Quid Spro Quo
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Quid Spro Quotables

I don't believe in God shots.


I realize that starting a blog with a rant is a terrible idea. So I’ll make it quick.

There is one specific phrase in the lexicon of specialty coffee that really irks me and it is the God Shot.

As a new Barista, my idols referred to it as the experience when your grinder, machine, coffee, ambient humidity, and mood all line up perfectly to produce something mythic. Nathan Myhrvold committed a whole page to it in Modernist Cuisine. It’s the attribution of something hard won to happenstance. But, more offensively IMO, it’s the assumption that coffee can’t be that good if there isn’t an act of God involved. That there is a mystery to coffee and it’s just too difficult to produce a good thing twice in a row, let alone for an entire shift or day of business.

I couldn’t disagree more.

As a Barista trainer and coach, I believe that there are four states of espresso:

Unservable: This coffee is hopefully brown. It does not celebrate to the good, hard working people that got it here. The Guest experience is thwarted. The Barista is frustrated and, possibly, confused.

Servable: This coffee tastes as expected and is typically one noted. It may not tell a compelling story but it does not dishonor those whose effort made it possible. The Guest may be none the wiser or it might spark a conversation. The Barista’s job, as it pertains to coffee, is performed adequately.

Good: This coffee tastes better than expected. It is nuanced, complex and tells a compelling origin story. Many would describe this shot as balanced - acidity, body, and flavor syncing up in a harmonious way. A discerning Guest feels compelled to return, try again, and enjoy another. The Barista should feel pride.

Great: This coffee is typically the result of a strong Barista intentionally imbalancing a coffee’s flavor to create something profound. Its flavors and complexity are limitless. It compels others to participate in the narrative; it makes Guests second guess their own careers - it wows. It leaves people begging for more. The Barista should get an award. And if I taste this shot - I get excited.

I train my staffs to pull good shots and offer them the space in training to develop great shots. That kind of training is rare in this industry and I’m really proud of it. Most Baristas are thrown in head first or bar back for long periods of time till they are thrown into espresso shifts. Few have a strategy for dialing in other than trying to replicate a “shop recipe” or “whatever the last Barista was doing.” Good coffees can be served that way - but I believe the Barista, Guest, and Cafe are all better served when the Barista has had the time and space to train in a meaningful way.

I believe that great Baristas don’t wait for a God shot to come around - they chase Great shots day in and day out. They cup their coffees weekly. They brew their coffees daily. They talk about their coffees with other Baristas. The difference between Good and Great is a thin, grey line but it typically comes from a professional Barista doing hard work.

Let’s wrap this thing. I think God shots are just an excuse for coffee to not be dialed in well enough, often enough. It’s a fixation on one thing going well one time instead of owning the process, being a professional, and doing hard work. I sincerely hope that this blog and Quid Spro Quo can live up to the awful pun after which it was named. In terms of going tit for tat - my reply to the God Shot is this training program.

I’m not big on comment sections so please feel free to contact me directly.

Gregory Alford