A barista is making filter coffee using the v60 method, a client snaps a photo at a latte art decorated cappuccino. The furniture is classic minimal, wood finishing, chalkboard scribbled with the many caffeinated options available: clichés of coffee bars (erroneously) defined as hipster. These are specialty coffee bars where the black gold plays the starring role and offered in all its custom possibilities, from espresso to filter pour-over. Places like these are common in Northern Europe, everywhere in the US and Australia and all the craze in Asian countries, South Korea mostly. These coffee bars are also starting to plunge roots in Italy – we were among the first to document this phenomenon – a place where for too long coffee drinkers have remained bound to out-dated, banal coffee bar models. Lampooning on this new trend is the McDonald's brand in an ad for its McCafè coffee corner of the fast food franchise. The corner sells espresso and filter coffee for take out or onsite enjoyment, sold at affordable prices, in contrast with select coffees served at specialty coffee bars, quality beans carefully roasted and handled from harvest to final pour.
The ad is irreverent, but also quite amusing. It teases specialty coffee bars in a good-humoured highlighting their excesses and manias. The images portrayed are the ones mentioned above: snapping phone photos at cappuccinos, v60, long waiting times and higher prices. The clip material is intentionally exaggerated and portrays characters looking dumbfounded by the amount of choices available, hipster baristas donning big beards and waistcoats. These caricatures have been carefully studied to allow the franchise to spread its message in clear, direct and amusing fashion: at the McCafè you order and consume quickly, easily and without useless gimmicks. This mirrors the fast food brand’s philosophy. In the final beats of the ad a McDonald's customer simply orders “a coffee” and that’s it, not having to choose among blends or single origins, extraction methods or other elements.
How the joke becomes publicity
McDonald's makes fun of an entire movement – a very proud one at that – which is quickly expanding in Europe and abroad. The growth is a clever one, never vulgar or ostentatious, and never offending or degrading the work of the barista. On the contrary, the movement focuses attention on role and position, despite its diametrical approach and offer of McCafè. This difference allows us yet another opportunity to seriously address this trend, hoping it will quickly evolve into an established format all over Italy. Despite describing it with sarcasm, the ad shows the public the universe of quality coffee, where the offer is articulate and diverse, where enjoying coffee and the preparation of espresso is not merely a mechanical set of gestures repeated many times during the course of the day, rather an art form that requires care and attention. The public catches on to the mocking, but at the same time learns about the different approach to coffee, one that is still not as well known to many. This is why the world of specialty coffee is appreciating the ironic ad that’s circulating on TV.
Specialty coffee bars (the real ones)
This is a world that is not all snaps of cappuccinos and chalkboards on exposed brick walls. It is a universe mostly made of baristas training hard, a considerable investment in learning and a passion for coffee and everything that revolves around it. Nowadays, ordering “a coffee” no longer makes any sense: coffee is the raw material – a plant with fruits and seeds – and not the beverage. Coffee is no longer the synonym for espresso. Espresso is an extraction method, as much as v60, aeropress, syphon, cold brew and many other filter systems are. Each of these lend the beverage a completely different body and aromatic profile from what we are accustomed to, but equally fascinating. More and more Italian baristas are starting to tune into this. Coffee bars with a wider offer are sprouting everywhere, bars where the extraction methods are multiple and roasts varied, single origin or blend of beans, with different temperatures and degrees of roast. Equally growing in number are the schools and training workshops where baristas and roasters can learn this noble art. Being Italian is not enough to brew a proper espresso. Training, dedication, sacrifice are also needed. Ordering the beverage at a fast food joint is quicker and in some cases necessary, but at the cost of what pleasure? To find out, all you need to do is visit a talented barista, one whose the McDonald's ad has just bestowed sixty seconds of publicity.
by Michela Becchi
translated by Eleonora Baldwin