Stuff that's been given to me just for talking to the barista:
- A latte with a five rosetta free pour.
- A half bag of coffee, a muffin and a danish
- A whole bag of roast coffee
- A shot of espresso
- A taster of a new kind of coffee
- Many other things...
Talking to baristas pays infinite (well, finite, but pretty generous) dividends. In any decent specialty coffee shop, the consumer is always going to win because everything's amazing. But here's how to win even more.
Many will react to the below as some kind of slap in the face of consumer economics, as if coffee supersedes a product/service-for-money barter relationship. Well, guess what: specialty coffee, as with all haute cuisine, does transcend the mundane. Specialty coffee has a heart, that of its maker; it is made not just with technique but also with love, and thus it far eclipses any factory-made products and services built and delivered by committees. Every cup of specialty coffee contains a drop of the barista's soul.
Here's what to do:
- Say 'how are you?'. OMG so difficult. A lot of people get this right at least. Your barista asks everyone else, and he/she's working hard standing up and trying to do everything right all the time. Asking genuinely can make all the difference.
- Talk flavour and discuss what's available. Every day or week there are different beans available, with different characteristics. There might be a Kenyan, an Ethiopian and a specialty bean from Panama. You're totally not expected to know everything (every crop, batch and roast is different anyway), so ask them which ones they like, which ones are really special and how they'd serve it. You'll find a knowledgable barista will nearly always engage.
- Ask something about the technique. Do you brew at home? If so, you can definitely learn something. Watch what they're doing. Ask a simple question like 'what temperature do you use?' or 'what ratio of water to beans?' In doing so you'll probably encounter the infinite variability in coffee technique, add to your own knowledge, and showing the barista that you really care about what they're doing and appreciate they do it better than you do.
- Tell them what you think. You don't have to think too hard - 'fruity' or 'sweet' or 'light' is good enough, it doesn't have to 'have hints of nutty caramel' or an 'astringent blackberry aroma'. They'll appreciate just a little bit, and smell BS better than you can smell astringent blackberry (unless you actually can).
- Say thanks and give a genuine goodbye. Appreciate that they've rendered you a service into which they've poured their heart - not just sold you a product. Heck shake their hand and ask their name. I'm surprised how often people remember me!
Doing all the above can actually pay real physical dividends too: tasting samples, snacks, generous portions and extra care in providing suggestions and preparing your drink.