Thursday, April 2, 2009

You say "coffee", I say "coffee"

Today after visiting Pancake Rocks, I had an unpleasant run-in over coffee. Now, when I was a teenager, I was a barista. I'm not that old, but to date myself anyway, this was before Star*ucks took off and became the McDonalds of espresso. In fact, Star*ucks was still a quality espresso shop modeling themselves off of the fantastic coffee one finds in Italy. Where I worked, we served Torrefazione coffee (before it was bought by Seattle's Best Coffee), and I had a real-life Italian lady come to my shop and teach me how to make espresso the Torrefazione way.

Here is another caveat. I have traveled the world and US extensively through work and play, and have ordered my favorite caffeine delivery system in all of them. I have had variations of the roasted and brewed coffee bean in Seattle, SanFrancisco, the Midwest, Texas, New Orleans, (and most other non-descript regions of the US in between), US-flagged-SIU-union-stewards-department-manned ships, Canada, Mexico (Mexico City, and the Pacific and Yucatan beaches), Central America, South America, Spain, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tahiti, Fiji, Singapore, the Heathrow Airport (London), and NEW ZEALAND. Even within the confines of the United States, I know coffee comes in different forms, flavors, prices, and cultural importance level.

At the souvenir shop across from the entrance to the famed "Pancake Rocks", they advertised "iced-coffee". As it was one of the few hot days we have had this lovely autumn in NZ, I thought it would be a great treat. My only expectations were that the drink would have coffee and be cold. Other than that, I was just waiting to see what I would get. I ordered two iced-coffees, then came the questions. "Do you want cream?" No, thank you. "Excuse me miss, would you like that sweetened or unsweetened?" Unsweetened, please. "What?" Oh, just black. In the states we call no cream/milk and no sugar "black coffee". The barista gives me a confused look, gets the manager. "We make iced-coffee with milk, sugar, and cream" it goes on and on. I say make it the way you make it, and the manager starts yelling at me that I need to be more specific when I order drinks, and by the way, who would ever put cold water and no milk in iced coffee? When I asked what I would get if I ever ordered an iced americano then, I was told I would get two shots of espresso, hot water, and a few cubes of ice. Hmmm......sounds like luke-warm coffee to me.

The main thing is A. He was having a bad day, B. There has to be assholes in every country, and C. Those people are probably assholes as they have never left their corner of the world.

So this entry is for Kiwis and American coffee drinkers, starting with an explanation for American espresso and coffee drinkers:

In the states our basics are Espresso, Americanos in various sizes and number of shots (espresso and hot water), Lattes (espresso and steamed milk with a bit of foam, or if specified, no foam please), cappuccinos (wet = 1/3 each espresso, milk, foam and dry = foam) then the various flavored versions. Iced versions come with espresso poured over ice with the cold equivalents of water or milk according to what is required (americano = cold water, iced latte = cold milk)

New Zealand is a bit different. First, there is no such thing as drip coffee. I have seen a total of two drip coffee machines in my travels, and no filters in the stores for them. French Press coffee is called, "Plunger Coffee". You will not find bottomless coffee in the diners. That's good news, as most coffee is espresso, and very good espresso. However, it all comes in one sized cup, and is a double shot unless specified otherwise. If you want a strong americano, instead of ordering a double short americano, you order a "long black". If you want a weaker cup of coffee, you order an "americano". Espresso is a "short black". If you want a latte with no foam, you order a "flat white". If you want a bit of foam, you order a "latte". You can get mist flavors in between as well. The grand finale is the iced coffee. "Iced-Coffee" means the following: Two shots of espresso over a few cubes of ice, cold milk, sugar, whipped cream, and cinnamon. At least, this is how the souvenir shop outside of Pancake Rocks makes "iced-coffee" In the States, this would be an "iced latte with whipped cream", so, you can see my confusion.

New Zealanders visiting the States: be prepared to know how many shots you want, and whether it's short, tall, or grande, plus non-fat, 2%, whole, or soy milk, decaf, and a pick of about 30 flavors, and how much foam you want if you're that picky about your "flat whites". If you want your decadent version of "iced-coffee", I would reccommend ordering a double grande iced mocha or vanilla latte with whip.

Either way, when I ordered and paid for two iced-coffees, I would have been happy to be handed an iced-latte or an iced-Americano, but instead the owner of the shop decided I was a moron with no taste to think "iced-coffee" was anything but espresso, milk, sugar, whipped cream, and cinnamon. I think his dog died this morning.

A bit about the rest of the world from my experience only: In Mexico City and Barcelona, you can order "Cafe con Leche" which is similar to a latte, except nothing like it. They bring you strongly brewed coffee or espresso, and a small carafe of warmed milk. Excellente. In South America, coffee is mainly instant Nescafe. They bring you a cup of hot water, and a jar of Nescafe to make as strong as you like. The Thai's in America make iced-coffee which is strong instant coffee with canned sweetened-condensed milk poured over ice. In New Orleans, your coffee comes with chicory, which I believe was used as a coffee extender during war-time, and is best served with hot beignets. In Texas and the Midwest, they make buckets of canned Folgers or the like, and Seattle has all of the above, but most notably strong, freshly ground, drip coffee, and a range of espresso options, not just Star*ucks. I have the following methods in my own home of making coffee: three drip machines, an espresso machine, a camping espresso machine, percolator, "plunger" French Press, and single cup drip.

So travelers, obviously what you get at home is not what you will get overseas or the next town over; and to employees in the tourist industry, people form other parts of the world do not automatically know how people in your corner of the world do things, so MELLOW OUT AND EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE!!!!!


  1. i think you've had too much coffee. and i think some people are assholes.

  2. I'm not usually fueled by coffee by the time I write these blog posts : )


Keep it clean. Don't be mean.