better decisions (things that don’t exist)

In an effort to help a woman decide on her drink, I asked her what she usually drinks. When she told me that she usually makes a French press with Folgers, I had to stop myself from reaching for her hand. I took a deep breath and offered to make her a French press with something better and she agreed. Maybe I changed a life that day, or maybe that sweet woman still pops open her flavorsealed plastic container of Folgers every morning. At least I tried.

I had to accept long ago that I cannot shame people out of drinking bad coffee. People are going to do what they want no matter how strongly I encourage them toward better decisions. So, because I can’t make decisions for everyone, at least I can make them more informed about things that do and do not exist (or at least shouldn’t).

1. There was a BP station down the street from my house growing up that had a big machine with the words “hot, fresh cappuccino” lit up on the front. The instructions were to fill a cup halfway with black coffee and then place it under the “cappuccino” machine which would then dispense a hot, flavored dairy product into your cup. This is not a cappuccino. Because these machines exist, or perhaps because saying the word cappuccino makes one feel sophisticated, I have to explain to people daily what a cappuccino is: espresso, milk, and milk foam. Traditionally, all the parts are equal, but because we are who we are, we want more. Unfortunately, large cappuccinos do not exist. Anything larger than 12 ounces is just a foamy latte. If you were to remove the lid from your 16 oz cappuccino after you run out of liquid, you would probably find a pile of milk foam still sitting at the bottom. Unless you just really love plunging your whole hand into the bottom of the cup and scooping that bit of leftover foam into your mouth, go with a 12 oz at most. Or I could get you a spoon if you want.

2. An elderly man used to come into the cafe I worked at in high school and demand his latte at exactly 180 degrees. Every time he would walk in the door, my eyes would fill with tears because I knew I had no choice but to burn my hands with hot dairy. My theory on this particular man is that he was so old he no longer sensed heat and could no longer taste. Besides the fact that I sustained first degree burns every time he ordered, I was sad for his lost sense of taste. This is because extra hot lattes should not exist. Milk is a complex thing. When steamed correctly, milk changes the entire coffee experience. (Coffeegeek.com has a great guide to frothing milk.) Nerd corner: milk is built of proteins, fats, and sugars. The way heat is introduced to the milk will either work with those sugars or destroy them and everything they stand for. Because of this delicate, sciencey balance, milk should not be heated to more than 150-155 degrees. Any hotter than that and you’re left with nothing more than scalding hot dairy. I think people don’t realize how bad burned milk tastes because after the first sip they no longer have functioning taste buds. Maybe they like the burn…

3. Watching people make decisions can be both infuriating and entertaining, especially when they work through things verbally. Sometimes when I realize that they genuinely are only talking to themselves, I let my thoughts wander to my sidework or the assignment I have due tomorrow until I hear them reach a decision. … but I don’t want to be awake at three in the morning so I’ll do it half-caf. My heart sinks a little because they don’t even know that half-caffeinated coffee should not exist. What difference is fifteen grams of decaffeinated coffee really going to make at 3 a.m.? Especially when the cost is drinking decaf at all. Additionally, unless it’s 9 p.m. and you’re ordering a quad shot red-eye, you’re probably going to be fine at 3 a.m. If you’re really worried about the caffeine, try doing an 8 oz drip coffee or an au lait. Or (and this is going to contradict my previous essays) drink dark roast. Despite its ashy undertones, dark roasts are much less caffeinated and the low acidity is great for the evenings, especially if you have heartburn.

I won’t pretend like I’ve never had a cup of Folger’s or that I’ve never used a paper towel as a coffee filter. Bad coffee decisions, like all bad decisions, are a part of life – whether we’re desperate, misinformed, or we just don’t know any better. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. We can make better decisions.

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