Meet Matt Watson, 30, who just lost his job at All City Coffee in Georgetown that he had for 2½ years. That’s what happens when you’ve become the Bitter Barista, start blogging snarky stuff about your customers, and it goes viral.
“If you remind me four times that you’ve ordered decaf, guess what you won’t be getting … ”
“I would remember your usual drink if you were a more memorable person.”
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“What a coincidence! You have a gluten allergy, and I don’t care that you have a gluten allergy!”
“You can say ‘2% milk’ all damn day. You’re getting whole milk.”
And, you don’t just blog about customers, but your boss:
“I like to use a lot of big words when I tweet, that way if my boss ever finds my twitter account, he won’t understand any of it.”
According to market researchers, the NPD Group, there were an astounding 1,640 coffee shops in the Puget Sound area in 2011, ranking us the No. 1 coffee region in the country.
In the birthplace of Starbucks, and in one of the most Internet-connected cities in the country, it seems appropriate that there’d be a blog about the relationship between customer and server.
It is Starbucks, after all, that in the last three decades helped coin the term “barista” as common usage for coffee servers. In Italy, the description is applied to someone working behind a bar, serving not just coffee but also alcoholic drinks.
Watson says that his blog was satire and that he was just accentuating “the 5 percent who I guess make our job more difficult and don’t treat us as human beings. I had a good personal relationship with 95 percent of customers.” He says he thought very highly of his boss, Seth Levy.
The thing about baristas, he says, is “that person is probably an artist, overqualified, people with pretty much college education across the board.”
And here they are, working for minimum wage plus tips, which for Watson totaled about $15 an hour for a job that for him started at 6 in the morning.
A New Jersey native, he says he got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and came to Seattle in 2005 because “I followed a girl.”
He’s now married to a different woman, and they live in a Capitol Hill apartment.
The barista job, Watson says, was to help make ends meet while he pursued a career as a hip hop artist going by the name “Spekulation.” That’s what he means about baristas being artistic types.
Watson went live two weeks ago with the Bitter Barista blog. Soon it began getting a couple thousand hits a day.
In it, he doesn’t mention All City Coffee, or his real name. But he did mention in his Spekulation tweets what he was doing.
It wasn’t hard for two other young coffee guys, Zachary Carlsen and Jordan Michelman, of Portland, to figure it all out. They run a website called Sprudge.com that advertises itself as “your daily source of coffee news, rumor, innuendo and intrigue.”
Yes, the barista world is a small, gossipy world.
On Thursday, Carlsen and Michelman outed Watson, writing, “There’s a lot of anger in this blog, and while we love the well-worn barista cliché, it should be the stuff of mild parody, not an all-out assault on whomever walks through the door of your cafe.”
Watson knew he was in trouble.
He emailed Levy, “Hey man, I’m guessing … you’re not too excited about the Internet happenings today … The very few customers … who have seen the website, are huge fans. And since the article was posted this afternoon, the ‘likes’ on my site have gone up 15%. This isn’t bad press, it’s actually really good press … especially given your customer base and the type of neighborhood that Georgetown has become … I’m just saying … it could turn out to be a fun something that gives the place a little spike in publicity.”
Levy didn’t quite see it that way.
He says, “He was writing about his boss during business hours. I represent the business, the customers and the staff. I can’t endorse what he was saying, whether humorous or not. It puts me in a difficult position, where if I don’t respond that means I endorse what he’s saying.”
And so Watson was out of a job.
But maybe not for long.
Watson says he’s had several offers from other coffeehouses.
And, he says, he hopes to put together a Bitter Barista coffee-table book.
Meanwhile, one of his latest posts is, “My next project is gonna be called Bittersweet Barista. It’ll be the same as before, but with a plethora of kitten pictures.”
News researchers Gene Balk and Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report. Erik Lacitis: 206-464- 2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org