The Dissemination of Thought

Just because it's in print doesn't mean it's intelligent…

Espresso Etiquette 101: 6 Lessons in Coffee Shop Culture

with 46 comments

Cafes are not places to set up a quasi mission control, and the simple act of tipping shouldn’t remind anyone who observes it of a full-scale production of The Taming of the Shrew.

These are just two examples that stood out among a myriad of espresso etiquette breaches I’ve witnessed over the past twelve months, the most recent of which involved Mr Lesson 4 earlier this week.

As I pondered his seating sin and cappuccino contravention, it dawned on me that he wasn’t alone in his misgivings, so I decided it was an opportune time to offer a weekend refresher course, with the aim of bringing everyone up to speed on the do’s and don’ts of 21st century cafe culture.

Has everyone switched their mobile phone to silent? Do you all have a pen that works? Good, let’s commence the nonsensical crash course that is Espresso Etiquette 101.

We haven't even looked at the first lesson and already we have people throwing their coffee cups out of the cot. Source:

Lesson 1: Know what you want before you are eyeballing the barista

Those big, colourful boards behind the counter that display the menu, cup sizes and prices aren’t there for decoration. There’s nothing more infuriating – in the coffee world, anyway – than standing behind someone who doesn’t have a clue what they want to order until they’re staring into the pained eyes of an exceedingly patient barista.

If you want a small flat white, lock it in as soon as you’re asked what you’d like. If you’re in the mood for a large caramel mocha, accept your caffeine-infused fate and tell the barista you want a large caramel mocha. If you intend to order a Venti triple-shot hazelnut soy latte with a dash of vanilla, slap yourself across the back of the head as you approach the cash register. Your bombastic stupidity has earned you a glass of water. Without ice.

While we’re on the subject of ordering, knowing how to pronounce what you wish to drink is important. Should you feel inclined to order a macchiato, please remember it’s not pronounced mar-chee-ate-o. If there were such a thing, it would be a Cheetos-esque snack, not a coffee.

Lesson 2: A single coffee does not entitle you to a full day of free Wi-Fi

These people know who they are. The individuals who purchase a solitary coffee in order to stake their claim at a table towards the rear of the cafe; out of sight – and mind – of the baristas, but not so far away as to give them a less-than-excellent signal from the complimentary Wi-Fi.

While Starbucks is the traditional haunt of this creature, extreme overpopulation and the resultant infighting has forced many to flee their franchised habitats and seek refuge in boutique coffee shops advertising free internet.

The coffee culture lesson to the free Wi-Fi whores is simple: A $5 chai latte does not afford you any sort of entitlement to sit there for six hours while the last two seasons of Breaking Bad, 134 songs and Green Lantern finish downloading.

Lesson 3: Tether your unruly children to the table

Our third lesson in espresso etiquette is predominantly for parents, but is applicable to anyone who deems taking unsettled children to a coffee shop a prudent decision.

Contrary to what the deluded voices in your head tell you, not everyone finds your munchkins adorable. They are even less endearing when running around my table screaming, as you look on and do nothing but point and pull those stupid “Aren’t they precious?” faces. As ridiculous as it may seem, I was hoping for a little bit of peace and quiet while I finished my latte.

If you can’t or won’t control your recalcitrant toddlers, please tether them to the leg of your table using twine that any of the staff will be more than happy to provide you with. If need be, utilise some form of baby muzzle*, because I can’t handle that high-pitched squealing any longer, and I really will feel bad if I’m forced to throw my half-chewed muffin at your firstborn.

* Author’s note: If such a device doesn’t already exist, I call dibs on the patent.

Lesson 4: One ass equals one seat

This maths lesson is one that, because of its simplicity, shouldn’t even have to be taught. If you find the subject matter boring, please direct your grievances towards the 20-something guy at the cafe, whose struggle with basic mathematics compelled me to run this refresher course.

One bum entitles you to one seat. Uno. Yi. Moja. If you are flying solo with your cappuccino, a single seat is all you get. Your laptop bag, backpack and filthy, stained sneakers don’t have an ass between them, so they sure as hell don’t need to be comfortable while you spend forty painful minutes wiping dried froth from the rim of your cup.

Lesson 5: Tipping does not involve Shakespearean theatrics

To Lady Macbeth at the front of the queue: To tip, or not to tip, that is obviously your question. There’s no need for histrionics or to wait for an audience to assemble; either do it or don’t do it, but if you opt for the latter, please exit stage right immediately.

I’ve never worked in hospitality, but friends who do tell me one of their biggest irks are pretentious gits who believe their twenty cent act of altruism makes them the espresso equivalent of Bill Gates.

Lesson 6: Lose the hardware

This is an important message to the guy who has set up base camp at the table in the corner. You aren’t an authorised Apple reseller. Everyone in the coffee shop is already aware they make a good product, so there’s no need to spread your iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air out across the table while attempting to synchronise them, all the while shuffling the hell out of your iPod. You don’t look trendy and sophisticated; if anything, you come across as bourgeois and incredibly susceptible to clever marketing. Yes, I noticed the Bluetooth earpiece; did you want me to call NASA and inform them you’re good to go with the shuttle launch?


If you are guilty of any of the transgressions outlined above, I sincerely hope this crash course in espresso etiquette gives you cause to sit back and smell the coffee beans. It’s not too late to get help. If you know anyone who is an offender, please share this article with them. Friends don’t let friends mooch cafe Wi-Fi. Better yet, maybe you should just print out and laminate a few copies; that way, you can hand them out to random strangers you witness committing these espresso atrocities.

46 Responses

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  1. Try standing behind someone who asks their order to be remade three times. I was tempted to forgo paying for my coffee and ask them to fish out one of the three perfectly, untouched java chip frappuccinos.

    If you can’t pronounce it, you probably won’t like it.

    Casey Marriott

    February 27, 2012 at 23:25

    • “If you can’t pronounce it, you probably won’t like it.”

      Oh, that’s good. It should in a ridiculously bold font on all cafe menus.


      March 4, 2012 at 21:49

  2. I wouldn’t mind spilling my precious (hot) mar-che-ate-o on that Apple reseller from #6 and investing in that baby muzzle. What a wonderful invention that would be!


    February 27, 2012 at 23:28

    • Thanks for your contribution to the etiquette lesson, and welcome to the Grande double-shot caramel cappuccino that is The Dissemination of Thought. You’re too late to do anything to the mission control wannabe: a screaming baby bit him as it was running around.


      March 4, 2012 at 21:54

  3. Here’s another. When you’re in a 24 hour cafe at 5am, do not carry on with your friends about how its 5am and you didn’t know the world existed at 5am, and you’ve never been awake at 5am ever in your life.

    We all know what time it is.

    Oh…and in case you haven’t noticed…your friends are pretending they don’t know you…


    February 27, 2012 at 23:33

    • Unfortunately, if you’re out and about at 5:00am, you have to mentally prepare yourself for a major dose of stupid.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and Welcome to TDoT. Are those people over there ignoring you on purpose?


      March 4, 2012 at 22:02

  4. Brilliant! Although I am the reprobate who never has a pen…


    February 27, 2012 at 23:43

    • That’s okay: just etch the key points into the desk with your keys.

      Welcome to The Dissemination of Thought.


      March 4, 2012 at 21:58

  5. I guess it is a good thing coffee makes me extremely sick… I typically only order an Iced Chai IF I have to.


    February 27, 2012 at 23:51

    • I’m with you. I am relieved to be a non-coffee drinker. Grabbing a Diet Dew from the gas station seems a much quicker caffiene option…


      February 28, 2012 at 02:04

    • If you have to?


      March 4, 2012 at 22:03

      • Those coffee people can be pushy people. They always want you to buy something to sit in their store. If I buy a snack then I have to have something to wash it down and they give the most terrible looks if you order water… it is scary. I’m always afraid of getting shanked in there!


        March 5, 2012 at 05:03

  6. Thanks. Put #3, #6 in bold.


    February 28, 2012 at 00:49

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds screaming children annoying.

      Welcome to The Dissemination of Thought. Do you know what those unruly, untethered children become when they grow up? Yeah, that’s right. Faux Apple resellers.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:05

  7. So true!!!


    February 28, 2012 at 00:52

  8. Brilliantly insightfully and fantastically funny ; just putting out for all those arseholes who spend their days in coffee shops writing their “novel” when instead they use the free wifi to check their tumbrl accounts and upload their instagram photos.
    Love your blog!

    My Bloggy Woggy

    February 28, 2012 at 01:17

    • Ah, Instagram. As a BlackBerry lover, it’s not something I’ve had to sully myself with.

      Author’s note: this is the point at which Apple aficionados – including the guy in lesson six – will start drafting hate mail.

      Thanks for the wonderful feedback, and welcome to classroom. Before you ask, no one knows what that smell is.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:14

  9. Ah, it is of the civilized world you speak… I miss my coveted “solo-grande non-fat lactaid latte.” it took me a month to learn that.
    Here in my southern zone, you haul your ass to the bar, order, slam back your espresso (max 45 seconds), or your capuccino (mac 90 seconds) and be gone! Thalt shall not linger!!! wi-fi? where do you think you are, in Brisbane?!

    Cakes McCain

    February 28, 2012 at 02:43

    • “…you haul your ass to the bar, order, slam back your espresso…and be gone!”

      That sounds ideal. When was the last time you saw someone mooching Wi-Fi while you were having a coffee?


      March 4, 2012 at 22:18

      • At home!!! My B&B guests’ vampiric ipads and iphones hog all my bandwith!!!!!

        Cakes McCain

        March 4, 2012 at 23:01

  10. Love it! The phrase `bombastic stupidity` is going to be a staple in my vocabulary now seeing as how my life affords me ample opportunities to use it. May I add Lesson 7 to your list: Paying for your coffee in pennies is the epitome of moronic behavior.

    This piece should be printed and kept next to the freebee itunes cards in every Starbucks across the universe.

  11. Great post 🙂

    Made me laugh out loud – alot (luckily at home at the time, not sat in Starbucks on their free wifi LOL)


    Jacquie Finister

    February 28, 2012 at 02:58

    • Thank you for the feeback, I’m glad you enjoyed reading! Welcome to The Dissemination of Thought. Are you the one who ordered the double ex-pree-so?


      March 4, 2012 at 22:23

      • ROFL – nope – when I do venture in, I’m the ‘tall 4 shot (or grande 5 shot) whole milk wet latte’ girl – I gave up asking for breve’s here in the UK when the baristas started refusing to make them… and yup – I get very strange looks from the strawberry frapp brigade – as well as the baristas LOL 😉

        Jacquie Finister

        March 5, 2012 at 06:55

  12. Well said, sir. While I have been guilty of hunkering down in a diner for 6 hours (layover in Philly), I made sure to order $20 worth of food in that time and tipped 30% to compensate the staff for the free caffeine refills during that time. Coffee-ordering snobs make my blood pressure go way up!


    February 28, 2012 at 03:43

    • I was going to add a seventh lesson about not treating the baristas and other service staff like shit, but that’s another post in itself.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion, and welcome TDoT International Airport. If you plan on a 6-hour stopover here, it’s going to cost you a lot more than $20. And I expect a 42.6% tip.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:28

  13. You nailed it all pretty perfectly. I also want to stab myself every time I enter a cafe and there is a group of some sort (often employees and clients or simply moms with their kids) who has chosen the cafe as the locale for their annual meeting. It never fails that only one or two of them have actually ordered anything and in order for them to get any work done, the conductor of the group has to raise his/her voice. Guess what, folks? The tables at Starbucks are small for a reason!

    The Waiting

    February 28, 2012 at 07:23

    • That’s why, in my opinion, takeaway coffee cups are perhaps the greatest invention of all time.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:46

  14. You’ve enlightened me…I had no idea it was looked down upon to order only one drink when taking advantage of the free wi-fi. I don’t think I’ve ever used wi-fi in a coffee shop before, but I guess I just assumed it was acceptable.

    I completely agree with #4 in particular. It drives me CRAZY when one person takes up a 3 person couch when the place is crowded.

    Curly Carly

    February 28, 2012 at 13:17

    • In what universe do people think that resting their grubby clodhoppers on a seat constitutes socially acceptable behaviour?


      March 4, 2012 at 22:42

  15. a. I have heard tales of people setting up full size monitors in cafes.

    b. One cappuccino does, in fact, equal unlimited amounts of internet.

    c. I remember a particular incident at the Panera-esque restaurant I used to work at in which there were children playing hide and go seek under the tables, chairs, etc. The parents did nothing as the children made our place of work into a playground.


    February 28, 2012 at 18:50

  16. This is why I try to avoid Starbucks as much as possible… Great post!

    A Cynical Me

    February 29, 2012 at 04:29

    • Thank you for the feedback, and welcome to The Dissemination of Thought. You’ll be happy to know we are in no way affiliated with Starbucks.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:39

  17. I really wish I had written this. Perfection! You forgot the people who bring other food into the Cafe/Starbucks (thai food, mcdonalds, you name it
    !). Seriously though, if it were my cafe, I’d kick them out on their ass in two seconds flat.


    February 29, 2012 at 04:37

    • Thank you!

      If you ever do open your own cafe, please let me know. I want to come and sponge free Wi-Fi while I watch you kick people out.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:35

  18. Bravo!!! Shame the ass hats who do all this are probably to stupid to realise it is THEM!!! 🙂


    February 29, 2012 at 21:18

  19. Awesome Buddy! Totally agree with these etiquette rules!


    March 2, 2012 at 07:44

    • I’m glad you approve of the curriculum.

      I’d like to officially welcome you to The Dissemination of Thought after a sustained period of lurking. I hope to see you back here soon.


      March 4, 2012 at 22:31

  20. I appreciate your creative coffee post. Etiquette can be an interesting topic (and sometimes it’s subjective- re: texting etiquette). I am a huge fan of Starbucks, but these days I get it to go, since Starbucks is dangerously close to where I live. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think my local Starbucks has free Wi-Fi (like other coffee shops in my area). I think my Starbucks makes you pay for Wi-Fi.


    March 11, 2012 at 14:00

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