I threw a $4 steaming cup of liquidy brown into the trash at my subway corner. Like, slam dunked it. I haven’t grown out of taking anger out on inanimate objects.
Kicking pine cones in the fall, dandelions in the spring and bursting through subway turnstiles perennially. I keep my tantrums mini but mighty.
(And yes, plants are at an iffy point on the sentience spectrum. It feels unfair to call a dandelion inanimate, right?)
Backing up a bit…it’s Tuesday morning, and despite running my ass off to my stop, giving the corner tamale lady my usual haggard performance, backpack falling off, crosswalk countdown hand pulsing, fear of God on my face—I missed my train to work.
The subway takes me to another, bigger train that snakes up the Hudson to my job. It runs every 30 minutes. So if I miss the subway, I’ve got to wait.
It’s one of spring’s first sunny days, so I think: yes, coffee adventure!
I treat myself when I’m truant. It’s probably an off-shoot of my six-year-old self. In kindergarten my anxiety was intense. I would beat myself up over the smallest things, like when Mrs. Smith switched my “behavior card” from green to yellow. 🚦
I would smolder in shame, and my mom would take me to McDonald’s for chocolate vanilla swirl soft serve. She was teaching me that mistakes are okay.
I make it to a cute coffee shop thick with the smell of bacon and neighborhood regulars. Tres charmant!
I ordered my signature: an Americano, short.
Checking in with you—do you know what “short” means? If you’re not a barista, it’s okay if you don’t.
It means less water. It means don’t dilute this gold. It means I want to actually taste the espresso, make a little bitter face-pucker.
When I say, “An Americano, short” I usually get back a WTF face.
This is when I’ve gotta choose: do I explain a coffee term that *I believe* every barista should know, and risk seeming condescending? Or do I just pinch my lucky mole and hope for the best?
Usually I go for a flaccid compromise. As they turn to pull the shot I mumble through the steam noises and dish clatter, “Uh, like less hot water than normal, to make the coffee stronger…” No idea if they heard me. I go to a corner.
Barista calls my name. I see her wobbly arm balancing the cup in her hand. Amber water’s about to spill.
I look down into coffee so clear I can almost read the grounds settled at the bottom. If they were tea leaves they’d spell out the fortune, “There are some dandelions outside you better kick before a human face gets in the way of your foot.”
Y’all. Need. To. Train. Your. Baristas. Better.
A bartender going “Ummm…?” over your whiskey neat order. A dressmaker, eyes vacant when you ask for it bias-cut. These are unimaginable. Maybe not forgivable.
Was there a time when more baristas knew about short Americanos, but we’ve gotten so saturated with coffee shops and the talent is blah? Am I a spoiled product of third wave coffee, the uber light roast, single-origin, crema-crowned espresso of my heart?
Three paths: choke it down, ask for a remake or throw it out.
The train’s chugging close so redo’s out. I stomp back to my station, three sips of trauma to the taste buds and in the trash it goes. I’m kicking myself through the next five stops, for being late again and thinking a four dollar Americano would console me.
Should’ve ordered ice cream. 🍦
ps— Just in case I wasn’t self-righteous enough, not sufficiently trivial, I’d like to share this last detail with you. And I’m about to go full antihero on you…
I usually drink decaf.
Why? Because I defy (defy!!) a culture that demands I’m wired. The busy busy busy, productivity = self worth, adrenals-gasping-for-air lifestyle.
I’ll hustle, but that’s because I need the cash, not because I think it makes me a better person.
And yes, you’re allowed to drink decaf and have good taste in coffee, too.
So hear me. And tell me if you feel me:
Burnout’s not cute. And neither is hot bean water.