too many words by laura lemay

coffee rantings

I don’t seem to be able to muster up the talent to tell stories these days, so instead I’ll post an old story I posted on The Well a few years back.

Apropos of earlier postings in this topic, I would like to rant.

This last weekend I was up in SF visiting a friend, and we went out for coffee to the local indie coffeeshop in her neighborhood, much beloved by my friend, a coffeeshop whose name I recognized as often mentioned lovingly right here previously in past conversations. I am neglecting to mention both the neighborhood and the coffeeshop for reasons that shall become obvious.

Single barista working the counter, talking to his friend at the other end of the shop. We wait. Barista deigns to stroll over. My friend orders a latte.

Barista proceeds to make the slowest latte order ever. Barista carefully arranges grounds in the espresso holder, tamps, arranges more grounds, tamps again, repeat, repeat. Espresso holder goes in espresso machine, but espresso is not yet produced. Barista turns his attention to the milk. He gazes dubiously at the milk. He taps the milk container on the counter. He gazes at the milk again. He taps it on the counter again. Is he reading our future in the foam? He pours some milk into the container. He taps again. He decides it needs steaming. He sighs.

The steamer wand needs cleaning first, so a scruffy-looking rag is applied to clean off the steamer. There is still no espresso being produced from this machine. Steamer mostly clean to barista’s level of satisfaction but not necessarily to mine, the barista steams the milk. He taps it on the counter again. More steaming. More tapping. I look significantly at my friend. She smiles faintly.

The barista produces a glass. A glass! We have a glass! Milk and foam are applied to the glass. The milk container is placed back on the counter. Now, finally, the espresso machine is turned on. We all wait.

There are now three more people in line. They are staring about the store, at the counter, at the walls, at the ceiling. I’m staring at the espresso, which is almost done. There’s just a few drips left coming from the machine, but barista is waiting for that last little bit. And finally, he declares it done, the espresso is applied to the latte. WHEW.

Barista turns to me, points, and grunts. I order a decaf nonfat latte. Barista sneers openly at me. “We don’t have nonfat,” he says. “We only use whole milk.”

Um. OK. I’ve had a lot of coffee in a lot of towns in a lot of coffeeshops. I’ve been in a lot of out of the way places that have never heard of a latte, and that’s fine, there’s always cappucino or cafe au lait or just plain coffee, light. But this is the first coffeeshop I’ve ever run across that didn’t have nonfat milk and that sneered at me for it. And this is San Francisco, weird food capital of the US. I can get an organic free-trade shade-grown latte with yak milk and valrhona cocoa at a dozen coffeeshops in this city. So I am genuinely taken aback that I am being harshed at for something as…well, as suburban, as nonfat milk.

I change my order to a cappuccino (less milk), and thus begins the slowest cappuccino order ever, with which I will spare you.

So after all that fooforah one would hope that this carefully crafted whole milk cappuccino at this little much-beloved indie coffeeshop would be, indeed, the finest cappuccino ever, right? Nope. Swampy and bitter.

No wonder starbucks and peets are so popular. Yes, they have stupid branded rigmarole but at least its decent consistent coffee and you’re in and out of there in less than half an hour. And they have nonfat milk. Dammit.