Ejo #53 – An Open Letter To Jamie Elfman (The Barista At Tom&Serg)

Hi Jamie. I must admit that in the three months since you wrote to me, I’ve been stewing over how to respond to your (quite nasty) comments. I’ve been crafting a cutting counterstrike. A scathing riposte. In the interim I’ve been rather busy but it was always in the back of my mind, brewing away (haha, I crack myself up). But the fact is that I don’t actually want to get into a slanging match with you. Regardless of what you may think, I’m not a mean person. You didn’t like my original post, but it wasn’t intended to be malicious. I’d had a few bad coffee experiences and was simply lamenting the lack of good coffee in Dubai. It was never a personal attack on Tom, Sergio or you.

For the sake of clarity, however, I do feel the need to correct a few of your misconceptions. In your letter, you painstakingly point out (no less than four times) that I am not a coffee expert. You know what? You’re absolutely right. Though I’d love for you to take a moment to read my original post again and please point out where I claimed that I was. I’ll save you the time. Not once. For I am not an expert in coffee. But, I am two other things where coffee is concerned.

The first, is that I am a coffee lover. I really do love the stuff. I drink it every day. I’m lucky enough to travel a lot. Which means I get to drink great coffee all around the world. Since you’ve written to me I’ve had fantastic coffee in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hong Kong, London and Amsterdam. I’m not telling you this to show off. I’m just pointing out that my frame of reference extends beyond the city of Dubai.

Coffee Means Everything

Coffee Means Everything

And I am so mad-keen about the stuff that it’s become part of my planning routine to research the best places to get coffee when we travel. Accommodation, transport, restaurants, coffee. The basics. The essentials. So, when you say that my taste in coffee runs to “stale” and “dry” you’re not actually just insulting me, but also some of the best coffee houses in the world (well, in my humble (non-expert) opinion anyway).

For instance I’ve enjoyed magnificent lattes at The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen and tremendous coffee at Patricia in my hometown, Melbourne. I’ve had several outstanding coffees at Coco Espresso in Hong Kong – in fact we go every day whenever we visit, and sometimes twice a day. In London, we’ve been to Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market and Nude Espresso in Brick Lane and we also recently tried Prufrock Coffee. I’ve even had the most incredible slow drip coffee in Kyoto (of all places). I’ve preferred every single one of these cafés to Tom & Serg. I’m not certain that they rank “amongst the best in the world” but surely they’re not “shitty places”, as you refer to them in your comments??

Latte at Coco Espresso

Latte at Coco Espresso

The second thing I am when it comes to coffee is a C.U.S.T.O.M.E.R. I was recently in Australia (yes, I’ve been several times in the 5½ years we’ve lived here, and have enjoyed the evolving coffee scene each and every time) and I tell you what, I was blown away by the high level of service I received there. The hospitality industry in Melbourne is WORLD FUCKING CLASS (capitals for emphasis). It’s second to none. If it was possible, I would bet you every single cup of coffee for the rest of my life, that if I’d made the same claims about one of Melbourne’s prime cafés that I made about Tom & Serg, I would NOT have been called a “bullshit” artist by the barista. I would NOT have been belittled, mocked and disparaged by him. Instead, I reckon they would have invited me back to their shop for a nice cup of coffee and a chat. And you know what else, Jamie? If you had done that, if you’d written to me and said, “Chryss, we’re really sorry about your previous experiences here. Would you please come back to Tom & Serg and I’d love to make you the best coffee of your life”, I would have a very different view of you than I do now.

My husband and I recently went back to Tom & Serg (oh, we’re suckers for punishment aren’t we???). I really wanted to give it another chance. We went in around 11.30am on a Tuesday morning and sat down at the bench near the front door. And we waited for someone to come and take our order. And we waited. And waited. And kept on bloody waiting. In fact we waited for 11 minutes and 27 seconds. This is not “bullshit”. This is a true story. The place was not busy (there were about six or seven tables in use) and there wasn’t a shortage of staff (there were about six or seven servers hanging around). At about the eight minute mark I actually stood up and waved my arms around (semaphore-style) trying to get someone’s attention. To no avail. In the end, I literally had to get out of my chair and go and fetch someone to take our order. And because you’ve inferred that I lie about the crappy service I tend to receive at your establishment, I asked the server her name (which I can give you privately if you like) and showed her my stopwatch (which I started right after we sat down in the sad, yet inevitable, expectation that we would indeed, have to wait). We had a bit of a chat and she was suitably sheepish about the delay. Ask her about it. I’m sure she remembers me.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

So that was one thing I noticed. The service is still pretty shitty. The second thing I noticed was that when we got our latte, it was significantly warmer than the other coffees we’ve had there in the past. In fact, I’d venture to say (without the benefit of a thermometer – but with the benefit of my many years of experimenting with coffee temperatures) that it was quite hot. Over 70ºC. So, my observation is this. Either you have bowed under the pressure of customer demands to make your coffee hotter (in which case I spurn you for not having the strength to stick to your convictions). Or, you are inconsistent about heating your milk to 65ºC (in which case, I scoff at the weakness of your convictions).

Consistency, Jamie!!! Just one more thing you misinterpreted from my original post. I quote: “Quality is not just about perfection, it is about consistency”. I guess you could take the word “consistency” to mean the texture of the coffee. But that’s a stretch. I mean, my sentence was pretty clearly discussing quality. And if the quality is good one day, but bad the next – there’s no consistency. I’d imagine that as a barista, you’d want to produce something of consistently good quality. No??? Catherine, the barista at Coco Espresso in Hong Kong makes consistently great coffee. Day in, day out. Yes, it tastes slightly different every time. But the quality is always high. It’s consistent. Good. And that’s what I was referring to. The four coffees I’ve had at your joint have varied wildly in quality. They’ve been inconsistent. Bad.

OK. Enough. I’ll tell you something. I’m crazy about coffee. I can tell, from your misguided but emotional email, that you are too. Perhaps under different circumstances we might have been friends. But it’s OK that we’re not. I don’t need any more friends. What I do need is someone to open an awesome, little ten-seater café in Dubai. A place where EVERY SINGLE COFFEE is made with love and attention. A place like Please Say Please in Adelaide, Australia where I watched dozens of coffees being made as though each one was a work of art or a little baby lovingly being brought into the world. Tom & Serg is not that place, but I still wish it the best. No hard feelings, mate.

Please Say Please

Please Say Please

The (loving) creation of coffee.

The (loving) creation of coffee at Please Say Please.


  1. So you discovered great coffee in HK ? It eluded me in all those years and by god we tried. You did good. You should add Stockholm to your list of great coffee. We found it to be awesome. A real coffee culture going on ‘up top ‘ and ‘down under’
    From what I’m reading and experiencing it’s permeating to in between slowly but surely. Even, dare I say it, to Paris ( thanks to the Antipodean influence a cafe au lait – ie kiddies milky yuk is being replaced with a decent flat white ( and I’m not talking the Costa version here).
    The thing that bugs me most ? Adults drinking from what appears to be a tommy tipee style paper cup when seated in a ‘cafe’. Where is the self pride??? Hmmmm.

    1. I have a knack for finding it (except here – LOL!). A lot of research and a lot of misses – but when you find the one, it’s all worth it!

      I’ll be interested to see if I can find some good coffee next time we go to Paris (it’s been a few years). Any recommendations??

  2. Chryss you are wrong – you have a University Degree (Doctorate) PHD etc in coffee from the University of the World’s Best (and worst) Coffee Establishments. Love is in the taste-buds of the beholder. You can’t become an expert if you are not a coffee lover. D.D.

  3. Aww, thanks Doug! And you know, you’re quite right. What is a coffee “expert” anyway!

    PS. Thanks for the great filter coffee you lovingly made me this morning at work! 🙂

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