Friday, August 14, 2009

On coffee

An odd thing happened to me at the cafe today. 

That, in itself, was not odd. Going to the cafe these days is an inherently odd experience: buying a drink and actually drinking the drink is the least of the things you have to worry about. If that were all you did at a cafe, it would be all right. 

Increasingly, though, you have to contend with ideas and ideologies, with notions and hypothesis, with symbols and signs and omens and portents. Things are always skinny or lite or medium or large or two-for-one or one-for-three or free or fair or naughty or sinful or de-this or anti-that or friendly-to-those or targeted-at-them. You can barely twitch a finger without politically offending someone or upsetting a delicate environmental balance or fattening something or lightening something else or offending some other party. And that's just talking about the cups the drink comes in, even before we come to the drink.
And as for the drink... ! There's decaffeinated-soya-mocha-latte-with-chocolate-topping not to mention extra-large-skinny-affo-gatto-with-cream-topping as well as medium-goats-milk-de-sugared-honey-flavoured-chai-latte and also... the list goes on. You could enter with a dictionary and lexicon for five different languages and still have no idea what you end up ordering. You're not just spoiled for choice, you're spoiled for choices about other choices that you are also spoiled for. And as the catalogues of beverages becomes more numerous and the interrelationships between them become more complex, strangely, the difference becomes less and less discernible by any of the five senses: the difference becomes, basically, less different. How on earth can you tell the difference between a decaffeinated-soya-mocha-latte-with-chocolate-topping, and a medium-goats-milk-de-sugared-honey-flavoured-chai-latte? Is it perhaps like the difference between a four-legged beagle and that rare breed of five-legged beagle that has been, freakishly, only born with four legs? 

I remember vaguely going into the South Melbourne Starbucks some years ago and ordering an iced drink of some vague, generic, caffeine-based sort. Halfway through sipping it down it occurred to me that I might just as well have been sipping down the iced beverage sitting on the other table in the hands of the sharp-suited businessman talking to the peroxide blonde. As a matter of fact, I started to wonder about it -  because it looked very like the sharp-suited businessman talking to the peroxide blonde was sipping my drink after all. I mentioned this to the sharp-suited businessman as I was getting ready to go, by way of a joke, and his face immediately turned several shades of purple; he began shouting at me fiercely, and he ripped a paper receipt out of his pocket and made passionate gesticulations at it. (Peroxide blonde, meanwhile, stirred her skinny latte whatever thing and looked out of the window.) I think he was still at it when I left.
One way of combating as much as possible the nebulous complexity encountered when going into cafes is by devising a short list of drinks to buy. Here is mine: 

- Milkshakes, because cafes can very rarely fuck these up. Anyone who wants a several gallon hit of lactose clearly doesn't care much about the environment or health, anyway.  

- Cappuccinos, just because. 

- Mochas, because they have chocolate in them. 

- Short blacks, because they're short and black: there's much less of them to stuff up. (It's the small target approach to barista-ing.) 

I suppose in a perverted way I envy the person who sashays into a cafe and insouciantly orders a skinny fair-trade frappucino-hold-the-sugar-with-a-light-and-zesty-infusion-of-nutmeg-saucily-shimmied-in-mountain-bear-yoghurt. It's not merely the obvious linguistic dexterity they possess, but the exoticism inherent in the names that roll off their tongue, the hint of something magic and sublime glimmering over the horizon. Envy, yes - but as for me, I'll stick to plain old cappuccino, thanksverymuch. 

Anyway, getting back to the odd thing that happened to me in the cafe, and that I thought was very odd indeed at the time and seems odder now, was this. I ordered one cappuccino. And the person next to me ordered exactly the same thing. One cappuccino. One. Cappuccino. 

Out of the vast swirling list of possibilities and probabilities, of coffees still to be made and combined, this network of might-haves and would-be and maybes, this giant ocean of theoretical futures, we two happened to choose the same drink. How bizarrely, extraordinarily, superbly, shockingly, terrifyingly, weirdly unlikely is that? Wouldn't it be akin to standing alone in the middle of the desert, underneath a cloudless sky, and being struck instantaneously by lightning? 

This is how I reacted: I grabbed my coffee and bolted down the hill. 

It was only later, reflecting upon the matter in the quietness of the office, that I was able to look upon the whole sordid affair with more sobriety and equanimity. 


ras said...

So entertaining. I'm sitting here drinking my home-made Soy Latte and cackling about the scene in South Melbourne. Did you really do that?

TimT said...

Yeah, it really happened. I'm not the best judge of character at any time and I do sometimes have a bad habit of making smart-alec comments to people I don't know. He was a small guy and I think he just felt he had to defend himself.

Maria said...

Milkshakes rock and I don't care, and yes, I don't think they get them too wrong very often. Iced chocolate works for me, I think they are just as unhealthy, I think they put in more whipped cream so maybe they are even worse. Obviously I am very unhealthconscious.

But then I started to go to these chocolate houses and cafes and instead of offering plain milkshakes or hot chocolates they would give you pretty much exactly the same thing except they would call it something like "choccocino" or something and charge you 160%

Basically you would get your ruddy plain milkshake or whatever.

It is very silly! I don't care what they call it, I don't pay extra just to say "choccocino"!

choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino choccocino

Maria said...

Which of you ordered first? If it was you, maybe he was one of those guys who was so swamped by, and terrified by all those choices, those milkshakes, those frapps, those shorts and longs and clacks that when you said one cappuccino he thought "Oh good, I'll just copy".

Like "I'll have what he's having".

If so, take it as a compliment. It's a form of flattery.

nailpolishblues said...

I humbly request a post dedicated to Tim-as-not-the-best-judge-of-character-at-any-time. The little hilarity bells are ringing in my head in anticipation.

Small men shit me. Men at boob height are so very wrong.

Caz said...

"How bizarrely, extraordinarily, superbly, shockingly, terrifyingly, weirdly unlikely is that? Wouldn't it be akin to standing alone in the middle of the desert, underneath a cloudless sky, and being struck instantaneously by lightning?"

Ah, bugger, sorry to have to burst your caffeine hit, but it does happen, commonly, with pedestrian regularity, boringly often.

My morning order is large latte, extra hot. Odds of the orders either side of mine being exactly the same are high.

The challenge is to ensure that one keeps one's place in the list, collecting my latte, not the other person's.

Not uncommon for me to be mightily miffed at the office workers who don't subscribe to this courtesy, instead jumping in too early, thereby taking my drink instead of their own.

Worse still, I'm 100% sure they know what they're doing, but think they can get away with it ... all for the sake of arriving at their little cubicle in the office 90 seconds sooner, I presume.

Maria said...


I think the problem is that men, when at boob height, often can't resist DOING very wrong.

The poor buggers probably get temptation thrust at them from every angle. If you know what I mean.

Try this, TimT, and see if the person is a big copycat, a parrot or it's just a coincidence:

T: Cappuccino please.
A: Cappuccino please.
T: I'll have mine with one of those cupcakes.
A: Hey looks good, a cupcake for me too
T: Hang that, make mine a short black.
A: Could I get the short black?
T: And one sugar.
A: I take sugar.

Blah blah. See if The Person near you is scarily shadowing you. Maybe it's some kind of alien being or the mirror of your soul or just some freak.

Or maybe an avid fan of WTFF who wants to desperately be as much like TimT as possible!

by the way the barista is probably going to yell soon WILL YOU TWO FREAKS JUST MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

What about saying "I'll have whatever he's not having!"

TimT said...

I like that last suggestion.

Methinks I'll walk into the cafe with a friend, point at them, and say, 'I'll have what he's having'. Then they'll point at me and say the same thing.

That's owning your indecisiveness, that is!

Email: timhtrain - at -

eXTReMe Tracker

Blog Archive