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Coffee Talk



It has always been my belief that it should not take more than a minute and a half to get a cup of coffee. The order leaves your mouth, the coffee gets poured, you pay and get handed your beverage. Simple, efficient and gratifying.

But the world of coffee is no longer a simple one. Gone are the days where a cup of coffee is just that ... a cup of freshly brewed, hot, brown liquid, steaming and aromatic, poured from a pot into a cup. As with other food commodities, coffee, too, has been upscaled, supersized and needlessly complicated.

It began a little more than a decade ago with latts, cappuccinos and caf au laits. They were actually considered "specialty" drinks and generally came in only two sizes: single or double. Then the caf mocha hit the scene, which eventually mutated into the mochaccino, spawning variations thereof.

Soon, single and double were not enough. Fortunately for the caffeine-drinking masses, a corporate coffee shop -- need we say more? -- came along, and, by the early '90s, had established themselves on every corner. They upped the caffeine-intake ante, introducing more size choices than we ever knew there were French-sounding words for.

Then all hell broke loose. It started with decaf espresso. Then Toranni syrups. Then 2% milk. Sugar-free syrups and skim milk followed. Caffeine-free and sugar-free hot cocoa mix, soy milk and rice milk became standards and sometimes, in certain shops, one steamer was even reserved for making drinks for those who were totally lactose intolerant.

Today, this corporatized, have-it-your-way coffee revolution is in full swing. Buying a cup of coffee on the fly has become increasingly difficult -- even at those drive-thru places. Ordering a beverage that contains multiple shots of decaf espresso, half soy milk, half skim milk, a shot of flavored syrup and light on the foam with sprinkles on top is no simple task. Supersize it -- and then order two more for the co-workers -- and a whole afternoon can go by while the drinks are prepared.

I've been called a cynic -- and other similar words -- but I know I am not the only one who sees the insanity of the state of coffee. The other morning, I was in line behind a fellow "plain coffee" drinker, someone even crankier than I. In front of him was, how shall we say, a finicky customer who ordered essentially a $4 drink of nothing. There were four shots of decaf espresso going into this thing and approximately 16 ounces of skim milk mixed with 2% milk so that she could actually have 16 ounces of 1% milk, if that is even possible. Plus two squirts of sugar-free vanilla syrup.


What is the purpose of such a drink? Four freaking shots of decaf!

Despite the fact that there was a very efficient coffee team working the counter, the drink took, I kid you not, almost five minutes to make, holding up the assembly of other orders. When at the last minute the customer decided to order another of the same for her friend, the guy in front of me simply but audibly muttered, "Oh F***!" My sentiments exactly, only I wasn't going to say it out loud.

I have come to accept the weird, capitalistic venture which coffee has become. In fact, I have even come to respect the people who order the full-on drink. For those who want 20 ounces of pure and unadulterated caffeine, sugar and dairy, more power to you. But, I ask, where and when will it end?

There are few simple pleasures in life. A freshly brewed, hot cup of coffee and a few spare moments are two of the better ones. But they seem to have gotten lost in the supersized, daily shuffle.

-- Suzanne Becker


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