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So I had a interesting incident recently, and I wonder if I addressed it properly.

My friend and I stumbled into an amazing Mexican place after an event we attended. This restaurant was sort low-key, hole-in-the-wall type of place, super authentic food, and with excellent service. We loved it immediately.

Anyhow, since it was still kinda brunch hours (at least for me) I ordered a coffee, black ("cafe negro", the menu said) before the main dish. However, the waitress brought me literally a jar of Nescafe instant coffee, a cup of hot water, and a small plastic container of milk. My friend and I, semi regular coffee drinkers, just kinda sat there for a bit, confused... I looked over the menu (which I kept since I intended to later order another drink) and nowhere on there did it say instant coffee.

So the food was amazing, and my friend and I dug it. I tried making a half-hearted attempt at drinking that brown and awful tasting instant "coffee" but just couldn't. I am no coffee snob, but I do french-press it semi regularly. I also happen to be Colombian (this apparently would matter to the owner, who must have heard my accent while I flirted a bit with one of the waitresses.)

So, after we had finished the meal, the owner of the restaurant came to the table, and we only had great things to say about the food. However, I did mention that I was a bit confused that when I ordered black coffee, but they brought me this jar of Nescafe instant coffee and hot water, that I was expecting a cup of black coffee. I asked if perhaps they had run out of grounds...? The owner seemed unfazed, and a bit offended and asked "what what was wrong with the coffee they served, since (technically) that is coffee..." He asked what the difference was, said that they'd always served it like that, and that maybe I was too used to having the best Colombian coffee."

I was a quite taken a back by his response. So I basically just replied that I was far from a coffee expert, nor was I expecting any Colombian coffee in a Mexican restaurant, but that it was just a bit confusing (and not the same). I added that most people expect non-instant coffee when you order the "black coffee" item on the menu. My friend who is American backed me up. I repeated that we really liked his restaurant and so I was giving him some honest feedback since I really thought there was a big difference between instant coffee and you know...well, coffee..? Anyways, he then just sorta thanked me for the feedback and walked off. I was still charged for the "coffee."

Anyways, I think I must have inadvertently offended the owner with the complaint about the coffee... maybe Nescafe instant coffee is a popular thing in Mexico?And it's just a cultural thing to call it just "black coffee"? I really don't know... I've only been to Cancun and around a few places for tours in the Yucatan, but I know that area heavily caters to American tastes, so... I'm unsure.

How should I have given some feedback about the way something was served or appears on the menu? Or am I just a Colombian coffee snob now...?

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Disclaimer: though I am of Mexican heritage and visit Mexico often, my experience is not the end-all to Mexican culture. My family originates from the state of Oaxaca, which is a large exporter of coffee. Also, I have little insight into Columbia's culture. However, this is my experience:

Whenever I visit my Abuelita (grandmother) in Mexico, the coffee in her house is always Nescafe. Also, the small, authentic, "hole-in-the-wall" Mexican restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food is usually family run and operated. Therefore, the coffee is often times what the family uses in their home, which is usually Nescafe. When you ordered black coffee, they assumed just the run-of-the-mill cup of coffee they'd have in their home. Like @Daniel stated, classic cultural mix-up.

Personally, I'd refrain from providing feedback about their menu and how it's stated. Providing feedback may be construed as insulting, especially if you are of a different culture or ethnicity. It can be viewed as you saying, "What you serve in your home is not good enough for me, and therefore your food is not good enough for me." In the future, I suggest asking what kind of coffee they're serving, whether it be freshly ground of instant coffee, or ask if they have other coffee drinks like cappuccino, espresso, etc.

Here's a link to an article called "Is There Anything Besides Nescafe in Mexico?", I hope it provides clarification!

  • Thanks for this. I did call up an old buddy of mine from Tampico and he also confirms the Nescafe hell you're describing. Oh and it's Colombia not ColUmbia... ;) – unknownprotocol Jul 20 '18 at 22:52
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To me this sounds like a classical cultural misunderstanding.

I know the same thing when I´m in Greece (coming from Germany) - There it´s either mocca or instant - and Nescafe is actually considered the good stuff.

You have to remember that coffee is an acquired taste - nobody likes it when thy are infant, but you get used to it. If your´re used to the instant stuff you won´t notice the difference. If you´re used to french press, even filter is sometimes hart to swallow.

From his perspective you had full control over how you like your coffee. He gave you the jar, so you could dose it how you like it.

I think that´s also the best course of action once you realize there are some cultural difference: Oh, OK - no problem - is just not what I usually get when I order coffee. But that´s fine (And note to self: Next time, don´t order coffee here)


On a side note, if you like coffee, its fun to learn and appreciate what different cultures have done with it. In most of these countries you won´t get a decent cup of normal black filtered coffee.

  • In Vietnamese restaurants, I order "café saigon"
  • On the canaries I drink cortado
  • In Protugal it´s galão
  • In Greece, café elinica (mocca) or frappé (iced, frothy instant coffe)
  • In Italy it´s espresso or cappuccino
  • @Home: Locally roasted, fresh ground french press
  • This is a great answer and I would really love it for someone from Mexico to clear it up for me! Granted Mexico is a big country, with lots of different people and customs, so even then it might not make sense, since someone from the capital city might be just as surprised as I was about what stands for black coffee... – unknownprotocol Jul 19 '18 at 13:40
  • @unknownprotocol You can probably get that questions cleared up on one of the other sites. I think Travel or Seasoned Advice would be your best bets. – David K Jul 20 '18 at 12:36
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Could I have done better in giving some feedback about the way something was served or appears on the menu?

I see nothing wrong with your behaviour. You did explain what you ordered, what you got and what you expected. The owner most likely got defensive since he cares a lot about what people think of his restaurant and he did not expect criticism on something he thought of being alright for quite some time.

What you could have done better:

You could have given him a hint on what would change your opinion. Maybe something like

When i ordered the coffee I'd gotten instant brew, yet I expected something like fresh ground coffee. Maybe if you'd specify on the menu what type of coffee would be served, I could've made a better decision on what to order.

would have given him something to consider being constructive feedback. What differs from your initial response is, youre not criticising the quality of the drinks but the description on the menu. If there was stated its instant coffee, you'd surely just order tap water instead.

  • Cool, thanks. Right. I did ask if they had run out of fresh coffee beans/grounds... but I just got a blank stare... lol I think he did seem to take my suggestion that he should describe the coffee better in the menu, so there's no ambiguity. Some people just aren't coffee drinkers, and some of them own restaurants I guess... – unknownprotocol Jul 19 '18 at 7:27
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    @OldPadawan That could also be received as passive-aggressive criticism. We're just giving constructive feedback. I see the effort to give a compliment, but my answer tries to keep it simple and compliments are ... complicated. Feel free to write an own answer with that advice. – Marcus Jul 19 '18 at 7:47

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