Thanks for the over 200 comments that folks have left here. Again, despite the "feedback" (to put it lightly) that I'm a [insert expletive here] for not posting the comments, I'd rather keep the death-threats and suggestions on how to fellate myself in the moderation queue, even though a significant proportion of the feedback has been very supportive. There are plenty of places for folks to rant and rave, without us having to provide that soapbox. Thanks though to those who have written with supportive words.
Like many of the bloggers out there, the fascinating thing to me is the story about the story. That is, the ways that folks have responded to this little internet tale, and the "coverage" that it's gotten online. David and I had a nice visit from a Washington Post reporter this morning, and expect to see something in the Metro section tomorrow here's the article].
While I don't want to prolong the attention to this thing, I did have a few thoughts on the subject. Read them at your peril.
If there are three main things that I've been ruminating on, they are about:
- coffee, and whether or not it's something that someone should try to do well
- the way people should or should not treat each other
- blogs, and communication in general, can get really weird when subjected to the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I can appreciate that a lot of folks think that it's ridiculous that anyone would take as much apparent effort (as we do) to do coffee. Before opening our first shop in Georgetown a few years ago, I certainly didn't think that there was any more to being a barista as there is to flipping burgers or being a Pez dispenser. The fact is, there's a lot more to coffee than people think, and there was a time that a career position like a "sommelier" was completely absurd (before wine became "fancy") too.
There's a craft to coffee, that most people haven't been exposed to. When we first opened our shop, nobody had ever seen "latte art" before, or was thinking about coffee bean varietals. Just as the average person understands at least that a "merlot" is different from a "chardonnay," maybe someday people will understand that a coffee brewed from bourbon varietal from a particular coffee farm in El Salvador is different from a particular lot of Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia. Right now, to most people, coffee is coffee, just like a Diet Coke is a Diet Coke.
We take pride in, and put a lot of effort in making great coffee... NOT because we're full of ourselves, or because coffee is our only obsession, but because we want our customers to have something good. Our standards are such that the average person-on-the-street, my own mother, a homeless guy, or the World Barista Champion (yes, there is such a thing) will get the same quality cappuccino from us, because people are worth it. Having the standards that we do are in support of that, although it may seem antithetical.
The way people should or should not treat each other:
The fact is, I believe that people should treat each other with dignity and respect. When a homeless person asks me for money when I'm walking down the street, I look them in the eye and say, "Sorry, but no." rather than just walking by and ignoring them. When it comes to my shop, engaging in the transaction that makes us customer and barista, or customer and "server," means that we've engaged in a transaction, and we have an obligation: to give you the best product we can, with customer service that's equal to the respect and courtesy that any two people should (hopefully) expect from one another.
With road rage (and its milder iterations) being the norm, more communication tools disconnecting face-to-face interactions, and the growing expectation from people that their wants and needs being met are an inalienable right, people sometimes forget what common courtesy is. We're people, and we're going to do our best to treat you as we would a friend or guest.
The customer in question, when told that it's our policy NOT to offer "espresso over ice," got angry right away. Regardless of how you feel about the merits of our policy, the fact that he got angry (in my opinion) is the crux of the matter. There are things in life to get angry about. There are matters that demand an elevated heart rate. This is not one of them.
The other thing that's worth mentioning is that David, the barista in question, contrary to what many seem to believe, was NOT voicing his objection to the espresso over ice per se. He was admonishing him for his poor behavior toward the barista at the register, and toward our policy. Many have written me saying, "Once it's in the customer's hands, it's out of your hands." That's absolutely true. David was telling the customer that it wasn't okay that he'd act-out to the staff the way he was. As in the guy's own blog-recounting of the incident, David was interrupted before he could finish, and Mr. Simmermon proceeded to mock David, then following it up with the infamous dollar-bill.
The guy admitted on his own blog that he "acted like a total dick here." He also writes, "But it's not like I didn't have probable cause." I'd hope that something like a coffeeshop policy about what we do or don't offer doesn't constitute "probable cause" for this sort of behavior.
Blogs, and communication in general, can get really weird when subjected to the Law of Unintended Consequences:
These days, blogs, online forums, and the like are their own form of recreation, with more in common with playing an online video game than with actual reality. Speaking for our murky coffee blog, it's a way to disseminate information, and to inject a little bit of our own personality. With the printed word, however, it's hard to really convey intention, mood, and subtlety. I'm sure that Mr. murkycoffee.com didn't intend to have as many readers as he did when he wrote his blog post. I sure didn't for ours (15,000 on Tuesday, up from 250 site visits on an average day).
Being snarky, confrontational, parsing words, and personal attacks, are all common practice in the online world of blogs and forums. God knows, I've engaged in a healthy amount of online b.s., and I know for a fact that Mr. murkycoffee.com has too. The hard part is dealing with what happens when the online world creeps into the real world, and being able to clearly differentiate between the two. Movies like "Enchanted" or "Cool World" aside, some things are supposed to be separate. Sometimes, it's not up to you though.
My now infamous "punch you in your dick" comment was absolutely meant as a retort to "the only way I'm ever coming back to Murky Coffee in Arlington is if I'm carrying matches and a can of kerosene." I was as serious as he was, no more, no less. When people email me saying, "I'll never visit the shop of someone who would threaten bodily harm," I sorta throw up my hands. "Don't they get it?" But that's the way the written word is.
For the sake of my own peace of mind and my own integrity, I'll unilaterally withdraw my written threat. It was indeed childish and dumb. In the future, when it comes to that sort of swagger or bravado, I'll do my best to keep it contained to the place where it's most appropriate: when I'm playing Street Fighter 2 Turbo online on my XBOX.
I'll reiterate my earlier advice to you, the reader: call your mom and tell her you love her. Then dream with me of a day when people will honor that love that people share between friends and family in the way we treat each other.