There is a poster on the bulletin board in the Starbucks I went to this morning. It said that that location was celebrating having been there for 20 years. That seemed impossible to me. That means that the whole coffee-mania phenomenon, that arguably started with Starbucks, has been on the go for at least the last 20 years.

I know I’m getting old. I remember when that Starbucks opened. I remember those first, self-conscious forays into ordering the hip new coffee drinks that have now become so very ordinary. I had a job making espressos and cappuccinos and the like before Starbucks swept into town. It was at a little bakery in the Italian part of down-town Vancouver, while I was in University. I enjoyed learning the subtle differences between the drinks. I was patiently taught how to control the temperamental and enormous brass machine – frothing milk to the exact temperature, making sure the espresso streamed out in perfect mouse tails. But the Starbucks’ experience was different, and we all know how quickly it became part of our culture.

I am not a hard-core coffee drinker. I enjoy it, but I don’t need it. So, even though, over these 20 years, I have spent what must amount by now to the cost of a month long five star Bora Bora vacation on mochas and lattes, I haven’t yet become completely inured to the whole coffee ordering process. I am still amused by the things people ask for.

I have recently started counting the words in people’s orders. This morning, I believe, I may have heard the all-time winner.

I have a few friends that do not drink coffee. When I occasionally have asked one of them to pick me up a coffee on their way over, I have endured the teasing about my own 5 word order: grande non-fat mocha no whip. I concede, it can all look a bit silly. Everyone is so intense and serious about their particular requirements.

I love the guy that rolls his eyes and sighs audibly through the whole line up, gets to the front and says: “coffee”. (1 word order.) He is, of course, grilled about the size, the roast, and who knows what else. He says “medium”. He takes his cup, pays the three bucks, and walks out muttering about how stupid that whole thing was. But he’ll probably be back tomorrow.

Then there is the woman that stares at the menu board as though she has never before witnessed such inscrutable hieroglyphics. We all know it’s crazy that ‘Tall” is small by now. Do we really have to go over it again? “Small Latte”, she finally says: 2 word order.

Next up, yoga pant clad mommies, usually in pairs, pushing incredibly expensive strollers. They, somewhat breathless from their power walk over, order grande non-fat sugar-free vanilla lattes: 5 or 6 word orders, depending on your hyphenating preferences.

But it is the power-orderer that I am fascinated with. I could watch them all day. They step up to the counter, all business, and bark out the most intense and serious strings of words that translate into their own personal brew.

Tall soy sugar-free caramel macciatto no foam: 7 word order.

Venti two-percent latte half-caff no foam child’s temperature: 8 word order.

Grande mocha extra shot extra whip no drizzle extra hot: 10 word order.

The combinations are endless, of course. And I get it. The coffee culture has enabled us – encouraged us – to take this one opportunity to get exactly what we want. We can’t order the rest of our lives this specifically, but we can damn well get our coffee just how we like it. I still think it’s hilarious.

The order I heard this morning? The so-far winner and mother lode of coffee orders?

Grande low-fat half-caff no water no foam extra hot 180 degree one pump sugar-free vanilla extra cup latte: 18 word order.




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