A Letter From Jamie Elfman (Barista At Tom&Serg)

Back in January I wrote a piece about the sadness I feel at not being able to get good coffee in Dubai. I was stirred to write about the disappointment I experienced when the new kid on the block Tom&Serg failed to light my fire with their offerings. The barista took it badly. Here’s what he had to say.

Hello, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Jamie and I am the barista you so eloquently discuss in your review of Tom&Serg. When I first read this I was somewhere between amused and annoyed by your 6 strikes and out approach. However, over the last few weeks I have forgotten about the amused part, and only the pissed off remains.

Firstly, I am sorry if you received bad service at T&S. If events happened as you described, it is inexcusable. Having said that, I am going to call bullshit. All of our staff are friendly and helpful to the point of annoying me at the bar with requests of “Can they please have half water, half dry foam, 3 grains of sugar and a foot rub on the side?” And a first strike because you didn’t like the interior? Really? You had a bad experience, and didn’t like the place? Easy, don’t eat or drink there. I don’t like a lot of places due to the strange fact that I also have preferences. So I don’t go.

I am happy for you that you were once Honorary Tower Barista. Well done on that. It hardly qualifies you as an expert though. ”Years and years of drinking amazing coffees in cafés in Melbourne as well as being the honorary tower barista when I worked at Melbourne airport have taught me that temperature is paramount. A lot of experimentation and a great deal of love have gone into my research. I don’t mind a coffee at 65ºC, but I most definitely prefer it a bit hotter.” Years of research to figure out how you prefer it? Ok…

Here’s the thing though. You are wrong. Milk textured to 70 degrees with three layers is poorly textured milk. Fact. You have been away from Melbourne for the last five years? Well, the coffee scene in Melbourne has changed dramatically over those last five years, and if you were to return, you would unfortunately find that every decent shop there does it exactly the same way I do. Techniques have improved, and no one would be caught dead trying for “stiff peaks” in their milk. Sure, there are a few hold outs still doing things the same way they have for 25 years, but the times they are a changing.

Tom&Serg is of this new breed of Specialty Cafe. We don’t burn milk. We don’t make dry cappuccinos. We don’t add syrups. Coffee changes as it degasses, and behaves differently as it ages, or the humidity or ambient air temp changes. The only coffee that is the same all the time is stale coffee. We use freshly roasted coffee, which will be different every time you have it. Like it or leave it.

All of this is irrelevant. You are more than entitled to an opinion. Just don’t pretend to be an expert. I have been making coffee for nearly sixteen years. that’s approached 1,000,000 coffees. I have worked in everything from the shitty places you seem to prefer, to shops ranking amongst the best in the world. I am an expert. The very fact that you couldn’t differentiate between a latte, served in a six ounce cup, and a cappuccino in a seven speaks volumes about your expertise.

Anyway, thank you for trying my coffee, and it’s a shame it doesn’t meet your standards. Perhaps one day you will get that cafe you dream of, serving stale, dry, yet consistent, coffee to the masses.

When I didn’t respond to him right away he motivated me to get on with it!!

I see you didn’t post my reply to your expert review. I didn’t think you would. Anyway, good luck, and just remember your advice to A.A. Gill. Stick to what you do best.

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