Australia: A nation of coffee snobs?

2Australia’s love affair with quality coffee could be turning us into a nation of coffee snobs.

With an estimated 2.1 billion cups of coffee bought from cafes and vendors every year, Australians are spoilt for choice when it comes to which type of coffee to choose and where to buy it from. And many people are now making “ridiculous requests”.

Coffee snobs, or connoisseurs?

A new Canstar Blue survey reveals that 1 in 5 Aussies consider themselves to be a coffee snob, while 40% say they know someone who is a coffee snob. But not content with just being a snob, 12% of respondents said they judge others on the type of coffee they drink. That number rose to 22% for Gen Y.

Meanwhile a quarter of Aussies – 1 in 3 Gen Y – said drinking coffee makes them feel sophisticated, while 27% said they would skip a meal before skipping a coffee.

Around 86,000 Australians are now employed in more than 6,700 cafes and coffee shops, But what is it really like on the front line of Australia’s coffee obsession?

Brendan Tjahjadi owns a café in Surry Hills and has worked as a barista for much of his life. He says working in a busy café can be overwhelming at times.

“There’s no flying under the radar,” he said. “In an office job you could probably get away with not doing any work for a few hours if not days, but as a barista in a café you have eyes watching you all the time.

“The first times in a very busy café can be so stressful you feel like walking away. When things go wrong it’s very easy to lose your cool and even worse lose your cool at a customer who simply asks if their coffee is going to be much longer. Being a real barista is about being on show and not losing your cool even when things are going all wrong.”

Almost a third of the 1,700 respondents to the Canstar Blue survey said staff at their regular coffee shop know their order off by heart, while 55% said they have had the same coffee order for several years. And with that comes the tendency to be fussy, says Mr Tjahjadi.

No place for rudeness in the modern cafe

“All customers can be fussy at certain times,” he said. “The worst case I’ve seen was when a gentleman came in and asked for his latte to be put into a flat white mug. He also asked for exactly two and half sugars. So when we made his coffee with exactly 2.5 sugars and put his cup in the mug, he then came in and said it wasn’t hot enough. After making his coffee hot enough, with exactly one sugar, he came in and yelled “that was the best coffee I’ve had in months”. Now he is a regular and we put one sugar in his “exactly 2.5 sugars” latte in a flat white mug.

“Customers can be very rude at times, but our regulars are always good to us. If a customer is ever rude to us we smile and continue on. Usually a customer who has been rude will come back and apologise for having a bad day.”

EavesdroppingThe most frustrating customers are those who think they’re the experts, adds Mr Tjahjadi.

“Usually they come in the form of someone who thinks they know everything about coffee but have no idea,” he said. “Many people seem to think they know what burnt coffee and burnt milk taste like yet they ask for the milk to be hot to the point that it is burnt. Or they come in and tell us what we should be doing with our lives.

“We don’t dread the difficult customers, we prefer to let them believe that the whole world revolves around them and that they know everything about everyone. They make ridiculous requests and statements.

“We are in the business of public pleasing and as the old saying goes “common sense isn’t so common”. In most cases the other customers are laughing behind the rude or ridiculous ones, which gives us something extra to smile about.”

You can check out our latest Coffee Shop Chains ratings for more.

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