Reality Coffee

Today was a bit of a rough day: Because of a (non-coffee-related and relatively minor) injury I sustained yesterday morning, I've been in just enough discomfort to inspire me to sit in a doctor's waiting room for over two hours today, only to be told that what I've earned is a diagnostically underwhelming series of bruises and sprains.

After the afternoon-wasting hullabaloo and subsequent insurance paper chase, I thought I would treat myself to a coffee at the nearest location, regardless of brand or cost. And that, my friends, was a Starbucks.

Don't judge me.

So anyway, I had a really strange interaction with the fellow behind the register, and I thought it was worth repeating. Let's reenact, shall we?

Barista: Hello and welcome to Starbucks.
Me: Hello, how are you?
Barista, after a long pause: Is that a rhetorical question?
Me: Um, actually, no.

[awkward silence]

Barista: In that case, I've had better days.
Me: Oh, well, I'm really sorry to hear that.

[another, longer awkward silence]

Me: So ... can I ... get a small coffee? With some room?

[Barista hands me my drink without a word.]

Me: Thank you so much, and, uh, I ... hope your day gets better.
Barista: Me too.


What this does is reinforce a conversation I had yesterday with Daniel Humphries about the barista competitions, with which he's familiar as a participant and for which I'm beginning to prepare.

While we both agreed that we have nothing but the utmost respect for people who compete in the tourneys as they're designed (obviously, or neither of us would be interested in getting involved in them), wouldn't it be something else to hold competitions that are, in essence, mock counter shifts?

I mean, take the best barista at the best specialty coffee shop in a given city and stand them up at a Regional, and they might choke under the pressure; That doesn't mean they're not a strong or gifted barista. Put that same person behind a rush of twenty people -- some of whom are difficult customers and some of whom are incognito "judges" -- and that barista might rock the hell out of it. And, I mean, isn't gracefully dealing with customers one of the earmarks of a truly talented barista -- at least as much as whether or not they can tie a half-windsor knot or make some fancy drink using lavender-infused milk?

A combination of the two styles of contest would be, in essence, the marriage of coffee shop form and function!

Maybe it's my Advil-addled brain wandering away, but I think we've got the potench for an alternative competish here, people -- and I have a hunch that my man at 'bucks today wouldn't fare so well under the gun, bless his heart...

(Support the coffee community by joining the SCAA and becoming a participant or sponsor at the barista competition for your region!)