Espresso Etiquette 101: 6 Lessons in Coffee Shop Culture
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.
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.