The Coffee Snob Conflict

You don’t drink just any coffee and prefer a straight espresso over a foo-foo blended drink. Hearing the word ‘instant’ makes you cringe. You see yourself as very knowledgeable about coffee. Are you a coffee snob?

Anyone who knows me, whether they accept it or not, knows I won’t shut up about coffee.What can I say, It’s my passion and obsession. Some call me a connoisseur, others a snob. Being called a snob really struck a chord that made me have an identity crisis and the need to reevaluate my beliefs about coffee. If I act like a ‘coffee snob,’ do I really want to be one? Would you? defines snob as 1) condescending or overbearing to others 2) a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.

It seems everyone falls under a category of some sort – coffee snob, connoisseur, elitist. Labels are part of our identity to give us a sense of stature of knowledge.

Unfortunately, these words are thrown around without any real clarity. I think there is a huge difference between being pretentious and having an obsession as a passion. Everyone’s definition of ‘coffee snob’ is different so let’s try to get this cleared up a bit more as I offer my theory.

It’s all about attitude.

Appreciation Takes Time
When there is a lack of knowledge then it’s difficult to appreciate anything-food, wine, cigars. But being picky when you have not tried something new or just because of a brand or hype isn’t fair.

Knowledge grows and pallets mature. You begin to prefer certain coffee profiles from specific regions and roasters the more you learn about coffee and companies. This takes time. We all probably drank instant coffee at some point in our lives, no matter how much you block that from your memory and won’t admit it.

Luckily, all coffee isn’t created equal. Single Origins can be just as great as Blends. Drinking blends is great to get used to drinking coffee. I enjoy blends for their balanced complexity, but I like a single origin for its flavor and aroma nuances from its pronounced region and cultural history that goes with it.

Going to certain cafes only to be seen as ‘trendy’ doesn’t make you cool. Sorry. There are other places that are great and should be given a chance. There are so many different cafes to appeal to everyone based on different concepts, brewing methods, types of coffee etc.

I can enjoy an amazing Sumatran as much as Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain, if roasted well. What I drink, whether its a blend or not, depends on my mood and time of day.

Passion Drives Everything
When you have a passion for something you put your heart and soul into it right? No matter how big, small, simple or difficult. The final thing is wonderful and precious to you because you know what you are doing and take pride in it.

I believe anyone can become pretentious when they’ve worked so hard to create something for others to enjoy only to have someone come along and make a minor or major ‘tweak’ to ‘improve it’ -it’s easy to snap back. This holds true for Baristas.

There are many different types of restaurants, clothing stores, etc. and brands because they offer variety to customers’ different tastes and beliefs. The coffee industry isn’t any different.

Variety for All
To understand coffee, you must know tradition, along with history, etc. But let’s focus on Tradition for a moment. Tradition eventually becomes lost so it must be kept alive. There are cafes and Baristas that are ‘purists’ who believe these should not be tampered with, unless maybe to improve quality of the bean they use.

For example, ordering espresso over ice would be frowned upon and refused to be made1. Cafes like these are for espresso and coffee enthusiasts looking to indulge the basics. This is fine, as long as the Barista gives reasoning behind why it’s not ‘store policy’ in an educational manner. This is what makes or breaks being pretentious. To explain with an attitude that doesn’t belittle the customer.

In a more laid-back independent cafe, there may be a few more menu choices and a few of the most popular syrups available for customers. Baristas may still squirm to certain orders but will most likely oblige to customer requests with their own version of the drink. Customers should understand that it is the duty of a passionate Barista to introduce them into the superior palette that education and experience can create, it’s not just a Barista coming across as pretentious.

Commercial franchises…I’m not even going to go into this. They’re in it for the money and will make whatever disgusting coffee request there is to keep shareholders happy. On a side note, I must admit that if it weren’t for a certain company, coffee wouldn’t be popular like it is today and the reason to always improve quality among the specialty coffee industry. Even with decaf.

The Decaf Dilemma
I don’t think decaf coffee should be frowned upon. Some people just can’t have much caffeine because of medical reasons but still want coffee for it’s taste. So decaf is understandable. Other than that, I just don’t understand “half-caf” requests. If you are one of these people, here’s an alternate to order. Instead try either, decaf, a dark roast, or a dark roast that’s decaf. These all have much less caffeine. Ask to make sure there isn’t any robusta beans in the dark roast though, which has double the caffeine.

I had to cut back on caffeine, but there is no way I’m drinking decaf unless it’s the rare decently roasted. I personally think being fully caffeinated makes sense unless the Doctor says otherwise. Then again, decaf is better than no coffee at all.

Always Learning
Trying something new – whether it be a type of bean, way to roast, different cafe or brewing method – is OK. Keep an open mind and be patient. Find something that suits YOUR palette. once you realize how much better high quality coffee is, you’ll never go back. And this just means you’re enthusiastic to search for better beans, your palette has enhanced and you’re more knowledgeable. There is nothing pretentious about that.

There is a huge gap between the average cusumer’s coffee knowledge and the trained passionate barista in the specialty coffee industry. Let’s try to minimize this as much as possible. I know it won’t be easy and it will take time. All-in-all I have finally accepted the fact that there will be people who drink disgusting coffee just for caffeine and convenience who may not care other wise. But I do know there are many people who want to learn and seek out quality and are the reason to continue innovation and creating the best coffee drink to share with them.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts.

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Jennifer has been in the coffee industry since 2003. She started Daily Demitasse to educate and share her experience with other passionate coffee enthusiasts, from a Barista, Cafe Manager, shop Owner and freelancer perspective. When she's not working or blogging, you can find her at Transpire Life.

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