Welcome to Murky. You Don’t Get it Your Way.

I am at Murky Coffee, where I just heard a conversation in which the barista told a guy that he was not allowed to pour his espresso over ice.

“But that’s how I want it,” the guy said.

“You can’t have it over ice. It ruins the quality of the coffee. It’s also against our store policy,” the barista said. After the customer left the counter, the barista was fuming and told his coworker, “I almost told that guy not to come back.”

Thanks, Nick, for hiring such helpful young people who uphold basic tenets of customer service. Where would the world be if customers could get what they wanted? This young fellow did a good job protecting the ignorant customer from cold espresso.

Barista guy – get over it. It’s just coffee, not a matter of safety or health, and the guy knows how he wants it.

Carl Weaver is a writer and brewer for RealHomebrew.com and has been making beer and wine for more than 20 years. He is also an avid photographer and writer and just finished his first book, about a trip he took to Thailand to live in Buddhist monasteries. He considers himself the last of the Renaissance men and the luckiest darned guy in the world. Follow him on Twitter.

131 thoughts on “Welcome to Murky. You Don’t Get it Your Way.

  1. “Wow…. That is all I can say about Bob. That and get therapy.”

    Ah, another “artist” heard from apparently.

    Let’s face facts, this doesn’t matter. Nick is so far behind in his taxes that Murky’s will be gone in a few months anyways. You think they’ll just close one location while going for their money. They’ll have a lien on everything soon enough.

  2. I would only point out that the Murky website needs to be updated. I think there’s an extra “S” at the end of the navigation item, “Location.”

  3. Jason: Being 110% behind someone means that you’re not actually completely behind them. You’re actually standing a little bit to one side.

  4. Bob, my understanding of their tax situation is that the DC shop was under a separate corporation from the VA shop, and they’re not linked, which means that the DC dept of taxation would have a real hard time recovering the rest of their taxes.

    But hey, if you wanna keep dreaming, go right ahead :)

  5. “And, dick or not, it’s still just coffee.”

    What an utter disregard for what people like the Nick, the barista at Murky and myself devote alot of time to…sourcing coffee ethically and presenting it in a way that honors the farmer.

    “I’m a writer, photographer, blogger and storyteller too.”

    You just write, take pictures, and talk shit…anyone can do that, even a Murky barista.

  6. “What an utter disregard for what people like the Nick… devote alot of time to…sourcing coffee ethically and presenting it in a way that honors the farmer.”

    What farmer wouldn’t be honored to know Nick is threatening to kick a customer in the balls in order to ethically present his coffee? Nothing says pride in your product the way swearing and threats of physical violence do!

    p.s. “the Nick”? I’d assume a typo, except he does act like a guy who would call himself that.

  7. “but it helps build the company culture of being the most devoted to coffee quality in the DC area”

    Yes, a company built on arrogance. Just what DC needs.

  8. During a coffee conference this past February (yes, I am a barista, and a coffee nerd), I went to Murky on two different occasions. I had two completely different experiences.

    The first day, the female barista and I had a wonderful discussion of coffee prep theory, the advantages of a flat tamp vs. a curved tamp, etc. My iced latte was prepared quickly, and with great skill and craft.

    The second day, I had to flag down a male barista because he was too busy talking to his friend to take my order. Then, when I asked for my usual iced latte, the barista asked me if I wanted “a little drink umbrella” to go with it. He grimaced and make a hacking noise as he handed me my coffee.

    I have to agree with an earlier coffee. I respect Nick’s knowledge, as I had the pleasure of speaking with him at the conference. But his response defeats any purist cred he had with me. As for the customer being rude, screw that. If a barista tells me that how I drink coffee is “wrong”, he has already been rude, and I don’t owe him any respect for his “art”.

    I respect the first barista who disagreed with me on almost every point I made, but did so with a smile and a discussion instead of condescension and arrogance. The second asshole, not so much.

  9. This whole incident makes me wish I lived near Murky’s so I could give them my business.

    It’s not obvious, but pouring espresso directly over ice definitely ruins the flavor and makes the drink more bitter.

    I used to think my girlfriend (who used to be a barista) was crazy for saying that and claiming that she could tell that other baristas had made her iced americanos in the wrong order until she personally demonstrated it for me several times and had me taste it each way.

    The “correct” order is to pour the shots into water before adding ice. The lower temperature differential between the shots and water really does make a big difference and helps the espresso cool down momentarily before the ice is poured in.

    I’m not a coffee connoisseur, but even to my unrefined palate, when the shots were poured directly over ice, the drink was definitely crappier.

  10. I think the biggest points that could be made is that, even if the customer is wrong, you as a business need to convince the customer that they are right. You don’t have to kowtow to them, but the second you roll your eyes, or state anything about the way that the customer is about to use the product you just sold them being really, really Not OK…. well that’s just really, really Not OK.
    Just because you don’t like the way that it tastes typically doesn’t mean squat. I don’t like relish on my hot dog, but if I offered relish for my burgers, and sell hot dogs, once I’ve sold you the hot dog, and a cup of relish I have no right to tell you that putting the relish on your hot dog is against store policy.
    The second that the coffee was sold, with the cup of ice the barista lost all rights to comment without an angry reply. I like to say that it’s not what you say but how you say it. In this case that doesn’t apply. It’s what he said, it was condescending, inflammatory and completely out of line – the store policy on what they make only applies to the employee not to the customer.
    And using the term “your god damn right”, or “Hell yeah’ I’m going to drink it how I want” are perfectly fine for emphasis – had he said F*&^ off of Motherf*&^er don’t tell me what to do with my product not okay.
    Yes the customer was wrong about the tip – the rest is just a failing business waiting to happen.

    The “ghetto latte” fix your prices, don’t try to pull a fast one on a customer. Tried to order a shot in a 16 oz drip once, the place called it a shot in the dark – charged 1.50 more than a 16 oz and single shot. For what? Just trying to rip a customer off. Say you sell your espresso for .75 a shot, your cost for cup, lid and sleeve(to go) is ~.23, the milk – say you go crazy an use a full 8 oz. that’s a quarter. Latte cost 1.23 – customer cost 2.85 (just for giggles) Wow, that’s over 100% markup, how do you justify?

  11. As an unimpassioned observer from the left coast, I found this story along with the subsequent discussion mesmermizing, due in no small part to my love of a good cup of joe.

    I was an early devotee of Starbucks before they began their policy of each store being in line of site of the adjacent one. One of my favorite anecdotes was a visit to a Starbucks in Seattle in the early 90’s where the ebullient fellow behind the counter talked my ear off on the subtleties of the many varieties of beans they had to offer, and recommended grinding them finely because he guessed (correctly) that I had a Krups coffee maker with a fine meshed filter simply based on where I lived (San Francisco).

    Flash by nearly two decades and Starbucks is closing 600 stores because they became as diluted as their coffee. Seems not only small independents are susceptible.

    But the zeal I experienced that time comes close to what I seem to detect about the folks at Murky. To that effect, I’d love to have such a coffeeshop nearby, if only to absorb that vibe of people passionate about what they do and make, not to mention getting a superior cup of coffee. And I don’t worry about whether they’re condescending or arrogant to me – I have enough self-esteem not to be affected thus.

    Honestly, some of these posters that have a problem with Nick, David, et al must have some serious self-image issues for them to get all “I won’t have some wage-earner get all uppity on me” (head swaying and finger wagging).

    And for the life of me, I can’t understand the negative response to Nick’s open letter. I thought it was hilarious and read it in exactly the same vein as Jeff’s blog. And while I’m no fan of profanity, I do recognize its use to emphasize a point, which Nick did well as a retort (I agree with DailyCaveat, however, that Jeff’s was totally unwarranted). And his follow-up was nothing short of masterful.

    I’m just sorry that Nick has the tax problems that totally undercut his position and allow his detractors to circuitously (and irrelevantly) skewer him. He could have been the quirky wiseguy who nonetheless is dedicated to and passionate about his craft and practices it with an anti-corporate, devil-may-care attitude, but is reduced to a tax cheat and deadbeat. Let me just say that as a fellow Korean-American, I’m disappointed – what his parents must think of him…

    As for the ghetto latte angle, what gets me is when I go through a MacDonalds drive-thru (OK, I show my true colors but sometimes I want an egg mcmuffin and don’t want to make a second trip for coffee), and I ask for one creme and two sugars and they give me like five cremes and 20 sugars (and about 50 napkins and they forget a stirrer). What a waste – it’s clear that these folks don’t have any sense of ownership. For a small business owner, to get shafted by both customers and employees like these must be maddening.

    To finish, I do have to comment that DailyCaveat’s posts are intelligent, finely worded, and absolutely cuts to the point, rendering those who oppose him as blathering idiots. Johnathan Schelling’s few words on modern, superficial, conspicuous-consumer-driven, catered-to-the-masses life was so entertaining, he should have a blog of his own. And Carl Weaver, you make a fine unbiased and honest moderator. I’m sure you all can die happy upon hearing my assessments ;)

  12. Actually Tom Bridge, they will go straight after him for their tax money. By the time they are done? He’ll wish he hadn’t been born. While keeping things in separate corporations can provide some protection, when you own both of the corps, and they go after you (because as an officer of the corporation you are liable for the actions of the corporation) having separate companies won’t help…they are still yours.

    I’m not dreaming, I’m informed.

  13. I like the fact the douche Simmerton committed a federal crime by defacing federal currency, then admitted and documented it on his website. If I have my way, the Secret Service will be paying him a call. Oh, who am I kidding, I’m way too lazy to make that call. But if Nick Cho hasn’t done it, he’s not the same Nick Cho who was an intern for Don & Mike and banged one of his high school teachers at the beach after his graduation.

  14. What people don’t seem to realize, and what the barista (which is a stupid nonsense unisex word which means nothing) should have caught onto, is the fuckwad customer should have been charged so far up the ass for ice that it would would have solved the problem. There is NO obligation to provide free ice or a second cup. Problem solved.

  15. thepenismightier:

    “Defacing” federal currency is not a felony unless it’s with the intent to commit fraud. He didn’t take a Sharpie and draw a bunch of extra zeroes after the one; therefore, no crime was committed.

    To everybody who’s talking about “educating” people on what to look for in coffee: if you have to be taught that something tastes good in order to notice it, it doesn’t actually taste good. You can waste time and money “educating your palate”… I’m going to drink something that tastes as good the first time as it does the seventeenth.

  16. Fascinating…I wonder how the barista would still feel upon learning that coffee – as a drink form, etc – originated in Europe. Where, common coffee, as we Americans know it, is hard to come by. In fact, in order to get an “Americano” a barista (say in Italy, France, or Spain) takes an espresso and adds water…ice to make it cold if you want. The fact that you can choose to “ruin” perfectly good café in the countries that invented the art form – says a lot.

    I don’t think we as Americans should play the “know-it-all” role on this one. Why not just KISS and stick with good old American values: the customer is always right.

    This random tidbit comes to mind when Americans are “high and mighty” about café or culinary culture: a large portion of the world calls Ketchup – “American Sauce” I guess one of the true American influences on haute cuisine? ;)

  17. I’ve learned something from this whole debacle: namely, that “artistic license” has become a catch-all haven for the pseudo-intellectual, the pretentious, and the plain old-fashioned assholes to hide behind so they don’t have to get called on the carpet for their crappy behavior towards other people. Our society lets certain people get away with so much shit if they do it in the name of Art (Roman Polanski, pedophile and AUTEUR, comes readily to mind), and it’s about time to stop giving carte blanche to any thickwit who plasters himself with the title of artist to avoid public censure.

  18. I’m an artisan roaster… selling coffee beans, not prepared beverages… customers do all sorts of things with them of which I don’t approve because I know it results in a suboptimal cup of coffee. Things like brew them in a 25 year old Mr. Coffee that hasn’t been cleaned since Billy Joel was a chart topper. Buy them 5 lbs at a time to save money instead of buying them fresh. Buy several varieties and blend them themselves. Store them in an open container on the counter. Pregrind them days or weeks in advance of use. I could go on. But that’s their choice, and they are free to make it. My job is to politely and respectfully educate THE CUSTOMERS WHO WANT TO BE EDUCATED. The results are encouraging. I sell lots of proper storage containers, good grinders, etc., and they are happy and appreciative when their home brew improves. And I do lose customers who don’t listen, when they believe that my premium prices are unwarranted because my stuff tastes no better than anything else they make. Oh well. That’s life. But I don’t presume to lecture about what they can and can’t do with the product I sell them. That’s the difference between a SALE and a LICENSE. Maybe murky wants to license espresso to customers… “click here to accept terms of use”…


  19. I know this is a really old story but I ran across it from some blog that I can’t even remember the name of now. (Sad, no?) And this comment jumped out at me:

    “I would ask a fashion designer to embroider Minnie Mouse on my shirt if I wanted it that way, because I would be paying that fashion designer for a service. And if I want to put ketchup on my nigiri, I don’t think the sushi chef has a right to say anything.

    “They are in service industries, and I couldn’t care less about what offends their delicate sensibilities. Please.”

    The barista was way out of line. Granted. However, if I as a typical monolingual xenophobic (OK, not really) low-class American troglodyte want to learn what’s involved with a higher-class service or product, I am not going to throw my weight around (and I got lots of it! I’m an American!) trying to dictate how that service or product will be done for/sold to me. Because I HAVE NO FREAKING IDEA.

    Minnie Mouse is not used on haute couture. Ketchup is not even SERVED in a Japanese restaurant, ESPECIALLY not one that specializes in sushi. And if the whole point is to try something new and something maybe a little higher-class than you’re used to having, maybe it’s a little bit courteous to find out the PROPER way to do it or buy it or whatever.

    Because social class is basically a type of culture, regardless of how high or low it is. And what do you do when you move into someone else’s culture? You learn to act and speak and eat as they do.

    It’s hilarious to me that when immigrants come here we give them no end of grief for not speaking English, not going to church, and not being like us in every conceivable way. But when we go overseas we don’t bother learning the local language, and when we eat or drink things that are foreign in this country, we corporatize them and homogenize them and adulterate them until they are unrecognizable to the people who created them.

    And then we wonder why the rest of the world sees us as fat, lazy, ignorant, uncultured troglodytes.

    By the way? “Service personnel” is not code for “slave.” So no, the customer is NOT always right, and sometimes the customer is very damn WRONG. And if I ever own my own retail establishment and someone comes in copping attitude with me because I’m “just” a service professional or “just” earn a low wage then they are getting thrown out on their ear. After I point and laugh at them very loudly.

    God. In the UK they take that “customer is always right” thing so literally they feel free to HIT store employees. God help us if we ever get to that point here.

  20. OK, simple solution.

    1) Buy an aeropress.
    2) Buy some fresh roasted coffee. Whole Foods at Fairoaks will do.
    3) Go to Murky’s and just pay for hot water. Tell them you want it at 178 to 182 degrees farenheit. If it’s wrong, give it back and make them do it again.
    4) Make your own coffee.
    5) For spite, offer to make one for the “barista”. Do not charge him/her.

    It’ll be much better than what you can get there, and you’ll be making some poor soul’s day, by giving them really, really good coffee.

    6) Remember to tip.

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  24. For the Record: Murky Coffee is out of business. They went belly-up the year after this incident. Apparently, that kind of douchebag pretentiousness isn’t a viable business plan once an inflationary bubble has burst.

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  26. @Some Guy: Haha, I was just surfing through my old comments, found this thread, and was thinking “hey, I should go check and see if Murky is still around…”