Horrible Service - Murky Coffee in Arlington, VA

Update: After further reading I've learned that Murky Coffee used to own a store on Capital Hill in Washington DC as well but had to close down in March because they owed the District hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes & their landlord for rent dating back 2 years.

Jeff Simmermon recounts his recent experience with a snobbish barista at Murky Coffee in Arlington, VA.

200807141145.jpg Maybe condescending service from a patronizing millennial at a DC coffee shop isn’t news to anyone else. But the only way I’m ever coming back to Murky Coffee in Arlington is if I’m carrying matches and a can of kerosene.I just ordered my usual summertime pick-me-up: a triple shot of espresso dumped over ice. And the guy at the counter looked me in the eye with a straight face and said “I’m sorry, we can’t serve iced espresso here. It’s against our policy.”

The whole world turned brown and chunky for a second. Flecks of corn floated past my pupils, and it took me a second to blink it all away.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll have a triple espresso and a cup of ice, please.”

He rolled his eyes and rang it up, took my money, gave me change. I stood there and waited. Then the barista called me over to the bar. I reached for it, and he leaned over and locked his eyes with mine, saying “Hey man. What you’re about to do … that’s really, really Not Okay.”

I could hear the capital letters in his voice, could see the gravity of the situation in his eyes.

He continued: “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. So I mean, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and I can’t stop you, but”

I interrupted. “You’re goddamned right you can’t stop me,” I said. “I happen to have a personal policy that prohibits me from indulging stupid bullshit like this — and another personal policy of doing what I want with the products I pay for.” Then I looked him right in his big wide eyes and poured the espresso onto the ice.

The whole thing was so Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces:

Touching a waitress’s chest is Not Okay. Pouring the coffee onto the floor instead of the cup is Not Okay. Drinking something I paid for the way I want to drink it — that’s more than Not Okay, it’s perfectly fucking fine.

Let me put this incident in perspective: I've got a good job, a gorgeous, loving girlfriend and I haven’t been to very many funerals. This is probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to me this weekend. So in the big picture, I’m doing okay.

But mankind hasn’t evolved, physically, in thousands and thousands of years. Biologically, we are the same barefoot creatures that hunted woolly mammoths with spears and competed with cheetahs for meat on the African savanna. That’s the source of most customer rage right there: a creature with a fight-or-fight reflex that’s 250,000 years old confronted with some ridiculous, arbitrary bullshit.

Here’s how arbitrary: I was stuck there fuming for an hour or so while my girlfriend had a dance rehearsal. And then, dammit, I needed more coffee. I didn’t want to spend any more money there, but I didn’t know where the nearest Starbucks was. I’m usually a fan of local, independent businesses — but at least Starbucks doesn’t tell me how to like my coffee. So I went back up to the register.

“I would like the strongest iced beverage your policy will allow,” I said.

“How about an Americano with four shots and light on the water” asked the barista.

I’d never had one before — so I said, “sure.”

Then he turned around and filled up a plastic cup with ice, filled it 3/4 of the way with water and carefully added four shots of espresso. He stirred it gravely and handed it to me, saying “enjoy.” And you know what? I really did. You’ve got to admire someone’s dedication to craft, and rigid adherence to a strict quality control policy. I was really, really impressed. So impressed that I swallowed my rage like so much cold coffee, opened up my wallet, and left a tip in the tip jar.

Money Talks

This whole thing’s blown up pretty big over the few hours — linked on Metafilter and BoingBoing — and it’s a little embarrassing. I mean, I can freely admit that I acted like a total dick here. But it’s not like I didn’t have probable cause. This is a tiny little thing that happened and made for a funny story, but I mean, c’mon, there are wars and genocides happening. I’m making a big deal out of it on this blog, but overall, not such a bad thing.

It reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s comment about her behavior on the set of I Heart Huckabees

…Now it’s all over, and so what, and I don’t have to keep up some great pretention I’m the most dignified, eloquent, elegant, perfect, smart-thinking, kind, generous person. I’m just a plain old human with a whole bunch of flaws.

Murky Coffee, Arlington: Hold That Espresso Between Your Knees (And I Am Not Lying)

It is hilarious to see people defending the practice of telling me how to drink my coffee. Yes, being a service-industry slave sucks sometimes. The traditional way to survive service work is to make friends with the good customers, because the good ones have likely been in the same situation as you.

I see nothing in this story, as told here and in the other blog, that anyone was rude or stupid until the coffee dude was rude and stupid. And then a customer behaved (slightly) poorly and made him cry. Boo-hoo.

Let’s please put this in the correct perspective, shall we? When we show up to a coffee shop to get a beverage we are, the majority of us, not offering ourselves up to a transcendental experience. We are only engaging in the transaction enough to get to the next part of our day. So, there you are, bellied at the bar, requesting a perfectly reasonable drink that every other independent and chain coffee place makes and you are snapped out of your reverie (got to pick up GF; I wonder if work will call this week-end; we ought to pick up eggs and milk on the way home; gods, it’s hot, I could use an iced coffee; &etc.) and forced into a ridiculous interchange for an even more ridiculous reason.

No, they are not out of coffee. No, they have not had a power outage. They are not out of ice. They are refusing, on philosophical grounds, to make you a drink that is, with some tweaking, already on the menu. That this might be company policy is baffling enough. That anyone in the service industry would respond with anything other than an apology and an offer to work around the ridiculous policy is even more so.

I’m sorry, but this is just coffee. It is not some high art, and even coffee snobs may just want a cold cuppa because that’s the way they like it that day.

I would probably have reacted in much the same way, but I would have been much more sarcastic. What else might not be part of the pure, perfect coffee experience at this shop? The thing about being a snob, is that anyone, anywhere can out-snob you. It is a zero-sum game.

Does anyone think “educating” me on what sort of way to drink coffee is of any use, at all? Did I ask for your input on my beverage choice? I am exchanging hard-earned cash for a break in my day and a little pick-me-up. Treat me with minimal polite attention and easy small-talk and I will return the same in kind.

People, this is hilarious. I was hoping that the coffee dude in question was just being ironic by taking the Coffee Bar Guy stance, but it would appear not (given the uber-serious nature of the linked Flickr photoset above).

So, yes, Unintentionally funny.

Anyone who defends the notion that we must start this dialogue with the assumption that there is some sort of perfect coffee drink that must never be polluted is deluding themselves.

Hey, unless you are drinking scalding hot coffee made with fire-roasted beans collected that day, cooked in a big pot for hours, and served so there are tablespoons of grounds your intended to eat at the bottom of each cup is not being true to an original coffee ideal.

Anything else is just recent fashion and subject to change without notice as coffee-drinking culture changes. Guess what? Purity loses out to invention every single time.

There is no “pure” coffee experience. Laboring under this delusion is only going to lead to tears and recriminations. So, let’s all be adult here and just accept that a double shot of espresso over ice and a shot of cream is a beverage that is here to stay. There is nothing wrong about that. Italian espresso bars don’t mind serving this, and neither should this place.

If this causes undue pain, I suggest getting out of the coffee business, because the amount of sleep you might lose is just not worth it.

The coffee guy is wrong, the company is wrong if this is policy, and however poorly the customer acted afterwards, there was an easy way to get around the situation.