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Coffee Trends: Look Before You Leap!

Look Before You Leap!

May 2, 2008
By Brian Martell


"The strangest things always happen when you least expect them.”  I’m
sure this is what Sherlock Holmes would have said to his faithful
companion Watson when faced with yet another mystery to solve.

"The strangest things always happen when you least expect them.”  I’m sure this is what Sherlock Holmes would have said to his faithful companion Watson when faced with yet another mystery to solve.

The beauty of Holmes’ work is that he was always solving other people’s problems, which gave him the luxury of viewing the situation with dispassionate eyes. No emotion muddying the waters afforded the master sleuth clear passage in his mind’s sloop, avoiding the shoals and bars that would dash his quest for the truth on the rocks of despair.

Indeed, his common refrain of “Elementary, my dear Watson” was only elementary to him, as he was the only one not caught up in the excitement. His methodology was the epitome of late 19th century belief in the scientific method of solving all problems; a second Age of Reason, as it was, that looked to intellect as a panacea. Holmes (begat by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) was on the right track and while we don’t necessarily face the same situations in our day-to-day lives, we can learn a lot from him when dealing with the issues at hand.


I’m reminded of an incident with an OCS provider back in Montreal who had a customer with a chronic complaint of the odd batch of coffee tasting particularly horrific. The description of the office manager was “completely undrinkable” and the OCS operator came to the conclusion that there was a possible ferment in the coffee he received.
Now, a fermented coffee is truly undrinkable. It occurs in washed Arabica coffees where the drying of the green beans did not completely allow for all the beans to evenly shed their moisture leading to a few of them becoming fermented. One fermented bean in a single brew (or 1 in 350 beans for average brew strength of 2 oz.) is enough to make it impossible to swallow. Detecting and eliminating fermented coffee is a critical part of quality control at the roasting plant.
The problem is that if you have a ferment in fraction packed coffee, you are going to have more than one bean affecting the production run and it will be spread among the various packages in the batch. Needless to say, our customer, the OCS operator was beside himself with trying to figure what the heck was going on with his customer. As Holmes would say, “The situation required further investigation.”

I got together with the OCS operator and the office manager in the lunchroom to go over what was happening with the coffee service. We went over in great detail what the routine was for the brewing of coffee. The office manager complimented the provider on upgrading the equipment from glass bowls to thermal servers as the staff much preferred the quality of the coffee out of the server than the old burnt coffee that was kept on the burner for far too long during the course of the day.
The question was asked when the last “horrific” coffee was brewed and the manager said it was the first pot Monday morning, but that the second pot, after the first was dispatched down the drain and the server rinsed out, was perfect.
The pieces of the puzzle started to fit together, but there needed to be more proof before going in for the Holmesian, “Elementary, my dear OCS provider” line. Under further investigation, it became clear that while the OCS operator was doing all he should as it pertains to rotating thermoses and keeping the machine clean, there was no specific day-to-day protocol established in keeping the thermoses clean at the office. You see, thermal servers with sight glasses can let you know when there is “almost” no coffee left in the pot, but not necessarily no coffee at all left in the pot.
Before, the office had glass bowls that were easy to recognize as being dirty with the residue baked to the bottom. Monday morning was the big tipoff; what had happened was that on Friday afternoon, the last cup of coffee was taken from the thermal server, but not quite draining the server completely. Over the weekend, the remaining coffee in the server was left to incubate in its moist warm confines. By Sunday night, a bright blue fuzz would have taken hold on the surface of the puddle of coffee in the bottom; Monday morning, the first person in sees an empty thermos and assumes it is clean, brewing a fresh pot on top of the moldy purple spots.
The resulting taste of the coffee was predictable. The solution was that every morning, regardless of how clean the thermos looked, it had to be rinsed out with hot water to get rid of any residue left from the evening or week before.

The office manager was relieved to find out what was causing a rotating level of discontent and suspicion of the coffee
service, as was the operator.

The moral of this story, of course, is get as much information as you can when diagnosing a problem with a customer. Sometimes the problems will solve themselves, sometimes you will never get the critical information you need to draw logical conclusions, but if you don’t go through the exercise, you may find out some other operator will solve the problem for you.

An old story of what happens when not following things through can lead to this exchange between Bill and his Boss:

Boss:    Bill, I need you to use logic and deduction in completing you tasks.
Bill:    What’s that?
Boss:    Well, logic and deduction allows  you to find answers through reason. For example, do you own a lawn mover Bill?
Bill:    Why, yes I do!
Boss:    From that information Bill, I can tell that you probably have a lawn to mow. As such, people with lawns usually live in houses and it is unusual for single people to be homeowners, so using deduction I an tell that you are probably married.
Bill:    Why, all that is completely right! I do own a home and, me and the missus have been married for going on five years now!
Boss:    Finally, it can be safely assumed that you are heterosexual being that you  are married to your wife.
Bill:    Well, if that don’t beat the band, I can hardly wait to try out logic and deduction.

Bill leaves the office and meets Bob in the hall.

Bob:    Hey Bill, what were you and the boss talking about?
Bill:     He told me all about logic and deduction.
Bob:    What’s that?
Bill:    It’s a way of finding things out by asking questions, let me show you how it works – Bob, do you own a lawn mower?
Bob:    No.
Bill:    You’re gay, aren’t cha Bob?o

Questions or comments?  E-mail Brian at