Do I feel taken care of, or like nuisance? This is more of a subjective experience, obviously, but one that should always be considered. If I don’t feel fulfilled in the ways I wanted when I arrived, I leave. It’s not personal, I simply don’t have time to waste on unsatisfactory experiences.
What Turns Me On
What do I look for, then? Personally, cleanliness is huge. Besides genuinely enjoying the interior design, if a café is clean, tidy, and uncluttered with a good flow of energy through the space, I feel like I can sit down. If the barista’s care enough to maintain their space, chances are they’ll maintain their customers and coffee with the same intention.
Consistently good coffee. Sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised. Even if a café has what I consider good coffee, if I only want my beverage made by a specific barista and don’t trust the rest of the team, there’s a problem. I’m seriously looking forward to this coffee, and if I feel the need to change my order based off who’s working I’d rather go somewhere I know I’ll get what I want every time.
Genuine connections with the baristas. Being treated like a human being and not just another drink to be made is a must have. Working in the service industry can be hard. You have to deal with countless people, all in varying emotional states, with a constant polite and professional manner. Maintaining genuine connections, no matter how big or small, is a skill that takes conscious effort. It’s also your job as a barista to learn this. If you decide this isn’t for you as a barista, your café isn’t for me as a customer.
What Turns Me Off
Mediocre espresso. There’s not much else to say about this. If the spro isn’t consistent in tasting nice I won’t bother. Honorable mention to drip coffee: it’s hard to make bad drip. If your drip is bad the roast is probably throwing it off. Another reason to shy away, if the case, however.
Lack of variety. I don’t need much, but having a rotation of a couple coffees on bar makes a world of a difference. If I go regularly I can taste the difference between the previous years crop vs this years, and that’s pretty exciting in my world.
Music. This really is a personal gripe. I love music, and can’t help but have it affect my mood. Usually I have my headphones with me (that are equipped with some serious noise cancelling) if I really don’t like what’s coming out the speakers, but I would rather listen to the in’s and out’s of the environment around me. Sadly, whatever’s playing is usually not to my taste. It’s a me problem.
No greenery, or unhealthy greenery. Have plants, and please take care of them. They bring a lot of peaceful energy, and one learns much from the art of caring for plant life.
Not having the turn on’s I mentioned previously. Those I pretty much need, my turn off’s, however, are not always make or break so I didn’t want to lump them together.
It’s Not Personal
All this is a bit of my subjective preference. I’m not saying this should be the standard. These are some of my standards, perhaps, but we all experience and place value on different things. Also, I still support these café’s that ‘don’t make the cut’ for lack of a better term, I just get a chai when I find myself there. Being mindful of how a space makes me feel I find important, and considering these things help me figure out if a particular café is one I enjoy.
Finally, taste is king. The best cup of coffee out there is the one you enjoy. Now, we have studies that claim your cup of coffee taste better in a cup you find enjoyable. Unless you’re getting coffee to go, the environment is a factor that can’t be ignored.