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No Latte

The Anti-Coffee Culture Coffee Table Book and Manifesto

By Joanne Wolf, 1998

 

As American citizens, we have the right to order a cup of coffee without being forced to speak Italian, French, or any made-up language devised by Big Brother-like coffee house chains. Join me in the fight to resist this scourge and infringement of our democratic rights.

Here are some simple ways to counter the pressure to use funny words that make you feel like an idiot. Feel free to use your own methods: it’s a free country, and this is part of our credo!

 

1) When asking for a small coffee, insist on repeating the word "small" when your server restates it as "tall".

2) Refuse to use the word "grande" unless it is preceded by the word "Rio."

3) Practice saying "without caffeine." It will throw your server, who has been brainwashed into responding only to lingo, but can possibly be rehabilitated by your efforts.

4) Refuse to say anything that rhymes with cappuccino.

5) There is no reason to ever say "au lait" unless a matador is nearby. Your server will understand the phrase "with milk" if you give him/her a moment to recall the English language.

 

 

Regard all coffee house patrons as dubious characters, although they may include one or two innocent citizens like yourself. There are a few types, however, that should be given a wide berth, and some to be avoided like the plague. These ALP types will be denoted with an asterisk (*).

 

  1. The guy working on a laptop computer *.
  2. The guy working on or reading a "script."
  3. Anyone carrying On the Road, The Prophet, or Writing Your Screenplay by Syd Field.
  4. Anyone "reading" a paperback copy of Ulysses *.
  5. The two intense women talking about "production meetings."
  6. Anyone wearing more than two garments from The Gap.
  7. Persons without visible piercings (PWVP) : this means they are pierced somewhere you don’t want to know
  8. The pair of skinny guys decked out in spandex bicycle uniforms with coordinating gloves and helmets, relaxing after winning their imaginary tournament.

 

 

As Coffee houses continue to multiply throughout Southern California and New York and threaten to become the dominant force of our culture (notice Starbucks’ collaboration with Barnes and Noble), it seems like a good time to explore the perspective of the coffee house clerk, who can be handily exemplified by my own brother, Mike, a handsome Gen Xer whose tattoos and piercings belie a sharp, if cynical, intelligence.

JW: Mike, what have you learned about human nature during your years as a Venice

Coffee house manager?

MIKE: Very little, actually. Probably nothing.

JW: Great. What do you think is the reason for coffee’s rise to an epidemic addiction and lifestyle determinant? Why not tea, or beer, or cream cheese?

MIKE: Well, I think there’s the built-in poseur factor of coffee, a bohemian hipness implied by a coffee house, as opposed to a yogurt house or something. And I think that the lingo involved gives people a little thrill.

JW: Oh, I hate the lingo!

MIKE: Same here. But the kicker is "Pain du chocolat." Someone will order it with a thick French accent that makes you wanna throw up.

JW: Eeoow! I thought "grande latte" was sickening. What are some of the other trials of your job?

MIKE: I think the worst thing, after the French accents, is the people who order decaf with an Attitude, like they suspect me of planning to slip them caffeine just to spite them.

JW: I’d probably actually do that.

MIKE: Sure, that is what I do, but they’re asking for it.

JW: I agree. But is there anything good about serving coffee?

MIKE: I like the power. And the pastries are good.

 

 

Most people will justify their patronage of chain coffee houses with the plaintive whine: But their coffee is so good! This is somewhat akin to Playboy readers who buy the magazine for the articles. You may already be too indoctrinated into the cult of coffee culture to give it up without outside help. Take this test to see how you rate, by circling the statements that apply to you.

  1. It takes me more than 30 seconds to order my beverage.
  2. I find myself smirking at people who mispronounce "venti" or "misto"
  3. I know the difference between Algerian and Somalian roasts.
  4. I need to pee more than 5 times per hour.
  5. I no longer mind getting third degree burns on my tongue.
  6. I’ve pretended to like jazz so often that I almost believe myself.
  7. I would rather drink dishwater than Maxwell House or Folgers
  8. I can tell if a scone is stale.

If you have circled more than two statements, you will need to begin a recovery program. If you circled more than 4 or more, you probably recognized yourself in the list of Types to avoid, and you are beneath contempt.

Following, are some ways to begin your recovery.

 

You may not already be hiding your Starbucks paraphernalia from your loved ones, but you don’t have to hit rock bottom to admit you are powerless over your addiction to gourmet coffee and the dens that dispense it. You may experience a sense of loss or emptiness at first, if not a pervasive inability to stay awake. Start by trying to remember what you used to do with your time when you weren’t looking for parking spaces outside your favorite coffee house, standing in line with other addicts giving detailed orders for their beverages, and slurping coffee by the gallon like a parched camel preparing for a drought.

Try recalling what other liquids you used to drink, and start substituting it for coffee, once a day, gradually increasing until you’ve replaced all 12 of your daily cups.

Try recalling what you used to spend your money on, before you began squandering it on your addiction. Be kind to yourself: if you need to indulge in expensive designer grooming products, new shoes from Kenneth Cole, CDs by lesbian singer-songwriters, or whatever, go ahead. Now is not the time to deprive yourself in other areas. In fact, try explaining this to your partner when you suddenly crave oral sex, or when he/she is screaming about the latest credit card bill.

Try avoiding hanging around other addicts, whose caffeine-highs and come-downs will now be strikingly evident. Offer them sympathy, but remember your commitment to just say No Latte.

 

If for some reason you are obliged to spend time in a coffee house- if you must work in one, or your friends insist on meeting there, for example- Mike offers these suggestions for making this a positive experience. Remember that subservience is its own reward.

Order a corn dog and diet Pepsi, and act astonished by the clerk’s reaction.

Pour half and half into the non-fat milk decanter, and low-fat into the half-and-half decanter. Wait for the uproar from the tense milk-fat experts who could probably distinguish between breeds of cattle and the grass they grazed on.

Loudly enthuse about the Home Shopping Network, or speculate on the state of Kathy Lee Gifford’s marriage. Watch others snicker with superiority, then wheel around and exclaim: Well excuse me for living!

Pepper your conversation with the word Spielberg, and then start to whisper when you catch someone looking your way.

Ask the person ahead of you in line if you can go first, explaining that you have less than 10 instructions for your cup of coffee.

Study the patrons and assign them each a numerical score, based on the following formula.

A perfect score of 100 is rare but possible. Obviously, a "100-pointer" is at the top of the ALP category.

goatee = 10 points

soul patch = 20 points (if you know this term, give yourself 50 points)

bullring through nose = 10 points

toe ring = 5 points per ring

Birkenstocks = 5 points

clogs = 20 points (50 for men, unless they are Swedish tourists)

copy of the New York Times = 20 points

copy of Daily Variety = 50 points

A subtrend to note is the pretension of small independent coffee houses to some kind of superiority over the large chains. The chains are apparently taking notice and fighting back, mostly with Living Room Furniture. Once the bastion of awkwardly high stools and wobbly tables the size of a serving platter, Starbucks has started to furnish its outlets with plush overstuffed chairs and couches, usually in a jewel-toned velvet, the better to approximate a fantasy yuppie living room. It is the décor equivalent of a Victoria’s secret catalogue, rich with pseudo romantic imagery of shabby elegance. Next, if this decorating ploy proves to be effective, we’ll be welcomed in Starbucks with frisky terriers carrying our slippers, and by cozy hearths where toddlers in their PJ’s lie on rugs cuddling their blankies.

In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at the superficial difference between the neighborhood coffee house and the corporate chains, and observing the growing overlap:

The Independent Coffee House

The menu is written on a chalkboard, often replete with cute little drawings and icons like a smiling Aztec sun.

Food offerings will be titled "Munchies," and will lean toward the whole-grain product.

Background music will be eclectic, and occasionally even good.

Servers will be more elaborately tattooed, and will include one dread-locked and one bald-shaven head in every other shift, minimum.

A cup, humbly begging for tips, will receive a place of honor by the cash register.

The Chain Coffee House

The menu is a bland, no frills compendium of coffee varieties and prices reminiscent of the postings at the New York Stock Exchange, requiring a world atlas to recognize the exotic origins of the available coffee beans.

Food offerings are limited to scones, muffins, and bread products with snooty foreign names.

Background music will be a cringe-producing self-conscious selection of jazz crooners like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, alternating Lilith Fair perpetrators like Sarah McLaughland and The Indigo Girls.

Servers will manage to look clean-cut and scrubbed, regardless of the occasional Important Hair-do.

An attitude of aggressive friendliness will prevail, as though to point out to the customer that the server is still in a power position, even if he or she cannot expect a tip.

 

Emerging Overlaps

While the corporate chains are attempting to create a more Bohemian ambiance, the neighborhood coffee houses are reaching out to a yuppie clientele, adopting the idiotic lingo and ridiculously inflated prices of the large chains. The young slackers and would-be hipsters associated with the independent coffee house, and the cell-phone toting would-be Players associated with Starbucks culture, have started to migrate in both directions—creating a homogenized patron-base that eliminates the possibility of avoiding either class of coffee addict.

 

You will have noticed by now that gourmet coffee addicts have a pronounced preference for one of the two dominant chain’s coffee and coffee drinks. Let someone proclaim that Starbucks triple vanilla latte is the ultimate (or, "da bomb," if the speaker is a 35 year old Caucasian wearing a sports watch accurate at 50,000 feet below sea level—just in case—and Gucci loafers), and someone else is sure to argue that the iced mocha Java at the Coffee Bean "rocks!" (young, standard-issue poseur with embarrassing haircut)**

However, since both chains are to be shunned if at all possible, you will need to find other venues to procure a cup of coffee when the craving cannot be denied. My research has produced some alternatives to both the chains and the independent, overpriced coffee house selling wholegrain muffins with papaya and loganberries and teas with long Chinese names.

The following places will sell you a cup of coffee, no questions asked except: small or large.

Winchell’s Donuts

7-11 stores

MacDonalds

Burger King

Denny’s (only as a last resort, as the sensitive person will start contemplating suicide after more than a few minutes at Denny’s)

Carry your paper Winchell’s cup with pride! Remind yourself that you might shop at Banana Republic, but your coffee shows who you really are: a maverick who won’t be bullied into conformity by a corporation whose name "coincidentally" shares its first letter with Satan.

 

**an actual overheard conversation that I have documented. Transcripts available on request, with SASE.

 

 

AS part of your recovery, you will need to take inventory of the gourmet coffee paraphernalia you’ve collected at home. Some of these devices and accoutrements will be hard to part with, especially if they are stainless steel and made in Germany. Be strong; be ruthless. Items you should pack up and remove include:

French coffee press. Remember, you are not in France.

Electric coffee bean grinder. Unless you also grind you own flour from wheat, you have been conned into this step by the gourmet coffee culture that will soon have you meeting the cargo ship from Columbia at the deck, to select each bean personally.

Espresso machine. Do you operate a café on the Left Bank? Then you ought not to consider this a necessity in your kitchen.

Mugs with the logo of a coffee house chain, or any of their faux folk-art cups, saucers, etc., with their distinctively hideous color combinations.

Flavored coffees and things to lend flavor, like cinnamon sticks, vanilla powder, syrups, etc. Remember when coffee tasted like coffee, and renounce this perversion of a once honorable beverage.

 

As well as withdrawal symptoms, you may have to endure the scoffing of friends who are in denial about the wide-ranging effects of coffee house culture. Here are some facts you can use to help them wake up and smell the Sumatra:

Starbucks is expanding at the rate of ONE NEW STORE EVERY DAY. It is hiring 500 new employees per month. And it has come up with the word "partner" for its clerks, as in a sign on a jar of biscotti that instructs: "Please ask your partner to help with your selection." To the unindoctrinated, this may give the unsettling impression that unless you’re in a relationship, you can forget about having a cookie.

Starbucks is now available at the workplace, thanks to a deal with a middleman distributor. The president of Starbucks assures your company in its brochure that smart businesses understand the importance of serving Starbucks to their employees, colleagues and customers.

The brochure goes on to instruct in the art of coffee-tasting, outlining the three characteristics by which a cup of coffee is judged: Flavor, Acidity, and Body. The definitions of these characteristics are as nebulous and incomprehensible as the most arcane art criticism. Is the coffee "crisp and refreshing," or "light and buttery"? These are Zen-like questions that signify a pathological involvement with coffee, and anyone who can answer them is probably deeply disturbed or an employee of Starbucks.

The good old days will never return, along with rotary phones and wind-up watches. But we can still resist becoming a society of zombies muttering about Caffe Verona and Decaf Sorrento, our hearing ruined by the din of electric grinders, tongues covered with scar-tissue, and amped-up nervous systems on the verge of erupting in strokes and cardiac arrest.

Insist on your right to walk up to a counter and order coffee, without having to consider 3,000 options to be tested on your knowledge of Northern Africa. Resist totalitarianism! Death to the Facist pigs! Be as bourgeois as you please, but take a stand for independence and Just Say No Latte.

 

 

EPILOGUE

SINISTER DEVELOPMENTS

Starbucks has begun selling books, featuring only a few titles that have presumably passed some litmus test of compatibility with gourmet coffee use, and advancing the agenda of Coffee Culture. Obviously, these books should be strictly shunned.

Seattle’s Best contends in its company "Bible" that one out of 12 people worldwide is now employed in the coffee industry. This is either a staggering, ominous revelation, or a preposterous lie. Either way, it merits concern (if not a trip to the survivalist store).

Starbucks coffee is now available in supermarkets, to ensure that addicts can restock their supply 24 hours a day.

Seattle’s Best has teamed up with Eddie Bauer to further each other’s influence on image-obsessed yuppies. There will be an Eddie Bauer coffee blend that "reflects the Eddie Bauer lifestyle," and we can expect a corresponding gesture toward Seattle’s Best from the Eddie Bauer chain. Just what this Lifestyle involves, or how it can be translated into coffee, is a mystery too unpleasant to dwell upon.

Starbucks has made an aggressive entry into the ice cream market. If you think bakery products aren’t next, look out: there will be Starbucks frozen peas before you know it… carefully hand-picked at the peak of their growing season by trained third-world Starbucks field-workers called "associate vie-presidents," whose uncompromising search for premium peas is another demonstration of Starbucks’ commitment to quality and passion for giving its customers the best, most spherical, and flavorful peas, which will be offered in two sizes: mucho, and magnifico.