Elaborate coffee vocabulary and rudeness

Cartoonist Stephan Pastis often makes fun of the more elaborate coffee culture that has sprung up with its detailed recipes and this cartoon is an example.

(Pearls Before Swine)

What struck me is that the person asking for coffee says “Gimme”, which strikes me as rude. But I am wondering of this is one of those things that used to be considered rude but are transitioning to being acceptable by the younger generation, leaving oldies like me to catch up.

I recall that at one time, saying ‘Hey’ to someone would be considered rude. This was even a topic of conversation some years ago at a faculty meeting when a professor described being disconcerted when a student said ‘Hey’ to him and asked the other faculty members how they felt about it. But nowadays, I hear this all the time in mainstream media. When NPR hosts introduce their reporters to a discussion, they often say things like “Hey Robert” and that person will. reply “Hey”. So it clearly is no longer considered rude.

Back to the topic of how coffee has become so important to many people, David Mitchell has a rant about that and other things.

I drink coffee and enjoy it but mostly drink it at home, where I make it with instant coffee and add milk and sugar. This clearly puts me among the dregs of coffee society. When I have guests and offer them coffee, I find myself first apologizing and warning them that it is instant.

When I do go to a coffee shop for whatever reason, I find the variety of options offered intimidating, unlike the people around me who, like the person in the cartoon, seem to know exactly what they want. So I ask for just ‘basic coffee’, leaving room in the cup for me to add milk and sugar. But even then I am asked to make a choice between light roast, medium roast, or dark roast. I don’t know the difference so say ‘medium’, thinking that I can’t go wildly wrong with the wishy-washy middle path.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    this is one of those things that used to be considered rude but are transitioning to being acceptable by the younger generation, leaving oldies like me to catch up tell them to go fuck themselves if they try that shit on me

    Fixed it for you.

    As for “coffee culture”, it’s a performative act of snobbery. I feel a bit sorry for people who feel the need to do it, in much the same way as I feel sorry for people who feel the need to share their opinions on the latest sportball game.

  2. Tethys says

    As a fan of Spanish style coffee, (strong and requires diluting with milk or cream) I never enjoy the overpriced latte’s and sugar filled flavored things sold by US coffee shops. Everything sold by Starbucks is burnt, horrible coffee with lots of dairy and sugar to cover the awful bitter carbonized flavor.

    I make French roast at home, in a plain drip coffee maker. I occasionally use a French press if I’m in the mood for fancy coffee, and then add my cream and sugar like a Philistine.

  3. kenbakermn says

    A few comments: first I often drink instant Folger’s at home. Have for years. If that means I’m the dregs of society, so be it. I think of it as a time-efficient caffiene delivery system and people can judge me as they will.

    Second, I often go to coffee shops, many different ones, not the same place every time. In my experience coffee shop customer tend to be polite. I don’t recall ever hearing a customer say “gimme”. Usually it’s “I’d like” or “can I have” or “I’ll do a so-and-so”. The popular “I’ll do” sounds weird and lazy to me, but it doesn’t sound rude. That said, I tend to avoid the large chains (except, I don’t turn my nose up at Starbucks). Maybe people are crankier at places like Dunkin’ or Peet’s.

    A third, the hyper-specific, multiply-detailed order like you see in cartoons and sitcoms can be comedic, like Steve Martin’s “half double-decaf, half caf, with a twist” but it’s pretty rare in real life, I’ve never heard anything like that in almost 40 years of regularly going to espresso shops.

    And fourth, when I order a double espresso or a cappucino, that’s not a “performative act of snobbery”. I, like many people, enjoy those beverages.

    That’s my two cents, and a bargain at half the price.

  4. K says

    Maybe 20 years ago, when Starbucks was getting established in my area, they sent out a brochure in the mail with a translation of the various terms used and options available. I’m not much of a coffee drinker--when I do drink it (it’s high in antioxidants), I buy cold brew at the grocery store and mix it with almond milk or coconut milk. I’ve met friends at Starbucks and ordered tea…but they hand you a wrapped tea bag and a cup of lukewarm water. For $5.

    Additionally, a Starbucks drink can easily reach 600 -- 700 calories, which would be a meal if there was anything but various forms of sugar in it. It’s liquid candy.

  5. lanir says

    I drink coffee but mostly do so black. When I order coffee from somewhere it’s usually iced coffee or just a plain cup of black coffee at a restaurant. I do order gourmet coffee beans but that’s because it tastes a bit better and it’s interesting to have different kinds with different tastes. Cycling through different tastes makes all of them more interesting to me.

    I kind of know roughly what that cartoon order is about but I don’t think anyone would ever ask for that at a coffee shop. That’s the sort of stuff you play with at home or the shop does a batch of for a day to sell to people who want to try it. All that stuff just tweaks the flavor a bit. I tend to think it’s as much about playing with chemistry as getting a particular result. I’ve never heard anyone get snobby about it. Mainly I hear of it from people who sell coffee and are enthusiastic about trying different things.

    As far as light/medium/dark roasts go, the taste is a bit different. If you’re adding cream and sugar then the main difference would be how much. You can get by with a bit less of each with a light roast and might want a bit more of each for a dark roast.

    “performative snobbery” is a strange label to slap on any of this. I’ve been drinking coffee for decades and I’ve never seen anyone get snobby about it. And performative? People just want a drink. It’s less performative than commenting on a blog post.

  6. Heidi Nemeth says

    When I worked in Georgia in the late 1970’s, “Hey” was the greeting used by everyone. Not “Hi.”

  7. Holms says

    You guys and your water-coffee! I can’t stand the stuff. Replace the water with something that actually has flavour of its own, like milk or ice cream for drink or snack that is actually tasty.

  8. chatt says

    A long while back I was in downtown Montreal, on St. Cath’s street, and ordered a plain double espresso and the barista had the nerve to sneer at me, presumably for not being like the guy in the comic.

    Currently I make coffee with a quarter cup of hot tap water and a somewhat heaping teaspoon of Great Value instant coffee. This is drinkable immediately because of the small amount of water that was heated up.

  9. says

    There may be a link between all the variety of “coffee” and the rudeness. Companies like Starbucks make their money by offering us the greatest variety of stuff they can offer — any kind of hot caffeinated beverage they know of that you could possibly want. And we, the paying customers, are used to having companies bending over backwards (or at least credibly pretending to do so) to give us EXACTLY what we’re willing to pay for. Which means we’re getting the message that we have a god-given right to demand everything we want, without compromise, at the lowest possible price, and without even having to be polite or understanding of the vendors’ limits or rights as persons. And since everyone’s bosses are being rude to us, to get us to keep doing out part for our customers, that also adds to our tendency to be rude to whoever we can boss around in turn.

  10. John Morales says

    Raging Bee, I reckon that this business of having to tip lest one rip off one’s servers has an effect, too. I hear that, in the USA, service staff typically earn fuck all and so depend on tips, and so they have to cop abuse and smile and be ingratiating while doing it. So customers have some sort of vicarious feeling of power.

    Not really a thing here in Oz. When people order, usually there’s a (phatic, but still) ‘please’ or ‘thanks’ at the end of the request.

    Basically, we the customer don’t particularly think of ourselves as superior to the server. Well, in my own decades’ worth of experience, and not moving in the upper strata of society.

    Not quite on-topic, but…

  11. Tethys says

    Starbucks is simply bad overpriced coffee, with fake Italian pretentiousness like ‘venti’ and ‘grande’. I don’t like it, but I don’t care if anyone wants to pay for bad coffee with flavored syrups and enough sugar to cause a diabetic coma.

    Caribou is better, but coffee house culture in general has always been considered rather artsy and pretentious AFAICT.

  12. Katydid says

    @RagingBee: that was brilliant. Trained to demand all kinds of customization for the rock-bottomest price. I’m going to think about this today.

    It made me think of this: there’s a local farmer who offers pasture-raised beef, chicken, and lamb. If you have chickens, you also have eggs, so she also sold the eggs. Many of the chickens laid their eggs conveniently in the chicken-wagon roost where they spent their nights, but some of them dropped their eggs in the pasture and you had to go hunting for them. Eggs from chickens who spend their days outdoors in the sun snacking on bugs and worms are higher in vitamin D, and also higher in Omega 3 fats and calcium.

    A couple of years ago when I was paying for my eggs, a woman came in with one of those sky-high multi-layer whipped-cream-topped coffee drinks, and had an absolute tantrum that the pastured eggs were $4/dozen. The farmer pointed out that the frou-frou coffee drink was $6, and with a dozen eggs, you get actual nutrition, not to mention at least 6 meals. The woman was OUTRAGED and stormed out saying she’d never come back.

    Now I’m wondering if part of her fury was that the farmer wouldn’t drop the price of the eggs on demand.

  13. says

    I feel like it’s popular to say that drinking this coffee or that is a performative act of snobbery, but I doubt that it is in most cases. I drink lots of different teas, and I love some and like all of them, and even the ones that I don’t like that much are ones where I bought some leaves based on the scent in the store and it didn’t work out the way I thought in terms of flavour. In those cases I drink them, but I don’t try to hype them to others.

    On the other hand, there are a few teas I’ll hype because I consider them spectacular. I’m not being performative, they really bring me joy.

    I’m sure that there are snobs who want to be seen being snobby in public, but I doubt most people who enjoy their coffee a particular way are any different from me in the way that I revel in some teas, enjoy others, and drink as passable a few teas that I just don’t want to go to waste.

    As for “gimme”, well, “can you give me” easily becomes “can you gimme”, but “gimme” on its own would be rude, IMO. Any customer service person can tell you that there are rude customers, but the relevant question seems to me to be whether the % of customers who are rude has increased at all over the last generation or two. In the absence of data, I’ll assume not.

  14. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “I find the variety of options offered intimidating”
    Your problem is obvious: you are an introvert. As a fellow introvert I can give a hint: decide what you order before entering the shop.

    That guy in the strip might also be an introvert who has rehearsed a pro-looking list of features. If the barista asked “is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?” the guy would freeze like a deer in headlights, turn around, and flee from the shop.

  15. M. Currie says

    I like just nice good old black coffee, but occasionally get behind one of those people like the one in the cartoon, except that they have to see all the options and agonize over what shots of this or that to add to it. Meanwhile, I’m standing there wishing there were some way I could just interrupt and say “while you’re there, could you just get me a cup of coffee?”

    My other pet peeve, being a drinker of black coffee, is that I always have to tell the person “no room for cream,” or they’ll give me 3/4 of a cup. In this age when a cup of coffee costs as much as a tank of gas used to, that’s a big deal.

    I like the self-serve places here in Vermont, where often pretty good coffee, even at gas station convenience stores, is in unheated insulated decanters. In the South, though, I have never gotten a decent cup of coffee. Any convenience store or other place insists on keeping it “piping hot,” which means too hot to drink for the next half hour, on a burner that insures that the coffee will be boiled so the best solution is to wait a half hour and then toss it away. Even the decanter-served coffee at Panera and the like in a place like Georgia or South Carolina is bad!

    Rant rant. Coffee in Vermont is surprisingly good, and you can get all sorts of really decent beans.

  16. Katydid says

    Back in the 1990s, there was a tea-selling chain store available in most malls. You could buy a huge variety of loose-leaf tea or you could have them make you a drink from any of their loose-leaf teas. I never saw anyone get all fussy and pretentious with it. You could get ice or not, you could get the good German rock sugar or not. You could ask for a blend--e.g. a fruity rooibos mixed with green tea. They sold any number of tea accessories for you to make your tea at home--electric kettles, iron kettles, cups of all sorts, rock sugar, etc. etc.

    Starbucks bought them and your options dried up to asking for tea and getting a mass-market tea bag and a paper cup with lukewarm water. Meanwhile, their coffee patrons performed the elaborate coffee order like the cartoon above and Starbucks is only too glad to oblige.

  17. says

    Katydid @14: That person’s tantrum was definitely childish and clueless; but there may also be a bit of frustration. If everyone is offered a god-given right to the lowest possible price, that means everyone’s wages have to be forced down to stay “competitive.” Which means everyone has to insist on low prices even more urgently. That person may have been upset at seeing prices rising faster than her wages.

  18. Katydid says

    @RagingBee: you’re talking about the Walmart-ification of wages. Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book Nickel and Dimed, spoke about her stint at Walmart, where the people who worked there couldn’t afford to shop there. Or eat--Walmart was giving their fulltime employees forms to request SNAP food benefits.

    But the person having a tantrum over $4/dozen eggs was toting around a $6 sugar bomb. Clearly she could afford that, so $4 for 6 meals wasn’t out of her reach. It costs the farmer time and money to raise pastured hens and collect the eggs.

  19. says

    Katydid: maybe she was just used to paying high prices for sugar bombs, but thought eggs were supposed to be ordinary staple food, and therefore cheap; and she had no clue how eggs were collected and how much it might cost. I have to admit I’m kind of in that category myself.

  20. Katydid says

    @Raging Bee, if you’re interested, there’s a whole rabbithole to fall down about the actual cost of raising healthy and humanely-raised livestock of all kinds, especially chickens. You can leave cows on their own in a pasture all day, and a miniature donkey makes a great protector of sheep, but chickens are prey to any number of predatory birds, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and neighbors’ dogs. You can have nearly a thousand acres of land (as my local farmer does) and still have jackasses who let their dogs out all to roam day without supervision.

    Additionally, chickens don’t thrive in summer sun without a lot of water, so you have to make sure they have shade and clean water at all times--in the summer you can refresh their water source 4 -- 5 times a day. And make sure they’re all in a safe place at night.

    Even if the chickens are on pasture, you still have to feed them to supplement what they get on their own and feed them all winter…and chicken feed costs money.

    So, you can pay $3 for a dozen nutritionally-deficient eggs from badly-nourished and highly-stressed chickens crammed beak-to-beak in a commercial shed, or you can pay $4/dozen to get eggs from chickens that live reasonable chicken-lives and have healthy eggs, and the farmer is not on the verge of losing their farm because they’re making a living wage.

    Or throw a tantrum while you drink your $6 fussy, pretentious sugar bomb.

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