Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Unselfconsciousness of Age and The Coffee Myth

One aspect of my job that never gets old is the opportunity of observing people.  As a barista you are perfectly placed for this type of observation.  To the customer you are almost, at times, like a piece of furniture.  You are part of the room, you belong there as much as the tables and chairs.  They seem to forget that you have eyes and ears, until they need something, and then you must possess superhuman hearing and the arms of an octopus.  Of course, no one reading this blog will never make that mistake again.

In any case, what I was much struck with this morning was something I've noticed before, but never with two such striking examples within minutes of each other.  That is: that in general, older people are much more ready to ask for what they really want, where the younger set seems much more image-conscious.  This is, perhaps, no great revelation in general, but still it amuses me.

First, there was the older man.  I'll call him Aristophanes, just to be different.  He came through this morning and said, "I want a 16 oz hot chocolate, but make it light on the chocolate and only half full, and I want the rest filled up with whipped cream."  Now there's a man who knows exactly what he wants.  I admire him for the same reason I admire the one (call him Hieronymous) who comes in and gets eight shots of espresso -- straight.  Both beverages are incredibly intense in their own very different ways, and both Aristophanes and Hieronymous are completely alright with themselves and the world.

Then there was the younger one (shall we call him Mortimer?) who came in a few minutes after Aristophanes and ordered drip coffee with cream, though I always get the impression that he would much prefer a latte -- if he dared.  Afterward, he stealthily steals over to the table where the other pot of coffee and the cream and sugar are kept, and treats his plain coffee to such an inundation of sugar that I nearly always have to refill the shaker after he is gone.  Similar is the case of the young man who orders (let's face it) a very sweet, barely caffeinated, and highly caloric drink, but when you give him straws will disdainfully remove them with the exclamation, "No sissy sticks!"

These are only a few examples, but I think it's safe to say that there is a very persistent myth in circulation which says that your maturity, strength, and masculinity are somehow tied to how you take your coffee and whether you drink it straight from the cup or suck it through pieces of hollow colored plastic.

May I say that I find this myth to be completely bogus?

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