Americans Have Ruined the Coffee Culture


You know what bothers me?

Ignorant people who think they’re smart.

If you lack understanding, legitimately lack it. Embrace your ill proficiency. Realize your limitations and do something to correct it (Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish).

It’s the people that are either too vacuous or too lazy to realize they’re misguided that bother me. This is the variety that will defend their lack of intelligence.

My favorite example of this occured a few years ago. I happened upon a gentleman mixing a packet of hot cocoa with coffee instead of water. Upon noticing me noticing him he looked at me and said (and I quote), “Makin’ a poor man’s cappuccino“.

Naturally, being the coffee snob that I am, I was quick to tell him that what he was making was actually a closer approximation to a mocha.

This person then stopped – he actually stopped what he was doing – looked at me with pity (how could I be so dumb) and replied, “No, it’s got coffee in it so that makes it a cappuccino“.

He was wrong… and willing to defend his wrongness rather than accept his error and possibly learn something in the process.

I smiled back and explained that a cappuccino doesn’t contain any chocolate. Ever. In fact, the only two ingredients in a cappuccino are espresso and milk (steamed and foamed). No chocolate, just equal parts espresso, milk, and foam. A mocha on the other hand contains chocolate, milk, and espresso.

I don’t know what kind of response I was expecting. Maybe I wanted his face to light up with the glow that can only be achieved when someone learns something new. Maybe I figured he’d find the facts mildly entertaining. Quite possibly I hoped for a firm handshake and a hearty thank-you for saving him from his personal combination of arrogance and complacency.

What I got was an apathetic shrug and a “whatever“…. which I figure roughly translated to “the facts have no bearing on what I will continue to call this drink. I’m wrong and I don’t care“.


As a side note, few people know that, despite the very Italian name, the cappuccino actually has German roots. Strange, but true. The Italian word ‘Cappuccino’ is not known in Italian writings until the 20th century… but the German-language ‘Kapuziner’ is mentioned as a coffee beverage in 18th century Germany and Austria. The beverage actually derives its name from the hooded robes worn by monks and nuns of the capuchin order. The drink’s very distinctive color was very similar to the red-brown robes worn in 17th-century Europe. While Francis of Assisi used white wool for his robes the capuchin brothers dyed theirs to differ from Franciscans and many of the other orders.

But I digress.

Truly, there are few things in life quite as glorious as that first sip of fresh coffee first thing in the morning. If you’re a stereotypical American that phrase may be slightly altered to “Few things in life are as glorious as that first 32 ounces of warm chocolate soy milk, caramel, whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and barely a hint of coffee in the morning”… and this isn’t a new development. Unfortunately American’s have been ruining coffee for many years.

A little more history for you – the Americano literally did not exist until World War II. American troops stationed in Italy would order a cup of coffee and, after being served espresso, ask for it to be watered down. The baristas became used to this specific request and began mockingly referring to watered down espresso as Caffè Americano (coffee American-style).

If the Italians thought that was funny the newest iteration of this drink would leave them reeling. Instead of enjoying a simple two demitasse Americano we have people ordering 16oz triple-shot Americanos with 2 tablespoons of white chocolate and enough cream to choke a small calf. It’s no secret that Americans like to come up with overly intense and equally ridiculous names for the most banal and sophomoric of objects and so this beverage was dubbed the “White Lightning”.

I suggest a more appropriate name: the ‘muricano.

It should come as no surprise that most American coffee drinkers simply love dumping milk and every variety of sugar (Double Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Caramel Hazelnut Delight Frappuccino, anyone?) into their espresso-based coffee drinks. What does come as a bit of a shock is that those who drink the ‘muricano boldly claim it contains less than 90 calories!

Allow me to debunk that bit of fuzzy math for you.

1 ounce of espresso has a little less than 1 calorie.

A single shot of espresso is 1-1/2 ounces while, oddly enough, a double shot is 2-1/2 ounces.

A triple-shot of espresso is a double shot plus a single… so, that totals 4 ounces; equaling about 3 calories.

1 oz (2 pumps) of Ghirardelli White Chocolate Flavored Sauce is 110 calories.

2 tablespoons of half and half is another 40 calories.

Graciously (and to the surprise of many Americans) hot water contains no calories.

This bad boy now tips the scales at 153 calories… for a cup of coffee. Outrageous when compared to a more traditional 10 ounce Americano with one sugar and a spot of cream at 30 calories. You could drink five of those (50 ounces for those not quick enough on the calculator) and still not total the calories in one 16 ounce ‘muricano.

If it’s the sweetness and sheer volume you desire, try a 16oz cold press with a pump of caramel syrup and some cream (only 75 calories). Even a 12oz skim Café Cubano (cappuccino with raw sugar and cinnamon) comes in at less with only 94 calories.

It’s not about being accurate. It’s not about basing your claims on facts. It’s about getting what you want.

In the words of Miike Snow’s excellent 2009 song, Cult Logic, “I’ll believe it even if it’s not true“.

However, based on the financial stability of Starbucks, Caribou, Dunn Bros and nearly every other variety of American coffee shop with hordes of consumers eagerly lining up to consume their next Venti Soy Pumpkin Spice Latte… I might be prepared to accept the possibility that this maybe bothers me more than it should.


Twenty Skills Every Man Should Learn

No man is born with any of these skills – but all should spend their life acquiring them (in no particular order):

Cook (not just grill) – Start simple guys; learn how to make eggs four different ways.

Buy Clothing – Specifically, learn how to look good in a suit. Be aware of how you look and what it is you like/dislike. Be secure enough in your manliness with feeling fabric. If it feels like a burlap sack it will wear like one. Always get fitted. When in doubt, look for the best dressed associate in the store… and have him help you!

Sew a Button / Iron Your Shirt – Because, at some point, one of your dress shirts (see previous skill) will require mending… and there is no reason to ask your wife to do something so simple.

Shave – I’m not talking about lathering up with some pressurized gel and swiping it off with a quintuple-bladded razor. Any boy can learn to do that. Teach yourself to use a straight razor; or at the very least a safety razor.

Properly Tie a Necktie – Whether it’s a bowtie, a standard necktie, or (my preference) both… learn to look good.

Console a crying Woman – Being a gentleman doesn’t mean you have to carry a handkerchief – but offering a clean tissue will certainly help. If she doesn’t tell you to go away ask her how you might be able to help. Don’t get all bent out of shape, her feelings are legitimate. Proceed, according to her wishes, until she says she’s okay.

Parallel Park – The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Basic Home Repair – Learn to swing a hammer (and sucessfully drive a ten-penny nail into a 2×4). One rule applies in basic plumbing and electrical wiring: turn off the main!

Carve a Turkey – Let Alton Brown show you how it’s done. Not only does he carve a mean turkey, he also regularly wears bow ties. Bonus.

Prepare a Drink – Whether you’re mixing a martini or brewing a cup of coffee – do it with excellence. It’s never as simple as just combining the correct ingredients. Put some care and attention into what you’re doing.

Very Basic Automotive – Jump-start a car (with zero drama). Change your oil, plugs, and air filter (at least once). Fix a flat tire (safely).

Shine Your Own Shoes – Chance are, unless you join the military, you’ll never be punished for not having a pair of well-shined shoes. Nonetheless, it’s an essential man-skill. Not only does it look good… it also maintains your shoes and lengthens their lifespan.

Read and Write – Guys, please. The sports page does NOT count. Pick a book that matters and then set a goal (example: 8 books this year). Guaranteed, your grammar skills will increase and so will your writing ability. You’re never going to be Ernest Hemingway… but making a habit to write some Thank You notes wouldn’t kill you.

Throw a Punch – Swing with your shoulders, not your arm. Step in close (long punches rarely land squarely). Follow through; don’t pop and pull back. Trust me, you don’t have a roundhouse or a haymaker – don’t try it. Final caveat: every man should master this skill while secretly hoping he never has to use it.

Show Respect – In the following order: Age, Experience, Record, Reputation. Oh, and never mention any of it.

Talk to a Woman – You know that one guy at church or work that you really admire? He does his job with a quiet confidence. He doesn’t feel the need to tell stupid jokes. He doesn’t eye you up. He knows things you don’t but doesn’t talk about them endlessly. He never apologizes for his status or his job or the way he’s dressed. You know how wildly inviting that seems? Be that guy.

Order at a Restaurant – Lift your chin and don’t talk into the menu. Make eye contact with your waiter. You don’t own the restaurant, so don’t act like it. You own the transaction.

Build a Campfire – Light the tinder, feed on the kindling, lay on the fuel wood. Be patient.

Shake a Man’s Hand – Shaking someone’s hand is simple: steady, firm, pump, let go. Make eye contact. It’s not like holding a woman’s hand (but some of you guys need to work on that, too).

Ask for Help – It’s simple and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. Guys who refuse to ask for help are the most cursed of all men.

How do you pronounce Keurig?

Okay, time for me to address a minor pet-peeve.

We own a Keurig coffee maker; which we adore! It’s at least three years old and has never exhibited a single problem. Usually, before I purchase any electronic, I like to do a lot of research on the competition before I make my final decision. All I needed was the taste test.

As they say with video game consoles, one machine’s technical specifications may be vastly superior to another but it all comes down to content. Who has the best games? In the case of the single-cup coffee makers, who offers the best tasting variety of coffee, tea, and other hot beverages? The Keurig’s largest competitor, the Tassimo, had a decent flavor while the Phillips Senso was downright awful. I declared the Keurig the winner after comparing their wide variety of available K-Cups to the list of Tassimo Pods.

Now, it seems most Americans pronounce the company name as “cure-ig” (with an especially thick mid-western hard R). I assure you, that’s not correct. Others, myself included, pronounce it “care-ig“. While that’s closer… it’s still not entirely correct.

The Keurig coffee company was founded in 1992 by Olaf Keurig, a Dutchman [edit: see comment section below for an update on this claim]. Keurig is a Dutch word that roughly translates to “neat”. The proper Dutch pronunciation actually sounds more like “keer-ech”.

Regardless, I’ll feign American ignorance, and continue pronouncing it with Care.

Coffee Etiquette

I enjoy a good cup of coffee in the same way a wine connoisseur would drink his wine; or like a person who sets aside time for an expensive cigar. Because caffeine can be compared to nicotine, I view those people who drink black coffee all day (pots and pots of it!) as the coffee equivalent of a chain smoker. They don’t really enjoy coffee – they’re just hopelessly addicted to the buzz.

Whether you knew it or not there are certain underground rules regarding what is cool in the world of coffee; particularly espresso. First: small is cool. Small cups, small quantities of coffee, small quantities of milk – all very cool. You will never see me drink a 16 or 20 ounce latte. I am a gentleman, not a calf. Milk is basically made up of three things: fat, protein, and sugar (in the form of lactose). Increasing the temperature of the milk has a dramatic effect on all three. The lactose becomes sweeter, the proteins expand, and the fat… well, it just becomes richer and more full. The fat is what give your latte that full textured flavor. While the higher levels of chemistry are lost on me I do understand this: an overabundance of steamed milk makes you fat.

This might be a bit of a shock to some: milk in quantity should not be consumed with coffee after about 10 AM (11 at the very latest). To drink a milk based espresso drink after mid-morning is considered poor etiquette. To drink a milk based espresso beverage with a meal… don’t. That’s just wrong. I’ll typically begin my day with a dry Cuban shot cappuccino (a Cortadito) and will have one cup of brewed coffee – or an Americano – later in the afternoon. Sometimes my wife and I will have a cup after dinner… but I’ve cut down on that because of how much it makes me toss and turn during the night.

Lastly, the truly cool don’t drink latte’s and mochas. Both are little more than big bowls of hot milk (some containing the equivalent of a melted Snickers bar) and a tiny bit of coffee. Something the Italians might give their children. In the words of Vancouver’s Aaron De Lazzer[Lattes are] a great introductory drink. The coffee is softened almost to the point of non-existence and it is topped with whipped cream. Very approachable. Perfect for non-coffee drinkers and and the warm milk crowd”.

“No one’s going to drink a cup of Pee-quod!”

Among the many things I waste my time and money on few compare to coffee. Now, I prefer smaller local coffee shops over “big corporate coffee” but I still frequent the ‘bou . Sometimes, if I’m desperate enough, I’ll even enter a Starbucks (yeah, that’s right – you can start typing your hate mail now).

However, I have to admit, Starbucks has a much more interesting history than Caribou – and I am a sucker for trivial facts.

Starbucks is named in part after Starbuck, Captain Ahab’s first mate in the novel Moby-Dick, as well as a turn-of-the-century mining camp (Starbo or Storbo) on Mount Rainier. According to Howard Schultz’s book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, the name of the company was derived from Moby-Dick, although not in as direct a fashion as many assume. Gordon Bowker liked the name “Pequod” (the ship in the novel), but his then creative partner Terry Heckler suggested “Starbo”. Brainstorming with these two ideas resulted in the company being named for the Pequod’s first mate, Starbuck.

Starbuck, the young first mate of the Pequod, is a thoughtful and intellectual Quaker from Nantucket. Starbuck was an important Quaker family name on Nantucket Island, and there were several actual whalemen of this period named “Starbuck,” as evidenced by the name of Starbuck Island in the South Pacific whaling grounds.

Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organization seems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance.

—Moby-Dick, Ch. 26

That strong superstation, described in chapter 26 of Moby-Dick, is what many believe lead the Starbucks founders to use a Mermaid as the company logo.

But I’ve always wondered: if the company is named after first mate Starbuck wouldn’t this be his coffee shop? And, if so, wouldn’t that necessitate an apostrophe in the name; making it Starbuck’s Coffee? But, who am I kidding? I’m sure there’s no snooty Starbucks coffee-snob patron that would ever argue over something as silly as grammar…