The Coffee Problem

Today I went out to a mall and ordered a cup of normal coffee. As I walked away with my small black coffee, I heard a woman order a no-foam non-fat decaf extra-hot latte. I think there might have been one more requirement but I can’t remember it. This underscores the fact that I’m way too stupid to get work as a barrista.

Why the fuck do people have such perfectionist needs when it comes to coffee?! What the hell is wrong with these people?? Why do they feel so entitled to reel off a string of   detailed instructions for a cup of coffee, that another human being has to then prepare TO THE LETTER?!?

I would be mortified to appear this fussy about anything. Why aren’t these coffee prima donnas embarrassed?

My own theory is that they didn’t get enough of Mommy’s attentive pampering so now they’re going to take it out on some helpless coffee server who can’t spank them or send them to their room.

Let’s hear your theory.

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72 Responses to “The Coffee Problem”

  1. Sil Says:

    Ufff… when I worked as waitress during my last year at university, we had one hour per day full of goverment employees, which are one of the most stressing and unkind customers you can have. One of them was the kind of “decaf coffee with non-fat non-heated milk, saccharine instead of sugar, please, I am on diet”. I always wanted to ask the lady what kind of diet it was, that did not allow regular milk and sugar, but allowed the XXL croissant she had with her fucking coffee… Idiots are everywhere.

  2. Molly Says:

    If she wanted a non-fat coffee why didn’t she just order a small black coffee? You can’t have your cake and eat it and stay slim ! I’m with you on your theory. Plus I once asked for my coffee with cream to pour in instead of milk because I was feeling lavish, except it came with a tower of squirty cream on top…

  3. mustownmore Says:

    I could not agree with you more. I used to think it was an American thing, but it’s becoming that way in the UK too.

    I once stood in a very long line for coffee in New York as a man loudly insisted remake his iced coffee creation because the barrista had put three, rather than two, ice cubes in his coffee (taking a cube out was not good enough). How does a person get that self centred as to think his marginally different coffee request is more important than his duty to make the line move?

  4. Alison Says:

    it isn’t that bad here in Scotland yet, but it’s way more complicated than it used to be. But then that’s the fault of the coffee chains giving those options! For years and years people were quite happy with black or white, maybe the occasional cappuccino or expresso if you went somewhere fancier or if it was an Italian cafe… but then the chains arrived. Give people too many options and they demand even more.

  5. Faux Fuchsia Says:

    Remember that Steve Martin movie where he orders some ridiculous coffee arrangement with a twist of lemon?

    Being demanding about coffee makes people feel Special and In Control.

    Don’t ask me why.

    Meanwhile, did you watch Kate and Will’s Big Day? Thoughts?

  6. Taylor Says:

    Ugh “extra hot,” are they serious? That’s ridiculous. Non-fat milk is disgusting. And those frappucino drinks are horrible. I see people drinking those gross green tea ones, which look disgusting.

  7. Roz Says:

    I have never got the whole ‘let’s see how many silly words we can put in front of the word “coffee” idea’. But then I will admit I’m quite a coffee snob – I don’t tend to order it in cafes, but have proper ground beans at home instead. As long as it is fresh and I can add sugar though, then I’m happy. Ergo why my blog is called ‘Clothes, Cameras and Coffee’ – not ‘Clothes, Cameras and skinny frapuccino with no milk Coffee’.
    Do you know of the writer Charlie Brooker? He wrote a very funny article about arrogant customers here –

  8. Ann Says:

    I once watched a co-worker of mine flip out because the barista misheard his order & gave him a venti instead if a grande (which, in human terms, is a large instead of a medium). I could not understand his anger at the error. So you were given a large but that’s bigger than you wanted? No one said you had to drink the whole thing, you gluttonous fuck! Ugh. People with such specific needs for their coffee nauseate me. Get over yourself, you pompous fuck. It’s just coffee.

  9. Daniel Eaton Says:

    I blame Starbucks!

  10. Cricket9 Says:

    They are pompous fucks, but the coffee shops perpetrate the pompousness, so they can charge you some crazy money for a cup of brown liquid. I don’t go to Starbucks because I don’t understand the lingo, don’t know what’s a venti, why a grande is not a large and why they have to be so huge that they are close to a gallon. I was once asked to find store managers for Starbucks, one of the requirements was “they need to live and breathe Starbucks coffee culture”. Please!
    There is plenty of pompous fucks in Canada, but also a lot of people who go to Tim Horton’s for a “double-double” – double cream, double sugar”, and that’s it, no non-fat milk heated to +89C and foamed with your left hand.
    By the way, I find that people in Ottawa, which is full of government employees, are much much nicer that in Toronto, which is full of investment bankers.

  11. hammiesays Says:

    I think its an American thing. Freedom of Choice apparently means a LOT of choices or you might as well become North Korea.

    There is a name that Barristas (and smart arse waitresses) have for those no foam decaff, skim milk latte yokes – its called a “Why Bother?”

  12. K-Line Says:

    OK – I’m going super honest here. I’m one of those people. My drink of choice: skim, dry, extra-hot, double-shot cappuccino. I am not evil. I am not impolite. I’m just a person who doesn’t want to pay $3.26 for something that doesn’t suit me. And I have very specific feelings about coffee and its ability to change the quality of my day if it’s just the way I want it to be.

    I tend to go to the same (serious) coffee places and the barristas know my order without asking. The one time I was super embarrassed to order though – was when I got a decaf. That seemed beyond the pale.

    PS: I love whole milk. I just don’t like the mouthfeel of fat with espresso. I also like everything – from soup to food – that’s supposed to be hot to be EXTRA hot. My husband calls me asbestos-girl.

    Just giving you the flip side perspective.

  13. Iron Chic Says:

    Sister I should be packing because I am moving today, but this is WAY more important. I really feel like true coffee is black espresso, neat. I feel sheepish when I have to order a half-decaf Americano for my co-worker. I make a point of saying the decaf is NOT for me.

  14. regularstarfish Says:

    I think it’s the Starbucks thing having filtered down to all coffee shops.

  15. regularstarfish Says:

    Oh, and I love how the coffee lady/guy always seems relieved when I just order a plain black coffee.

  16. Laura Says:

    K-line? What is a ‘dry’ coffee?

  17. Dru Says:

    The only Starbuck I like is the one from Battlestar Galactica -coffee tends to make me queasy.

    But I agree with K-Line- if a store is charging you the moon for it and pretending it’s sprinkled with fairy dust/is artisanal/whatever, a little nitpickiness is to be expected (not that anecdote about the three ice cubes instead of two, though- that’s just plain bratty).

  18. Dru Says:

    Oh, and my theory re: why people act out in coffee shops is just that people are spoilt for choice and have the opportunity to get away with being a dickweed to the barista. Which is not that different from your theory, Sister.

  19. K-Line Says:

    Dry means it’s made with very little milk. It’s almost like an espresso with a smidge of milk but tons of foam. (Incidentally, it stays hotter longer.)

  20. Deni Says:

    So funny you’ve written about coffee. I haven’t had a cup (some sips here and there) in over three years, since I ended up in the hospital with a heart rate of 170 (yes, I did drink six cups a day).

  21. Deni Says:

    I left out the part that I dreamed of drinking it last night, that’s the funny part. I actually had a dream about drinking coffee. I’m off to play taxi driver now.

  22. Graham Says:

    I order a medium decaf 1/2 pump classic syrup (basically sugar) cappuccino is that so bad?

  23. Rebekah Says:

    A lot of it feels like a contrivance, “Oh I’m so interesting and culturally knowledgable because I know soooo much about coffee”. I once had some guy order a 3/4 decaf 1/4 espresso from me. I did my best with the measurements (it was only one shot) and laughed to myself. I have never had a problem with people wanting what they want the way they want it, those drinks are kind of pricey after all. However, In my coffee experience generally the longer the order, the bigger the asshole. (That goes for both sexes).

  24. Oana Says:

    It’s a control thing. As our lives become more and more chaotic we tend to overcompensate and become anal about the little things, such as coffee. Sure, this doesn’t apply to everyone, we each have our own defence mechanisms, some cope better than others. The coffee ordering is a symbolic empowering moment, so some exaggerate the order so they can feel more in control. But what do I know, I don’t even drink coffee :)

  25. Audi Says:

    My theory is that these people simply don’t like coffee very much; if you’ve got to load it up with milk and sweetener then you’re not really tasting the coffee anymore. I’d rather pay $3.25 for a really excellent cup of black coffee then the same amount for mostly milk — or air, in the case of foam.

  26. Braindance Says:

    The best part of the night whan I worked as a waitress was when I would ask the other shit units of the world, “you fuckoffee?”
    Only sometimes would they realise that I had told them to fuck off instead of asking them if they would like coffee, but I would smile sweetly and just repeat the question with slower delivery and less pronunciation on the uck bit when they said ” i beg your pardon?”

  27. fara Says:

    LOL @ you fuckoffee!

  28. dana Says:

    If i have to starbucks, i order small medium large. None of this grande venti nonsense for me.

  29. Liz!! Says:

    Seriously, it ruins people’s DAYS to not get the coffee the way they want it? Sorry, but WAH. I personally can’t stand when people think that they can’t survive without coffee. White person’s problem.

    I only drink tea there. I can’t even tell you how many times baristas have messed up “hot tea” and “tea over ice, no sweetening.”

    By the way, I’m in agreement over hating the Starbucks sizes. They make no sense whatsoever, and I hate them for giving me Tall drinks when I ask for a small. They know very well what I’m saying, and yes, they have a “short” cup. HATE Starbucks.

  30. Caroline Says:

    I completely agree with Audi. If just plain coffee doesn’t taste good to someone, they probably don’t really like coffee!

    I only ever get a small black coffee. NO SUGAR OR MILK EVER! :)
    People think i am strange, or that black coffee is gross/bitter!

  31. Caroline Says:

    Goodness, I just realized I used exclamation marks in each one of my sentences in my previous post….I think I actually have had too much coffee today haha.

  32. Suebob Says:

    I think if you are paying $4 for 30 cents worth of ingredients, you should be able to get the stupid thing as perfect as you want it. Think of it as couture coffee, not pret-a-porter.

    The flip side of this is that I have had to argue hard to get my favorite coffee drink (iced coffee) because it is so simple that some people can no longer understand it. They’re like “How many shots? With foam? With whip?” No. Ice. Coffee. End of story.

  33. Hammie Says:

    Sue bob: iced coffee should be made with ice cream. And coffee. Xx

  34. gretchen Says:

    i used to be afraid to order in a starbucks, besides hating to pay so damn much for coffee…no idea what people were saying and felt pressured to HURRY. So I’d get ‘what she’s having’…
    now i just drink tea and marvel at the crap taken by the Barristas/coffee gods/goddesses who seem to just carry on – i hope they do spit in some of the cups of the total a-holes.

  35. style odyssey Says:

    Agree, agree, AGREE!

    Thank you for this post. I wouldn’t last a day with stupid coffee requests like the ones we’ve all overhead.

    Whenever I’m in an airport or Barnes & Noble, I usually see long lines of people ordering custom-made coffee-based concoctions at Starbucks. Whenever I go to any coffee bar and order, it irks me to be asked, “What flavoring would you like with that?” Flavoring? I still don’t even know what a frappa-something means, and I don’t want to know. It sounds idiotic.

    It’s a sad state of affairs in our American culture when the masses start treating coffee like it’s a dessert, or something onto which they can project their anal-retentive, prima donna sensibilities.

  36. Rosee Says:

    I used to be a barista and these customers would drive me nuts.
    I’m what you’d call a “coffee snob” and can not see the point at all. It’s just destroying how the coffee should taste – which is good!
    Extra hot? your milk is now burnt. It’s not surprising you need extra sugar to mask the taste.
    Decaf? if it’s not the highest quality decaf, you’d be better off drinking water – most decaf tastes bitter, chemically and stale.
    Theres a funny quirk here in Western Australia v. the eastern states with a drink called a “long macciato”, in WA it’s essentially a double shot latte whereas in places like melbourne a long mac will get you a double espresso, with a few drops of warm milk and the subsequent foam that comes with it.
    I will admit, I’m slightly fussy as I only drink soy milk. I’ll ask the barista what soy they use. If it’s not my preferred brand I’ll get a long black :)

  37. E Says:

    I once came up with the Coffee Inverse Proportional theory – the more options you have for coffee the worse it is, so if you go to a cafe and they have four options for coffee you can guarantee that they coffee will be great. Once you start adding orange-mocha-frappa you might as well be drinking effluent.

    New Zealand has the best coffee, hands down because we don’t let people get away with this extra frappa bullshit

  38. Rach Says:

    E, I think you might be about right.

    Whenever I hear complex coffee orders, I automatically visualise this billion year old Flash animation (go to 3.30 if you don’t want to watch 5 minutes of Italian/European in-jokes).

    Personally, I think overly complex coffee orders are largely a new way to be a wanker. First wine, then beer, now coffee? Generally, these OTT orders don’t even enhance the flavour of the coffee – it just hides it with de-caffination and caramel sugar syrup or whatever.

    Having said that, I’m a total coffee snob. I like my regular, Elixir (if anyone from Perth, Western Australia reads this and likes coffee- go there) because they know their shit. They blend and roast their own beans every morning, and they experiment with different methods like cold press. But it’s all about the taste of the coffee. Not some frankenstein sugared bullshit.

  39. mimi Says:

    australia has a pretty big “coffee culture”.. where i am from, thankfully starbucks hasnt taken over here the way it has in the US. i’ll always appreciate a good coffee shop and good baristas.

    i worked as a barista and didnt mind complicated orders if the people ordering were nice and friendly. the rude customers, however easy or complicated their order, irked me more.

    for reference, i like short blacks or skinny vanilla lattes. really not that complex.

  40. Dru Says:

    ^great, now you’re being spammed by coffee, Sister!

  41. Rosee Says:

    Rach – I’m in Perth, Where is Elixir?
    A consistent top on my list is Tartine in Trinity Arcade. I also recently tried the coffee at Mrs S Cafe in Maylands and it’s divine. Great Coffee is usually the realm of dedicated cafe’s. Good food and good coffee is a real treat

  42. Sandra B Says:

    Being a picky pain in the ass is the American way. Starbucks has built their empire on catering to these fussy crybabies and that’s why we pay them. I say it’s ok as long as you

    1. speak slowly and clearly when placing an order
    2. have money in your hand instead of your phone
    3. DON’T BE A DICK
    4. tip your barista

    P.S. I don’t drink coffee so I’m pretending this conversation is about hamburgers.

  43. sonja Says:

    The chains that serve these multi-hyphenated coffee options created this silliness. And they created the silly names. You can’t even ask them for a large coffee without getting a look of disapproval, like you haven’t bothered to learn this important new language.

  44. Tony Coffee Beans Says:

    The *$ revolution has made most traditional black coffee drinkers question anyone with foam on their brew! These sugary latte lovers have been predisposed to the specialty coffee phenomenon through peer pressure of sorts :) However, if they did not order these super espresso-based beverages or gourmet coffee beans, artisan roaster folks like myself would not be able to make living. Thanks for understanding! :)

  45. miss cavendish Says:

    You might enjoy this 2007 piece by the famously grumpy literary/legal scholar Stanley Fish:

  46. Alex Says:

    If only more places were like my favourite independent coffee shop.

    Customer – “Can I have a vanilla latte?”
    Owner “No. Would you like a cup of proper coffee?”

  47. fashion westie Says:

    I drink Instant Coffee. I make it myself. That’s how I roll.

    If I buy one when I’m out I ask for, “One coffee please-medium, in a takeaway cup.” Polite smile.
    To which the response is, “Huh?” Bemused face.
    Me: “Ah, one coffee, medium, take away. Thank you.”
    Them: “Um…what kind of coffee?”
    Me: “A normal one. Coffee, sugar, milk, hot, medium, papercup, lid. Cheers.”

    I’m from New Zealand and we have plenty of coffee hipsters proclaiming their specific coffee needs [Is it carbon footprint free? Is it fair trade? Is each bean individually roasted by a flame-haired virgin who plays the harp?] and magic ingredients [completed in THIS order ONLY] to make it an acceptable form of drinkable beverage….while they drive overpriced, gas-guzzler cars, park in handicap spaces, proclaim intolerance to every food but organically grown carrots, speed in the carpark, take their kids to fine dining restaurants, dodge paying taxes, wear sweatshop threads, live in oversized homes with nannies and cleaners and are generally walking around with a permanent “I smell shit!” look on their faces. They are generally idiots who like to make people in the service/trades/retail industries feel inferior and remind them of their place-TO SERVE!

    Then, some people just have a particular coffee they really enjoy-just because. They’re still idiots because they ruin my argument :-)

  48. Andra Says:

    Well, when I drank coffee it was only black. Any other way is ridiculous.

    Now I drink tea, preferably Earl Grey.


  49. my favorite and my best- MFAMB to you Says:

    just pure and simple douchery. there shall be no analyzing these fucks. here’s to hoping she dropped it in her lap.

  50. Catherine Says:

    2. have money in your hand instead of your phone(Sandra B)

    I can’t agree with this enough. When you walk into an establishment to do any kind of business, get off your phone you unimportant asshole!

    I only buy coffee drinks out occasionally and when I do it’s a double tall capuchino. That’s just a regular small with an extra shot of espresso. (People who say Xpresso drive me nuts, so many where I’m from) I feel like that’s enough of a pain in the ass twice a month. I can believe these people spew this coffee bs every morning.

  51. Jade Carver Says:

    fashion westie – if you ask for ‘coffee’, no matter where you’re asking you’re always going to get a confused look. If you’re ordering something simple that’s great, but you need to specify whether you’re wanting a black coffee or coffee with milk. My first job was as a barista and I’m working at a coffee boutique now, and there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ coffee. Some people drink short blacks, some people drink long blacks, some people have milk. You pretty much always need to specify.

    The best/worst ‘why bother’ I ever heard: half-shot decaf soy latte with honey. Yep.

    Also, the whole ‘no-foam latte’ thing is a total mystery to me. Maybe it’s different in Australia, but the only difference between a latte and a flat white is the amount of foam on the milk. If you don’t want foam order a damn flat white! It staggers me how many people don’t know anything about how their coffee is made. I find myself explaining to people ‘what’ a cappucino is (because they’re asking for a good ‘cappucino-type coffee’, and I ask them how strong and they say ‘normal’… facepalm) AND what decaf coffee is on a weekly basis. I dunno if I have an edge because I’m a barista or if people are just plain stupid…

    For the record I have a major sweet tooth, so I’ll occasionally have flavoured syrups in my coffee, and I drink soy milk out of necessity. But none of this no-foam half-shot shite.

  52. Aja Says:

    I have to say, I do enjoy an earl grey latte from starbucks. But I do find when I order it, half the time the baristas look both puzzled and annoyed. Not my fault darlings, your company invented it :)

  53. Aja Says:

    PS- My friend just got a part time job at Starbucks. And I quote “worse decision of my life”.

  54. Elaine Says:

    Can I add to the ridiculous tea options there are now?
    This illustrates it perfectly.

  55. Bevitron Says:

    Reading all that makes me so glad I’m not a bean drinker – gives me horrible heartburn. Those trick coffee drinks do have some amusement value, though.

    I’m strictly iced tea. With about twelve sugars. Southern style. A friend says, “Why don’t you just pour an inch of Karo syrup in the glass first?” Really, though, it’s amazing how difficult it is to find a really excellent, fresh-tasting glass of iced tea out there. It usually tastes like it was prepared in an unwashed coffee urn.

  56. Rach Says:

    Rosee: Oh man, this world is small. Elixir is in Nedlands, behind Chelsea Pizza Co. My friend Sarah owns Mrs. S.

  57. Susana C Says:

    Obviously you’re all overly caffeinated allowing this non foam latte lady press your rant buttons. Let the woman order however the hell Starbucks conditioned her too. Go about your business. Don’t roll your eyes when you come across someone paying for what they want. Isn’t that the premise behind this country. I’ll bet my full shot, 1/2 decaf extra foam non fat rice milk gigantore mochaccino cinnamon iced latte that you’re all guilty of some shit people roll their eyes at.

  58. hammiesays Says:

    Jade: Flat white was invented in Melbourne. It only just arrived in Ireland and basically people are treating it like the Second Coming.

    I don’t have to support any coffee shops any more – I got a NESPRESSO! (cue diatribe about evils of Nestle and baby formula world wide)

    am going off to make another Cafe Lungo which costs me 40 cents in my own kitchen, in the nude if I want to.

  59. disneyrollergirl Says:

    ha ha, I guess if it was a Starbucks kind of place it’s because they give you all these options so it turns you into a fusspot. That said, I’m sick of ordering coffee in cafes that’s cold by the time I’ve stirred my sugar (hmm, I take three sugars, maybe that’s why it takes so long. Whoops.). So I’ve started to *gulp* request it ‘extra hot’. Eeek does that make me a wanker? Help, I don’t want them to spit in my drink :(

  60. liz Says:

    I think a lot of these long strings of coffee requirements sound a lot harder than they actually are….a “no-foam non-fat decaf extra-hot latte” just means she wants a hot decaf coffee with skim milk. Being lactose intolerant, I sometimes sound insane too, but idk, i mean, if I’m going to starbucks, and paying almsot $6 for a drink…I’m going to get it the way I want it.

  61. Make Do Style Says:

    I have no idea because I’m a good to go black coffee kind of gal and like Hammie I’ve got a Nespresso too – we’ve turned into nerds about it!

  62. Nat Says:

    I don’t ask for too much specification because I have anxiety issues, and I would get worried that they will mess up the order. Sometimes it’s slow, and the barista suggests adding certain syrups or whatever–which is nice.

    I feel bad for employees when companies add new complicated items to their menus. Like McCafe and Wendy’s with all their new variations of the Frosty. I’m sure they get the same kind of demanding customers as Starbucks.

  63. Suspended Says:

    Coffee for people who hate the taste of coffee but love paying $4 for some weak aroma.

  64. Jade Carver Says:

    Susana C: *to

    Also I’m assuming by ‘this country’ you mean America. If you’d actually read the comments, you’d see that a lot of commenters, including myself, do not live there.

    None of us are claiming we are perfect, and we are allowed to rant about whatever we want. Especially Sister Wolf since her rants are fun as hell to read :)

    Hammiesays: please explain! Flat white invented in Melbourne whaaaa? *stalks Wikipedia*

  65. thedelicatemink Says:

    I am a coffee idiot and I love Flat Whites.

  66. Desiree Says:

    A waitress once made me an “espresso” using instant from a can. Wonder what the arseholes would have have of that – I nearly sprayed it across the cafe when I took a sip!

  67. kate Says:

    ii don’t know, maybe san francisco is just cool about this shit. when i go into a starbucks i order a large coffee, and the barrista turns around, pours coffee into a cup and hands it to me. in and out, baby.
    sometimes they ask me if i need room for cream. but i haven’t run into too many idiots who need me to clarify what i mean by large.

  68. candy Says:

    very good subject SW as always

  69. candy Says:

    you are a very intelligent woman, loved this and so true!

    “My own theory is that they didn’t get enough of Mommy’s attentive pampering so now they’re going to take it out on some helpless coffee server who can’t spank them or send them to their room”

  70. Nephew Wolf Says:

    The people you describe are surely perfectionists about something, but they’re not perfectionists about coffee. If they were, they would be ordering drinks that allow them to taste the stuff. And their perfectionism would have to take the form of writing snarky Yelp reviews after the fact, or something, because these drinks don’t really lend themselves to persnickety specifications when ordering: “Espresso, please.” “Cup of the Maravilla for here.”

    I think that a far more interesting phenomenon shows itself right here in the comments of this post: the functioning adult who is intimidated by Starbucks. I’m really not sure how it’s possible that people who are reasonably intelligent and in touch with the world in which they live can feel socially anxious about the prospect of walking into a branch of a restaurant chain that is as omnipresent as McDonalds and has a considerably smaller menu. Are there cultural pockets out there where Starbucks somehow never lost the boutique-y image it had when it began its big push beyond Seattle twenty years ago?

  71. Tricia Says:

    Hammie and Make Do – I’m jealous!! My mom’s got a Nespresso and it’s amazing, I want one.
    And if anyone is ever on Q & 17th Streets in DC with a hangover go to Java House and order the espresso milkshake.

  72. Erudite Opinions Says:

    These people are lost in the paraphernalia of a culture-less modern life and are uninformed about coffee or food and they don’t care.

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