I had coffee with a friend last week. He’s all for supporting local, independent ventures and so he chooses the location. I already know in advance it will be ‘one of those’ trendy coffee shops where, one way or another, I’m going to get a cup of coffee I won’t enjoy, feel generally insecure about myself, whilst most likely sitting on either a broken cinema seat, an upturned barrel or a seesaw permanently up on one side.
As I entered, my suspicions were confirmed. The staff were all in their own, generally creative/scruffy clothes, some had a hat, (beanie/flat cap/bowler), and an air of nonchalance, sealing the look perfectly. To be fair, it doesn’t matter whether you’re cool and nonchalant too, as long as you play the game and pretend that you’re all old friends, all will be well.
You will enjoy your coffee from either: a chipped china tea cup and saucer (non-matching of course), a watering can or an old marmalade jar with marmalade still encrusted on it. Actually, you won’t enjoy your coffee. Not if you take it black like I do. The first few sips are really nice and then suddenly and inexplicably, it tastes like beef and sock stew. This is particular to trendy coffee shop coffee.
Anyway, I’ve noticed they have takeaway cups, two sizes. I ask for the larger of the two – what I would call ‘regular’. I’m not taking away, so I’m now committing an environmental violation, likely to upset my friend, but I understand the size of this cup and its associated proportions so I go ahead.
After some discussion about what size to the call the cup I want (he says it’s ‘tall’, not ‘regular’), I explain that I would like two shots and I would like a good deal of space at the top – I just prefer it aesthetically and the strength of the coffee for a cup of this size is just right. I even do a ‘can I have the bill’ type mime to show the space. The look in his eyes tells me we’re no longer friends.
He says that a ‘tall’ cup comes with three shots and suggests I have the smaller cup if I want two shots, which is the allocated amount for the smaller cup which he tells me is called ‘extra grande’.
I try and explain again that I like the space and if I had the smaller cup, ‘extra grande’, with the two shots and the space, it would then be too strong.
So he suggests having more water and not having space if I want it weaker.
Again I try to explain the importance of the space, and now he assumes I want milk. No, I don’t want milk, I just want two shots and some space. In the ‘tall’ cup.
I wonder if there is some coffee shop law that says if I don’t have the amount of shots allocated to a particular cup, that someone will be executed in the back room. If so, I wish they’d just get on with it so I can have my coffee.
I know that I’m being high maintenance and can hear Harry from ‘When Harry met Sally’ saying to me ‘this space thing’s a very big thing for you’. To which of course I’d reply. ‘I just want it the way I want it’.
And if he’d just listened to what I wanted we wouldn’t be in this tangle. Of course I know that he couldn’t give two coffee beans about my space requirements/issues and I also know that I was sent to the ‘you should have gone to Pret’ naughty corner long ago. I wish I’d gone to Pret too!
I know Pret is a chain and I’m not supposed to like chains, but Pret understands me, and even has a name for my coffee. A ‘three quarters black Amo’. I order an Americano because I’m too self-conscious to use barista-talk, but I do use the ‘three-quarters’ because it saves me having to do the mime.
Anyway, I now have my coffee. I enjoy the first two sips and then the beef and sock stew smell starts to kick in, so I leave the coffee to one side, pretending to my friend that I’m saving it for later, hence the takeaway cup.
I could just order something else, but I think I enjoy the risk. The tiny chance that I’ll get a good cup of coffee and stay friends with the barista, like caffeine itself, is a thrill I’m not prepared to give up.