Five Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Coffee Shop

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Flickr user seguin_maxim

Coffee, the staff of life; coffee, the fuel of the American economic engine; coffee, the liquid that went from being a cup of brown water sold for a quarter anywhere to being a tarted-up, high-test dose of caffeine sold from fancy, purpose-built shops at prices eight times that of gasoline.

I have a love-hate relationship with coffee shops. They provide me with the drug of my choice, but they're also wildly inconsistent. New coffee shops open up every day, with people who make common errors that move their life's dream firmly into the "meh" category.

5. Refuse to serve dairy.
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No half-and-half? Of course, I wanted my coffee to taste like hot, gross pumpkin pie anyway.
Some coffeeshops refuse to allow their coffee to be adulterated with things squirted out of a cow's nips. Some coffee shops don't want the expense of providing things such as half-and-half or milk. And some coffeehouses are just run by people with wooden palates who think non-dairy creamer--made of such savory ingredients as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and high-fructose corn syrup--is indistinguishable from real dairy. Riiiiight.



4. Have major attitude--deservedly or not.
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Flickr user EvanHamilton
Coffee doesn't taste good when it's been turned bitter by some holier-than-thou pedant behind the counter. This doesn't mean good coffee can't be a learning experience--the folks at Portola Coffee aren't stuck-up, yet their customers get lessons just by ordering. The eye rolls from baristas--seen at "third wave" or common coffee chains--ruin a cup of coffee faster than any other means.


3. Have bad coffee.
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Jean-Paul, the famously cantankerous (the French would say grincheux) proprietor of Jean-Paul's Goodies in Laguna Beach, is famous for his dismissal of Starbucks. "I make Starbucks every morning when I go to the toilet," he sneers. He's not far off--Starbucks burns its beans and specializes in coffee so bitter it takes three packets of sugar in a 16-ounce cup to make it palatable. They're not alone: Americans seem to have been taught to think coffee isn't coffee unless it can be used as paint solvent.

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33 comments
toomuchcoffeefriend
toomuchcoffeefriend

#1 way to ruin a perfectly good coffee shop:  Offer the landlord more money to boot them out and lease the space to a Starbucks instead.  Failing that, open 2 Starbucks within 200 yards to drive profits down until they close.

Dwayne
Dwayne

Oh.... not that kind of coffee shop, but the other kind of coffee shop.

JJGlanton
JJGlanton

It's always bugged me that you can go into any dive bar or streetside snack stand in Italy and get a perfectly delicious cup of cappucino or espresso, and a fresh warm croissant with flakey crust and apricot jam, all for a handful of change, yet it's almost impossible to find in the U.S.  Huge overfrothed tasteless cappucinos and chewy dry croissant's made yesterday are the rule.

Mantronixfan
Mantronixfan

Coffee shops need a policy for students who hijack tables for 4 or 5 hours on end.

swag
swag

This reads more like, "My five favorite whines."

Nagyur
Nagyur

The highly uneven standard of coffee brewing at Starbucks (as well as in most cafes) is puzzling. But not nearly as the use of brown paper bags for baked goods. As if you're buying screws in Ace Hardware!

cBc
cBc

Portola ftw. The end.

Claudia Koerner
Claudia Koerner

I am a little terrified every time I walk into Jean Paul's that he's going to shout at me. The coffee's so worth it though! And agreed, kudos to Portola for being high brow, yet having a good attitude.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

1. Agreed.2. Come on, how can you complain about offering options.3.  JP and the rest of the us owe a huge debt of gratitude to SB -- without them making coffee trendy, we wouldn't have so many quality choices (i.e. competitors).  Kudos to SB for raising the bar.  I know it's cool, and with-it, to hate on SB, and I do prefer Pete's Sumatra, but appreciate what SB has done for us*.4.  Agreed.5.  Agreed.

*Disclosure:  20ftJesus owned SBUX during their boom time.

Jaimers
Jaimers

JC Coffee Bean in Dana Point....drive right past the Starbucks on PCH and pull in for a great cup of coffee sans the attitude.

PriusCarPoolStickers
PriusCarPoolStickers

Back on the sunny side of the street, Portola Coffee Lab is just a gift from the Gods, not only because their coffee is so good, but because they were kind enough to open right down the street from my work.

PriusCarPoolStickers
PriusCarPoolStickers

So Jean Paul really is cantakerous, and apparently famously so. All this time I thought it was just me, since I only stopped in once (because one is my limit on voluntary encounters with people possessing incomprehensibly hostile attitutes).

Marcella McSorley
Marcella McSorley

You’ll find none of the aforementioned nonsense at Bogart’s across from the Seal Beach Pier...

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

This list is giving me Ugly Mug Cafe flashbacks. Blech.

Medusa
Medusa

Try the Coffee at Freesoulcafe in Old town Tustin and you'll see that they are so far from breaking rules #1-4, that it's ok that they break rule #5.  They are a vegan restaurant after all.  You won't miss the dairy there, but it's not as if they are serving coffee-mate instead.  Good mention of Portola as well.  While their menu can seem intimidating to non coffee geeks, they will gladly walk you through it and you'll learn a bit in the process without being talked down to. 

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

The lack of Italian cornetti—save for one single, solitary, standing-only espresso bar in New York—drives me absolutely insane. Even the stuff they serve in cheap hotel breakfast buffets in Venice is better than the stuff here, and you're right—apparently there's some knowledge of espresso that's born into Italians from the motherland that gets lost as soon as the plane takes off.

Same with France. I can walk into any sketchy, divey "Bar du Sport" in any crusty, forgotten central French town, say, "Un café-crème et une tartine, s'il vous plaît," and get a great cup of coffee with hot cream and a baguette with fresh butter, and even in ostensibly-French cafés here in the U.S., I can't get that. (Except at the aforementioned Jean-Paul's Goodies, but his attitude is not for everyone.)

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I don't mind that—as long as they're consuming something. I'm used to French cafés, where you pay extra to sit and then that table is yours until you can't stand the glares from the waiters anymore.

What coffeeshops in Southern California need is a large bicycle rack, use of which to be enforced by trained coyotes. I love to bike to the coffeeshop, but I do not love a) trying to find a bike rack and b) tripping over the expensive bicycles leaned against the wall by people who couldn't find the bike rack either.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

It doesn't work to speak French to him, either... he just grunts back in French.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Man, when you get past your racialist annoyances with me, you offer great insights--keep it up, son! Mitchie can't hold a light!

Claudia Koerner
Claudia Koerner

I like Bogart's if I have time to hang out, but I find Javatini does a better cup of brewed coffee.

lt
lt

Ugh, I worked for that guy one weekend about 13 years ago and I still get shivers when I drive by that place. He's a giant a-hole. He's mean and obnoxious. I figure his family must own the house.

Medusa
Medusa

That place is almost always empty.  I don't know how they stay in business.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

You're right, Medusa—vegan restaurants get a pass on #5. Happily, most vegan restaurants are also relatively health-conscious so it's unlikely that disgusting liquid known as Coffeemate would be found in such a place; they'd be more likely to serve soy, rice or almond milk.

909Jeff
909Jeff

Rulli's in San fran was AWESOME but they changed it to Ristobar and got rid of the bakery...you can still get a great coffee but I miss the bakery!

Bill T.
Bill T.

I guess our only hope is your continued campaign to educate American consumers that there is better available. The more good out there the better it will become, assuming people learn what's good and learn that they don't necessarily have to settle for third-rate products. It's happened with beer, why not other sectors?

Dwayne
Dwayne

I think many types of businesses could be improved by having large bicycle racks.  Coyotes would be optional.

Bill T.
Bill T.

Direct responses from not one, but two OCW staffers, OCW is the best if for no other reason that the ACTIVE promotion of discussion (not the only reason, in my "humble", yah, right, opinion). Other outlets appear to discourage discussion and expect nosotros peones to accept their truth as divulged without question or comment.

Medusa
Medusa

My wife went in there for coffee a couple of times.  He seemed very irritated that she was in there buying coffee so she decided not to 'bother' him anymore.  She never went back.  I stood outside with our dog and have never been in.

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

I posited long ago that the dude owns that building and/or has other sources of income, because he runs it exactly as you'd expect someone to if they didn't HAVE to be working/owning that business, but likes having a tax write-off. 

OCLocal
OCLocal

there is also a response from an OC Register staffer!  lol

Bill T.
Bill T.

I checked my dictionary and apparently "than" is spelled with an en, not as "that". grrr.

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