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  • Writer's pictureAshley Woodhall

An uncomfortable conversation with my local coffee house

1 year ago, a hipster cafe serving specialty coffee opened in my small, quiet neighbourhood of Barcelona. Given that the majority of establishments and people in my neighbourhood are at least 60 years old, I was overwhelmed with excitement when I saw the “opening soon” sign of the new cafe, whilst walking the streets one morning.

I love coffee. I especially love great coffee. Since discovering that coffee is like chocolate, wine, bread, honey and pretty much anything else - the good stuff can be really, really good, and can be had for a fair exchange of cash. Since then, I've been on a personal mission to find excellent cafes, delicious roasters and to learn some basic barista skills myself. (Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a barista at home…).

The new cafe was everything I hoped it would be and more. Small, local, friendly owner with whom I could practise my Spanish. And of course, serving excellent single-origin speciality coffee sold by independent coffee roasters. I love this way of consuming coffee because the whole chain benefits. Everyone from the coffee farm, the roaster and the very cafe where I sup my espresso, everyone is independent and fairly compensated.

I was soon a loyal client. Almost daily taking a walk to the cafe with my reusable cup (about as hipster as I can get). Things were good for so long. The owner even started saving me the last croissant because I was always too late to buy them before they sold out each morning.

Our bond grew as close as one could get between a cafe owner and client. First name terms came next. Then commonly asking after one another’s family. He even asked me about Brexit…

In fact, we became so close, he would send messages to my partner via Instagram, telling her he’d be closing early and to pass on the message to me, as he knew I didn’t use social media. Now that is extremely good customer service.

Then, one day, things changed. First, a bit of back-story. In the last few years I’ve become more conscious about my diet and consumption and impact on the planet. I stopped drinking cows milk where possible and order coffee with plant-based milk such as oat or soy.

One day, I got home with my coffee and after taking a swig, realised something wasn’t right. I took it as a reality check. One’s service can’t be perfect every single time. The next day, I picked up another coffee. The same.

Days became weeks. It’s just a temporary blip, I kept telling myself. He’ll figure it out and sort it.

Weeks became months. It was obvious, now, I had to say something. Each time I bought one, the coffee was separating from the milk. It was no longer the smooth, silky, tasty dream I remember. I had to tell him.

Each time I went with the intention of informing him, each time there was an excuse: “he looks a bit down today.” “There are customers too close and may hear.” “I don’t have the right Spanish to offer constructive feedback and not offend him”.

Like trying to tell a new acquaintance you’d forgotten their name since the first time you met 5 months ago, or telling your high-school girlfriend you want to break up but it's not her it's you, the time was never right. The stars never aligned.

Until they did.

Yesterday I was alone in the cafe. Not only that. After making my coffee, the owner and I struck up a chat and he was telling me of his recent decision to no longer offer sugar in the cafe. By this time, the coffee and milk had started to separate and the coffee grew acidy to the taste. I told him everything. I showed him the truth. I explained it had been this way for some time, that things weren’t the same as they once were. That things had to change around here.

Obviously, and with retrospect, he was totally understanding and explained that some months before, a tiny part of the coffee machine had worn and been replaced. (Either that or he told me to stop being a snowflake and go screw myself - I can never be sure when Spanish people talk faster than the speed of light). This new part affected the heat of the milk frother. And, as oat milk is mostly water based (compared to cow's milk), the milk was probably getting too hot and not mixing as well with the coffee as before.

He promised to figure out the issue and resolve it. Today, he heated the milk less and the results were better.

There are many lessons here. Most of which relate directly to my lack of upfrontness. For some reason, unlike in many areas of my life, here I was unable to have that uncomfortable conversation much earlier. Unapologetically, however, I couldn’t help noticing a few crossovers with digital security.

Firstly, just like the coffee machine, everything can be fine for a long time, until it isn’t. And Unlike me, the client, realising, oftentimes digital security isn’t like this. A configuration change which opens a security hole can go unnoticed until it is taken advantage of by a cyber criminal. As it happens, for the past few years configuration errors have been one of the leading causes of data breaches, especially for organisations with online platforms.

Secondly, testing is key. After replacing the part, had my favourite cafe tested the machine with all the different combinations of coffee and milk, he would have noticed immediately. (And saved me hours of conversations with myself about how to approach the topic with him).

Thirdly, things change. Like a coffee machine, things don’t always work on day 300 as they did on day one. The same applies to businesses. Employees change. Systems get replaced. Goals move. Markets pivot.

If an organisation had a security assessment / audit some years ago, it is probably quite outdated by now. As are any security practices which were put in place at the time. Not only does the organisation change over time, but so do the threats and tactics of cyber criminals.

Having periodic security checks will identify any security gaps which may have inadvertently appeared. Annual checks are generally a good period but they are also worth doing whenever a new system is introduced or a current one changes. For example, a new website. Or, a new feature in an existing mobile app or online platform. Finding security gaps before cyber criminals will help keep an organisation safe from data breaches, and the financial losses and reputation damage that often follow.

We offer a security health check which checks for security gaps and gives organisations peace of mind they know how secure they are. If gaps are found, we offer practical advice on how to plug them in the most cost effective way.


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