This blog really wants to stand at a bar and drink his espresso.

The Enemy of Good Enough

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After a morning of getting little sleep, I found myself near a Brown Line stop. My good friend Marty, an Intelligentsia employee, had called me the day before raving about the new layout at the Broadway store. Since the city was deserted and no one was awake, I decided that I could check out the new shop and fix my sleepiness with a 15 minute L ride.

The photo above sums it up best – a shot of Black Cat in a custom printed ceramic cup, on a bar, with a spoon, accompanied by a real glass of sparkling water. I don’t even like the current iteration of Black Cat, but I was immensely pleased by this. I have never experienced such blatant attention to detail in a coffee shop, the only thing coming close being the complementary cookie that comes with espresso at The Coffee Studio. What’s so important about this is that it overtly says, “We care. This is good coffee.” I’ve had stellar coffee out of paper cups before. Earlier this year, my hands wrapped themselves around a french pressed cup of Carmen Estate at Metropolis that garnered an audible “Oh my God” from a friend who tried it. But somehow, this was more satisfying. Presentation like this is perhaps the best answer to the declaration, “It’s just coffee.”

Because it’s not Just Coffee. Nothing is Just Coffee. Starbucks is obviously not Just Coffee. Nor is my dad’s morning stop at Dunkin Donuts Just Coffee. Even the cheapest diner coffee, or the Folgers/Maxwell House/etc. that many people drink every day is not Just Coffee. It’s a routine, a customer service experience, a drug, a part of culture. Even the uttering of “It’s just coffee” belies the fact that it’s not Just Coffee; it’s a complaint about noncompliance with a societal norm. “It’s just coffee” is the American equivalent of Italians extolling the virtues of their coffee culture. Accusations of snobbery are made much more difficult by presentation like this. It’s easy for someone to look at two paper cups, one with good coffee and one with bad coffee, and say they should be the same. Taste is important, but it’s subjective – no one ever knows exactly what someone else is tasting. Show someone that photo and the suggestion that this is a higher quality coffee is easier to accept.

Dual Clover

Then there are these. It took a while for me to be convinced that Clovers could make outstanding coffee once my initial excitement wore off. The trainers at the Chicago Intelli stores have done a stellar job determining specs for their coffees, and now I’m sold. The recent cups I’ve had off of these machines have been very good, and easily surpass what comes out of a FETCO or similar brewer.

Also new

Then there is the layout itself. The old counter design basically minimized human contact. Now there are up to three baristi behind the bar, spread out, facing the customers. It’s much easier to have a conversation. Not only does this give a better opportunity to talk about coffee, but it’s easier to give good customer service in general.

The whole thing isn’t perfect, but it shows what is possible once someone challenges the common idea of what a coffee shop should be. It’s not difficult, either; the remodel happened overnight.


Written by Nick

2 January, 2009 at 1:48 am

Posted in Coffee

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