You serve what? (a lesson in expectation management)

Most cafés hang a sign in the window near the door telling customers what brand of coffee they sell, but not all. The other day I visited an unfamiliar shop in Downtown Portland that was tight-lipped about its coffee.  

“What kind of espresso do you have?” I asked the barista.

You would have thought I asked her for her phone number. She shot me a look that told me not to ask stupid questions. “It’s store-bought,” she replied, curtly.

Now it was my turn to give her a look—a puzzled one. In all the cafés I have visited, this was the first time someone said an espresso was “store-bought.”

Confused, I sputtered, “Any…particular store?”

She looked at me coolly and said, “It’s from Cash and Carry. Do you want one shot or two?”

“One, thank you.”

Inwardly, I dreaded the first sip of the espresso, but to my surprise, it was drinkable. While the coffee would not stand out in a tasting competition, it did not have any off-flavors or obvious defects. Considering the circumstances, I was satisfied. Never underestimate the power of low expectations.