After living through Francois’ ongoing saga of his love/hate relationships with Starbucks and Brueggers, I got to thinking about my own experiences at various Starbucks and similar establishments such at Peet’s in Harvard Square and Seattle’s Best in I don’t remember where. In particular I was trying to recall how effective the “touchology” (the term coined by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz) was. It has been my experience that a key individual that can make or break the experience for me is that often under-appreciated person known as the Barista. This is especially true if what you want is your basic high octane espresso. No frills, no steamed milk, just a perfect expresso with a nice crema on top. So I surfed over to coffeegeek, a great site about all things coffee. And here I came to realize just how seriously some baristas treat their position. Go here to read about the South East Region Barista Competition. Here is an excerpt of a review of one of the contestant’s performances:
” Her distribution technique was a brief North-South sweep followed by three (or four) tamps, the last two (or three) with twists. The set of espressos appeared to have nice dark colors with red reflections. As she prepared her four cappuccinos, she explained that she intentionally overfilled the milk to help keep the temperature down and prolong the stretching phase. Like a few other competitors, she prefers to swirl the two bell-shaped pitchers flat against the countertop, plus a few thunks. She explained that her competition style isn’t like her usual work routine because four single cappuccinos isn’t a typical order.”
Now that is what I would call a “high-touchology” experience. Haven’t experienced anything quite like it at a Starbucks but I did come close to it at a small independent coffee house in Acton MA. And yes, as Seth Godin would put it, the lie I told myself about the quality of the espresso was definitely influenced by the showmanship of the barista (who happened to be the proud owner).