Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Sometimes I feel as though I am a fraud.

I mean, I am a cultured person…I’ve been to plays, to an opera even! I have lived in major urban centres and I have travelled extensively. It’s just that for some reason, a few things have seemed to slip by me…things that the vast majority of people seem to somehow *know.*

Like what to order at Starbucks.

My God, I am 36 years old and I still have NO idea what all those terms mean up on the chalkboard. One shot, double shot, Americano, espresso, etc. What does it all mean? My background in coffee consists of drinking black coffee from Tim Horton’s, and reading the occasional novelty coffee story in those news ads before I sign into my yahoo email account.

You know those stories? They are always accompanied by a picture of a big bowl of coffee with a heart drawn through the frothy milk, or a cute furry animal whose poop is the most expensive coffee bean in the world.

I’ve heard that espresso actually has less caffeine than a regular cuppa Joe (I forget exactly how and why, but I remember I watched an interview about it), and I have a number of friends and family members who have quite firm opinions on what makes a good cup of coffee:

My Dad (a.k.a. “Garbage Guts”) – drinks coffee from Tim Horton’s and gas stations. On our 5000km road trip across the US last year, we tried all kinds of gas station coffee. And it has to be pretty raunchy for my Dad to pass it up. Think: Sludgy, black, and toxic.

My Victoria Friends: Starbucks all the way. They know precisely what they want in a coffee. They take into account the time of day, what they’ve eaten/drank beforehand, and what they presently feel like. They order something different every time, and I am always impressed. I always order, “What he’s/she’s having,” in an attempt to broaden my coffee horizons and hopefully enrich my lacklustre coffee knowledge bank. They also buy specialty beans and grind them every morning.

My Calgary Friends: Very similar to my Victoria friends, with the exception that Tim Horton’s is an acceptable substitute. They know how to order at Starbucks, but will not hesitate to order a half hot-chocolate/half coffee from Tim Horton’s. (You see, by ordering your drink using that language, you pay less than if you asked for a Mocha Coffee or Coffee Mocha or Café Mocha or….well, you get my drift, right?)

My European Friends: Opinions range all over the map here. My friends from England do NOT like Starbucks – something about there not being a lot of actual coffee in a drink…or something like that. My German friends love Tim Horton’s, and like Calgarians, will order the half-hot chocolate/half-coffee, but will add whip cream on top of it all.

And then there is me: I buy the big red tub of Folgers from Wal-Mart. Or, when I am in the city, from Costco – you know they sell the even bigger red tubs of Folgers? And I brew it in my Tim Horton’s coffee maker. That thing ROCKS. As fast as you pour the water in, the coffee is made. Sweet coffee action. I drink it black.

Starbucks still intimidates me – the employees (do they have special names too, like barista or something?) are all brusque and business like. Friendly, but no-nonsense. Like the customers who stand in line behind me as I stammer out my order trying desperately to fit in. I always screw it up. You see, the harder I try, the more I concentrate on articulating that unique coffee language of “Skinny,” and “Grande,” or “Tall,” , the sooner I automatically default into an apologetic, “Can I have a small black coffee please?” And do that half-smile/grimace – making eye-contact with the barista (is that the right word?) as he/she nods empathetically to me with an understanding smile.

The strange thing about all this is that my quest for ordering a cup of coffee from Starbucks without feeling like a total idiot is far from over. Like a moth drawn inevitably to the flame, I continue to “go for a Starbucks,” with my friends. Always copying what they order, always asking what they like/don’t like about certain drinks. For I believe that one day, I will be able to stride confidently into a Starbucks and rattle off my order of a “Skinny-minnie-latte-no shot-one-shot-whatever,” and not only KNOW what I have ordered, but understand too.




Big Daddy Diesel said...

Luckly I hate the taste of coffee, so i do not have this issue at all. Though I do not understand why people drop $4 for a cup of coffee?? So expensive, I guess I lucky this doesnt dent my banking account

Keith said...

Don't learn Starbucks on my account. I only go if someone else is buying then order hot chocolate. Which is just barely drinkable. We get nice beans from Crickle Creek (they deliver) grind and pour into a coffe maker much like yours. And I drink it black. The only way. Anything else is fru-fru prissy high maintenance wimpiness.

Kelly B. said...

This? Is a great post! I feel THE SAME WAY!!! I actually get stressed when I am forced to go to Starbucks as I feel like a fool. Everyone there is so hip and trendy and on their phones looking so important and cool..I just don't fit in!! Ha! Its expenseive because their business plan is to charge more and include an experience. I never get "the experience"...I haven't figured it out yet. And I may get shot for this, but I don't like the coffee. We serve SB at our office to clients...I can't drink it! Even when its FREE!!! What does that say...

Julie said...

"fru-fru prissy high maintenance wimpiness." LMAO! Keith, where do you come up with this stuff? HAHAHAHAHAHAH!

KK said...

You are hilarious. Next time you go to Starbucks, order this: Cinnamon Dolce Latte (write it on your hand so you don't forget). You won't be sorry.

Also, we are Folgers drinkers at my house! Same big red tub, only we get the breakfast blend (my husband is a wuss and can't handle the darker stuff. Don't tell him I said that). But I like to adulterate mine with filthy french vanilla creamer. It's soooo very yummy. I guess I'm the wuss now...:)

Julie said...

Hmmmmmm -- Thanks KK!! I am going to order this and then let you know!! YAY!!!

Lisa G said...

I lOVE coffee - Tim Horton's, Starbucks, Second Cup, wherever! Mostly i would only order latte's from the fancy coffee shops like second cup or starbucks, as you can't get them anywhere else - and these are a treat, as I only get them once every 2 weeks or so. I brew regular coffee at home every day (I buy the grinds too and don't have one of those fancy coffee pots that grind beans!), and always have to put in the vanilla flavored creamers - yum! I'm definitely no coffee snob, either!