Espresso served cold, not snobby

The title of this post comes from McDonalds ad for for their new espresso drinks. It’s on a billboard that I drive past, and has been there for the last month or so. I’ve always thought it odd, but couldn’t find the right context to make a proper post out of it.

Thank god for the internet.

We’ll get back to McDonalds in a minute, as I want to talk about a minor hubub that was found on a few of the more trafficked sites out there. It deals story about a blogger named Jeff Simmermon and a coffee shop in Arlington, VA called Murky Coffee.

The story goes like this…

Jeff goes into Murky Coffee and orders an iced espresso. The barista behind the counter declines, citing company policy, stating (according to Jeff):

“This is our store policy, to preserve the integrity of the coffee. It’s about the quality of the drink, and diluting the espresso is really not cool with us…”

Jeff, who clearly adheres to the belief that “The customer is always right”, makes it known that Murky Coffee can take their policy and stick it. Much immaturity ensues, and right about this point in their story I lost interest. I have enough pseudo-drama in my life that I don’t need to invest in somebody else’s. Besides, the most interesting point of the conflict had already been established…

In a battle of quality vs. customer service, who should win?

This is a conflict that arises every day in the food world. If it’s not iced espresso, it’s mixing cola with a 21 year old single malt. If it’s not that, it’s someone ordering prime rib well done, or not serving wine at sixty three degrees, or adding kraft singles to a cheeseburger.

In the eyes of someone who’s passionate about food, there’s always a better way to enjoy food. To some, this way of doing something better sometimes borders on the fanatic. Take the example that commenter krinklyfig brought up in the Metafilter post on this topic.

I don’t know if any of you watch Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay (BBC), but in one episode he was trying to make the point of good ingredients standing on their own. To make his point, he tried to order a single malt scotch with soda from the bartender at the restaurant. The bartender smartly refused, because you don’t ruin a good scotch by mixing it with soda. Now, it may piss off the customer, but you’re not being a good bartender by letting someone order a $20 scotch and soda.

The question here is, who is right? The customer who wants the Scotch and soda (or the iced espresso, or the burnt steak)? Or the proprietor of the establishment who won’t compromise their integrity for the sake of the almighty dollar?

From my point of view, they are both right. This may sound like a cop out, but hear me out.

The customer wants what the customer wants. Conversely, a store may sell whatever they like. If a store (or restaurant, or cafe) does not provide the goods or service that the customer desires, the customer will move on to another location that can provide the service they want.

“But Kate”, I can hear some of you saying. “What Jeff was asking for was not an unreasonable request. They had the ingredients on site, they already sell a similar product in the iced americano, why shouldn’t have they fulfilled his request?”

The answer is simple. Because they didn’t want to. The reasons are their own, and they tried to explain them to Jeff. From his point of view, he didn’t care one whit about the quality of the bean. He wanted to consume the drink, not taste it. And while many of us who find this perspective on food gauche, it’s the one that’s prevalent in American culture. Murky Coffee was never going to meet Jeff’s needs. Luckily for Jeff, there are other coffee shops that will.

Now.. back to McDonalds.

Considering all that has been stated above, their ad that states “Espresso served cold, not snobby” provides all sorts of ironic subtext. Some will read it as McDonalds once again missing the point of serving quality food. Others will read as McDonalds way of saying that they are the antithesis of the snobby barista’s of the world.

In my eyes, it says that McDonalds is the antithesis of the Murky Coffee’s of the world. If you want espresso to consume and not taste, then McDonald’s is the place for you.