Sunday, November 18, 2007

Waiting for the coffee to brew

The Wife and I strolled into the centre of the Beautiful Market Town where we live yesterday for a bit of shopping. With two weeks to go until the baby is due to make his (hopefully undramatic) entrance, we are working our way steadily through the last few items on the "Must Have" list, as well as trying to give a modicum of thought to Christmas presents for the nearest and dearest. We were a bit later than we had originally planned to be, so that by the time we staggered wearily through the door of our favourite coffee shop for a well-earned cup of java, the lunchtime rush was well underway.

Now I have a pet theory about coffee shops, and the national chains in particular, and what sets them apart from pubs, bars, fast food outlets, chippies and other such establishments where the customer orders his provisions before taking his seat. My theory is this: the number of people serving behind the bar is inversely proportional to the amount of time it takes to get served. I first formed this theory a couple of years back when I was still dwelling in the paradox that is Welwyn Garden City (honestly - if Groundhog Day was a place, it would be WGC). The Wife and I used to go to the local branch of a well-known coffee chain once a week, and it soon became clear that if there was just one Barista behind the counter, he or she would fly through the orders with barely a thought, simply because the alternative was to have a queue snaking out of the door and all the way round the town. If there were two, it was much the same, except that one of them would work the coffee machine and one would be responsible for cakes and pastries. Add in a third, however, and it got complicated - it seems that in this case, three really is a crowd. Because as soon as the third person turned up, for some unfathomable reason, they would run out of clean cups. Perhaps it is something to do with the immutable laws of coffee shop space - there is only so much of it, after all, and perhaps the amount of space taken up by something as relatively huge as a human being has to be offset by removing the equivalent weight of crockery. Whatever the reason, the end results always saw one person alternately working the coffee machine and dashing in and out of the kitchen area to get more cups, one hysterically repeating every order, and one standing over the cakes and pastries brandishing a pair of tongs and shouitng encouragement to the other two.

Yesterday was a classic example. We did arrive slap bang in the middle of the lunchtime rush, but when we walked in there was only a short queue and plenty of seating. What with The Wife being 37 weeks pregnant she went to sit down whilst I ordered. I think I was third in line, but it turned out that everyone else in the queue was ordering paninis, so it was taking a while to serve them. There were three people behind the counter, which should have set alarm bells ringing, and one dashing around the place with a tray, and a cloth which she was busily applying to every table, regardless of whether it was occupied or not, and even some of the customers. Still, I'm an optimistic soul, so I just took out my loyalty card and began counting my change. Now for some unaccountable reason, the Barista who appeared to be in charge had decided to try to serve three customers at once, while handling food, coffee and order-taking, despite the fact that delegating to her two colleagues would have been far more efficient. So I placed my rather puny order for two regular decaff cappucinos sandwihced (for want of a better word) between two chaps each ordering enough food for an army. Now here's the funny thing. She put my cups under the esporesso machine, and promptly forgot about them as she went to prepare the food.

The guy in front of me got his meal first, along with his freshly made coffee, which was only fair, but then she presented the guy behind me with his paninis as well, and then realised he didn't have any drinks so decided to go ahead and whip up his lattes while my cups still sat forlornly on the side. Eventually, when her colleagues had attended to every other person in the queue and I was alone at the counter, she handed over two slightly murky-looking cappucinos and stamped my loyalty card inaccurately, before staggering off to the kitchen, presumably to take some valium or slit her wrists.

When I eventually sat down, pondering the future of the beard I had grown while I was waiting to be served, it turned out that one coffee was really nice, creamy and flavoursome, but the other was watery and bland. Needless to say, I gave the good one to my better half, and downed the dodgy one myself. I did consider complaining but mistakes do happen, even Baristas are only human and, to be honest, I was too tired to stand up.


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At 3:17 PM GMT , Blogger Rish said...

I used to be a barista, you have pretty much hit the nail on the head as too many cooks can spoil the espresso.

The only thing was, that if customers had to queue, I made damn sure that they got the best cup of coffee in Nottingham to make up for it.

Good to have you back by the way.


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