A Snob, as defined in Free Dictionary:
1. One who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people regarded as social inferiors and imitate, admire, or seek association with people regarded as social superiors.
2. One who affects an offensive air of self-satisfied superiority in matters of taste or intellect.
A 3rd wave coffee shop has made a commitment to celebrating the unique flavors in coffee and brings their passion for the product to their customers. So a snobby barista in a 3rd Wave coffee shop that hand-crafts a single serve Chemex for you, and then looks down at you for not being as cool or passionate as them, can drive a person insane. Snoppy business owners will encourage the creativity of its employees and emboldens their egos by giving them a bit of training and convincing them that they are “socially superior” and should be “admired.”
The customers, unfamiliar with this new breed of rude baristas, enables the behavior by paying $5 for a brewed cup and assumes that someone so full of themselves MUST know what they are doing. This ends up doing a disservice for the entire industry. An industry built on the idea that people should come together in a coffeehouse to openly share ideas and be social with their neighbors is being undone by snobs in fedoras serving up attitude and treating the patron as inferior. Who would want to hang out there?
One can be reminded at times of the Seinfeld episode featuring the “Soup Nazi.” It’s like a Coffee Snob yelling from behind the counter, “NO COFFEE FOR YOU!” Don’t you dare speak to the barista or question what they do!
Thank goodness not all, or even most of the good coffee shops do this. But there are enough to tarnish the industry. One of the best experiences you can have is to be treated to a hand crafted coffee and then be engaged by the barista as to why this coffee is special and who grew it and what to look for in a taste profile.
There has been a discussion now among coffee folk about whether or not flavorings should be allowed in 3rd wave shops. Some will say they completely ruin the coffee. If the idea is to celebrate coffee why would you want a Coconut ½ caf ½ decaf cappuccino with nutmeg on top? Why indeed? Others argue that if you do not offer this, you are a coffee snob. The irony here is that the same cappuccino drinker could well be a coffee snob as they look down on those that would not serve them what they want when they want it.
So let’s break this down and use a great holiday favorite in our example:
A guy walks into a coffee bar and orders a “Double Pumpkin-Spice Latte.” Let’s find the snobs.
1) The barista says, “We don’t serve that here cause it ruins the coffee!” SNOB or NOT SNOB?
2) The customer says, “It’s the holidays and I always get these. Why are you guys so stuck up that you won’t serve it to me?” SNOB or NOT SNOB?
3) The owner overhears the customer’––s question and answers, “Look, the farmer put a lot of sweat and effort to get us this coffee and we would never alter the flavor of his work with a sugar syrup. Would you put sugar in wine to make it sweeter?” SNOB or NOT SNOB?
Answers: SNOB, SNOB, SNOB!
Everyone above has a valid point. Everyone wants what they want for valid reasons. The problem with snobbery is that they only see what they want and don’t stop to consider the other person. Here is another way the above could have transpired:
A guy walks into a coffee bar and orders a “Double pumpkin-spice Latte.” He is greeted in the following way:
1) The barista says, “Oh I’m sorry. I love Pumpkin Spice lattes around the holidays as well. Our shop, however, has taken a position that the coffee is so delicate in its flavors that if we add flavoring we will stop celebrating the hard work that got it here. Can I get you a regular latte instead?”
2) The customer says, “Oh bummer. I was really looking forward to that. I understand your position so I guess I will have to go somewhere else to get one.”
3) The owner realizing he is losing a customer says, “Hang on a minute! I will make you a deal! Let us make you a latte. Our espresso blend is awesome and we directly sourced the beans from Ethiopia, Honduras, and Brazil. We think it has a great flavor in a latte, and I would love for you to experience that. So please have a latte and take a few sips and see if we did our job okay. If you don’t like it, it is on the house! After that, if you wish, I have a bottle of Pumpkin Spice and would be happy to mix it in. We both win; I want you to experience our creation and you want a pumpkin spice latte.”
Welcome to a snob free zone! It would be even a better solution if the owner had stayed with his commitment to quality and developed his own sugary spicy concoction made from organic pumpkins and fair trade spices. He would be setting himself apart from everyone else and enhanced the experience of flavoring in a coffee.
So the debate asks the wrong question. Instead of, “Should a 3rd wave coffee shop serve pumpkin spice lattes?” it should be, “How could a 3rd wave coffee shop stretch its passion for celebrating coffee find a complimentary way to add pumpkin spice without compromising its values for quality?”
Snobs stand on elitist principles. Good coffee people and smart business owners will find a way to satisfy the needs of their customers without abandoning principles.
Use the creativity of your staff to develop products and services the patrons have been asking for. The baristas hear it every day from their customers and they should be involved in the process of finding solutions.
By the way, if you are reading this and thinking, “This Rocky guy is full of crap!”… You are probably a snob!
Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com as well as