Explosions in the Sky + Tron + 2001 = Amazing music video from my favorite band, inspired by some of my favorite movies.  

What exactly is the role of the barista or coffee professional in their relationship with the customer? Well, James Hoffman beat me to the punch about how “educating the consumer” is really a pretentious way to approach customer service in his Tamper Tantrum talk. Essentially, I agree with everything he says about the need for empathy in the barista/consumer relationship. But I’m going to put my two cents in anyway. 

I think our desire to share all the things we know about coffee comes from the heart. We are passionate and excited about coffee and all the details and information about how it’s cultivated, picked, processed, sold, bought, roasted, stored, and brewed fuel us in our coffee-driven lives. All these details are also thought useful in justifying the higher prices and slightly longer wait times customers are asked to tolerate compared to the chain coffee experience. In the end, the customer doesn’t really care, which seems to have intensified the fraught relationship between baristas and their customers. As a customer in cafes, I can’t say that I’ve ever been upset to “be educated” a little by my barista, but I’ve already drank the kool-aid. People in other retail/food interactions have attempted to “educate” me though, and I have found it off-putting. 

For example, there is a wine shop around the corner from my apartment. I go there to get wine sometimes because it is the closest wine shop to my apartment, but it is not my favorite. On the surface, it closely resembles the wine shop several more blocks away where I prefer to buy wine. Still, I will often walk over twice the distance to the other wine shop because although the service is not necessarily better, no one has ever tried to educate me. The closer shop has the same prices and the same selection. However, every time I buy wine the proprietor says, “You should really let this sit in the glass for 15-20 minutes before you drink it. If you can.” And I reply, “Okay, I’ll try.” And he implores me, “It will be much better. You really should.” Innocent enough, I suppose. He just wants me to enjoy my wine. I don’t enjoy my wine though, because I’m really irked that this guy is telling me that opening wine, pouring it into a glass, and drinking it is the wrong thing to do. I didn’t ask for his advice. I paid him, I got my wine, and now it’s mine and I can go home and pour it down the drain if I want. Or drink it straight from the bottle. Or through a straw. Or over ice. Because it’s a $17 bottle of wine that I’m going to drink on my couch and I don’t care if it will taste better if I wait patiently for 15 minutes while it opens up in the glass. I really just don’t care. 

This is the way we make our customers feel every time we tell them things like: “You should grind your coffee just before you brew it. It will taste better.” or “You should drink your espresso in a ceramic cup. It will taste better.” or “You shouldn’t put milk in this coffee because you won’t be able to taste all the subtleties of the terrior.” or “You should drink milk at 160 degrees instead of 175 degrees in your latte because the milk tastes like burnt oatmeal when it’s heated to 175.” or “You shouldn’t drink espresso on ice. It’s just really not good for the espresso because it shocks it and it gets bitter.”

I’m not saying that we should pull shots onto ice, or steam milk to 175 degrees, or serve espresso to go, etc. What I am trying to point out is that this approach that if only our customers knew it would taste better they would abandon their “bad habits” and enjoy coffee more is an extremely flawed idea. Even if the coffee we serve them does taste better due to our knowledgeable and well-intentioned advice, it is tainted by some serious bad vibes.

Last week I purchased my Kalita Wave Ceramic Coffee Dripper from Wrecking Ball Coffee. Since Nick Cho posted a video of the Kalita pointing to the way in which the flat bottom promotes even brewing, I have been looking forward to giving this new (to the US) pour over method a try.

The Kalita comes in glass, stainless steel, and ceramic. The bottom of the brewer is flat like a batch brewing basket and has three holes. The filters are familiar due to their scalloped edges similar to many automatic brewing filters. 

I brewed using the following recipe created with the help of Wiggles Peters:

  1. Preheat your shit.
  2. Evenly distribute 18g of coffee in the filter.
  3. Pour 50g of hot water slowly and evenly in a circular motion in the center of the coffee bed to bloom.
  4. After 30-45 seconds, add another 100g of water in the same even, circular motion. Wait 30 seconds and add another 50g of water. Wait 30 seconds and add 50g of water. Wait 30 seconds and add another 50g of water. In total you should have added 300g of water (including the bloom) over the span of 3 minutes with the brewing completed after 3:30 minutes.

*The dripper is large enough to accommodate more coffee, but I brewed into a mug that only held 300g of water.

My thoughts on this method:

The Kalita seems easier to use, or rather more foolproof, than some other drippers out there. The scalloped edges of the filter prevent you from pouring down the sides and creating channels. I do think also, that the flat bottom of the brewer promotes even extraction. There is another coffee brewing device that employs these same techniques—the Fetco. I don’t have a Fetco in my house, so I’m happy to have the Kalita around to make myself a cup of coffee, but it does sort of make you wonder why anyone ever stopped using a Fetco in the first place. 

the personal blog of sarah r. leslie, a coffee and cinema enthusiast in new york city.