Monday, March 2, 2020

I Drink the Wrongest Possible Coffee

I drink the wrongest possible coffee. I've been chewed out by baristas - one even snatched away my cup and insisted on starting over. Friends have made pukey face at me, questioning why they'd ever taken me seriously as a food/drink tastemaker. It's bad. Real bad.

The only reason I'm disclosing this publicly is because despite my deep shame, I suspect I may be on to something. Let's go ahead and tear the Bandaid quickly...

Here's what I do. I go to the best coffee place I can find, and order a single espresso to go, ensuring plenty of cup capacity (See? You're wincing in pain already!). I add a heaping teaspoon of sugar, and top off the cup with milk. So much milk. And that's it.

I understand the many reasons why this is disgusting and wrong and bad. The result's a couple notches on the wrong side of "lukewarm" - offering none of the kinetic jolt of a hot cup of coffee nor the refreshment of iced coffee. Just a thermally flaccid cup of mildly sweet coffee milk.

I've smeared ketchup on the steak. I've scraped the fish out of my sushi roll. I've sprinkled chili flakes on my corn flakes.

"You idiot," you might respond, "Just order a frickin' cappuccino. That's what you're doing anyway, and you'll get the benefit of delicious frothy milk. You get the kinetic jolt, whatever the fuck that is, and spare yourself the guilt of offending baristas and traumatizing friends!"

I like cappuccino. I actually like it a lot. But I'd dispute the notion that this is my ticket out of pariah status, because ordering cappuccino in the middle of the day (which is when I drink it) makes you a Philistine, bare minimum. And there's a fine line between Philistine and pariah.

Also: frothing the milk doesn't just yield hot milk. It changes the texture, the vibe, it's a whole other drink. You might say that it's a better drink, but here's something I know, in my shmucky naïveté, that you don't: how my way actually tastes. You've never tried it. Why would you have? It's the worst way to drink coffee! So you don't know! But I do! And that, reader, is why I'm writing this.

One huge advantage of my wrong way of drinking coffee is that it's the antidote to overly-roasted, overly-acidic coffee, such as, geez, I don't know, I wanna say, maybe...Starbucks? Heard of it?

There's almost nothing you can do to Starbucks coffee to mollify its signature sooty/smudgey acridity. Cappuccino masks it a bit, but it's like turning down the volume of a Sid Vicious record. The relative volume might be lower, but it's still raucous loud music. If it annoyed you before, you'll still be annoyed.

But my way balances it, even making a virtue of it. This is not the juvenile baby bottle pablum you'd imagine. The grind of the acidity/burntness contributes a pleasant dissonance within the immensity of milk (you don't get this with regular coffee). It's the only way to make Starbucks enjoyable for anyone not previously addicted to their scrapey scrape. It's like ingeniously setting a flawed gemstone to make it show its best. It's coffee jiu-jitsu

Finally, there's a consideration only a former starving musician would consider. Coffee isn't food. It provides neither calories nor nutrition. This quantity of milk is bona fide food, elevating coffee from an empty, cumulatively expensive vice. So tell me how disgusting I am as I ingest 8 grams of protein and a modest but useful 100 calorie boost - real energy to burn, as opposed to pure caffeine squeezing away at your poor besieged adrenal glands.

You can go chomp on some crappy protein bar, but I've downed delicious coffee milk with much the same nutrition for a buck less, and it keeps me awake, and it's the only way to make Starbucks taste good, and the flavor - which you've never experienced despite your superior sniggering - offers a pleasant dissonant grind within a balanced context, like beer. People like beer. Maybe you don't. Maybe you only drink straight vodka, 'cuz beer's too disgustingly dilute and your body has chemical needs. Mommy needs her medicine.

Also: I can slurp it down at any pace that suits. I won't burn myself nor brain-freeze myself. It makes itself generously available. Hell, it even quenches thirst. Can your straight espresso shot do that?

So...whose coffee's wrong again?

I do have a latte counterargument. Don't think I don't. But I can't ask you to read more than 750 words on this.


Richard Stanford said...

I wonder if some of the complaint is because you're abusing the system - milk is expensive, and there's a social contract in place that its free to use in moderation that you may be leveraging here - if everyone did the same, the rest of us would soon lose that privilege. Its the same reason that you can't just get a free water cup and fill it up with squeezed lemon wedges and sugar to make lemonade and expect the staff to appreciate your initiative.

James Leff said...

Re: first half, oh my god. Never imagined that was even a thing.

Re: second half, I’m paying. And tipping, too. So I don’t agree with the analogy.

And if you can think of a way to achieve this result legitimately without driving still more people to disgust and pedantry, I’m all ears!

Anonymous said...

I tried two Leffspressos today- pretty good! I think I'll add them to my drink rotation.

If the owner suggests charging for a fancy drink (macchiato?), I'd be cool with that considering the extra milk I'm using.

Jim Leff said...

Maybe just tip even more? What’s the milk worth, a half a buck?

I’m waiting to hear back from Slog ethicist Richard Stanford for a ruling!

Anonymous said...

I worked it out to about 3 cents per oz of milk. I probably use 3-4oz so, it's a pretty negligible expense. I'll leave it to the owner to decide but I think it's within the realm of reasonable. How much milk are you using? If it's a 16oz cup then I would understand any raised eyebrows.

Jim Leff said...

Nah, just a little espresso shot cup. I didn’t feel like I was freeloading, but I’m (obviously) not a part of coffee shop culture.

I DO shoot up in the bathroom, but that’s victimless....

Unknown said...

Ha! Didn't see that coming.

Richard Stanford said...

Hey, you didn't ask whether I would complain, you commented about baristas and others complaining and giving you looks. As to the cost, cappuccinos and lattes are usually different prices too even though its the same amount of work, as are medium vs large drinks at places that offer them (same shots, different amount of milk), hence the idea that people could get offended.

Jim Leff said...


Cappuccinos and lattes are more work - to steam the milk. That’s why they cost more.

No, people are offended by my extreme disrespect for the rituals of coffee culture. The sugar in the espresso shot is a taboo broken, and the cold milk’s an unbearable atrocity.

Richard Stanford said...

I was meaning that a latte often costs more than a cap, that's all. But now we're just getting silly :)

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