Nick Has Some Poingnant Observations Of The Specialty Coffee World

Let us for a moment consider Bitter Barista. What started as a tumblr format of salty mental comebacks to traditional barista pet-peeves and customer faux-pas, has grown to icanhascheezburger like proportions of the coffee world. This burst in popularity has brought about a mixed bag of happenings for its creator. After the identity of the creator was revealed by Sprudge (his identity was never hidden from the world, just never sought out) he received death threats, lost his job at a cafe, printed a coffee table book, and publicity from mainstream media outlets.
Bitter Barista – thoughts from behind the counter (and other reasons why I hate you) is aptly named. The comments are laced with anger, self deprecation, existential whining, grumblings about co-workers, pout-y sarcasm, and generalized assumptions of ill-intent from customers. They’re numbered, categorized and ranked. I originally thought the site was the work of a lone creator, a ‘man in the basement’ as the media likes to portray some blog writers, and it wasn’t until digging (not very much) deeper that I discovered the site is user submitted. This revelation led me to question my own bitter barista tendencies, I developed a feeling of uncertainty about my previously hostile opinions toward this almost certainly bad website, and that maybe there’s something to be said for what these folks are saying and how they’re saying it. The posts are anonymous, giving the website both the credit and the taking of heat for what is posted. When you consider that the creator has received death threats for this user submitted content, the conversation becomes much more polarized. Here we have an avenue for baristas to vent their frustrations and share a laugh over the service industry, and the occasionally tough job of dealing with the public.

As I thought, I watched http://vimeo.com/40574727 and http://vimeo.com/71598596 I thought of the coffee market which is notoriously unpredictable, where in a matter of months the amount of money that a farmer earn ranges from less than $1.50 to over $3.00 a pound of green coffee. In all of this I realized how proud I was to be in the industry of specialty coffee, call it holier than thou if you must but I feel grounded by perspective, liberated if you will, of the petty complaints that make up BB. Specialty coffee is a great hope in my eyes, for a commodities industry to actually empower the people that have been traditionally exploited by the fast pace and greed of western import/export businesses. This feeling is not mandatory for one to be considered a respectable barista, but it’s certainly more productive than giggling over the mundane frustrations of service work. But with that, not everyone is in the world of specialty coffee. A lot of BB submissions probably come from cafes where the focus is on profit over people, or the majority of employees are transient, worried about their future, or wishing for something more. There was a time when I wasn’t proud of the work I did, where I was serving products that I couldn’t stand by, this made me bitter and cynical. So with all of that said, I can forgive those who are frustrated by their current line of work, I recommend investigating a career in specialty coffee, it is a remarkably welcoming place for those with principles, and in my opinion it is what makes the industry so promising.

I must then direct my criticisms to those within the world of specialty coffee, if only to disassociate myself from Bitter Barista once and for all. The folks who submit on BB are certainly bitter at times, but they are not baristas. Yes, they serve coffee, some may make delicious pour overs, velvety sweet 6oz cappuccinos. Maybe they could share the difference between a pulp natural and a washed coffee, or why Kenyan varietals almost always start with ‘SL’, but they ain’t baristas to me. It’s extreme to say that, but a line in the sand must be drawn at some point, because a barista knows that the world is much bigger than their shift, their shop, or that rude customer who you really wish would take their business elsewhere. A barista is always working for the grower, the picker, the woman who carried buckets of cherries to the factory during harvest, or the farmers they’ll never meet that grew a coffee in a place where life and money are much less certain. A barista is always pulling the customer closer, picking his or her ‘battles’ to illuminate the remarkable phenomenon that is specialty coffee.

No. 109: “Coffee should never be bitter, but a good barista always is.” To you I rebut that coffee can only be as sweet as the barista serving it.