August 13, 2012

A Canuck in Kantuck: The foreign world of the coffee shop

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — My husband sat down in the car the other day after getting out of a coffee shop in South Dakota and shook his head.

“What is it,” I asked, noting he was holding onto the steering wheel particularly hard.

“The girl just asked me if I wanted my coffee hot,” he said. “I don’t know what the world is coming to.”

I laughed and filed the anecdote away in a growing mental folder entitled “Husband vs. Fancy Coffee.” It’s one that has been growing for years, in no small part because my husband is an avid coffee drinker and so has spent plenty of time waiting in line at little gourmet shops that roast their own beans.

My husband William is, without a doubt, a coffee purist. If it’s available, he gets espresso. If not, he gets it straight — no sugar, no cream or, as he likes to say, “hot and black, just like I like my women.”

But while he likes his coffee this way, plenty of other people do not and, because he has, perhaps, the worst luck in the world, he gets caught behind huge clots of these people in line.

According to my husband, plenty of these people are of the female variety and like to drink their coffee a very specific way. Often, he says, they’re wearing a loud combination of animal prints that in the wild would never survive — zebra mixed with cheetah, say. They are firmly in their 40s and 50s and have the remnants of Kate Gosselin’s bad haircut. Most importantly, without fail, they have plenty of time on their hands.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, pushing his deep voice into a cracking falsetto: “I’ll have a half caf, skinny caf iced with whipped cream, a shot of hazelnut syrup and a package of Sweet ‘n Low.”

I’ll look at him laughing, hoping he won’t talk in falsetto for much longer. Luckily he doesn’t and concludes: “By the time they’re done, their coffees have 1,000 calories. I don’t think that pack of fake sugar is going to help.”

Still, while he gustily likes to complain about all the ways an iced mochachino “is a dessert, not coffee,” I’ve noticed he never fails to make the trip to the coffee shop alone. When he runs out of beans at the house, I’ll often ask him if he wants me to pick some up for him while I’m out running errands. But he’ll slyly deflect the question or offhandedly say he’ll stop by on his way to work.

I, of course, know all of this has to do with the cute, college-girl baristas who run the coffee shop show. Knowing my husband well, I can imagine him pouring on the charm as they just as deftly pour his coffee. He is probably very polite and cracks a few, well-timed jokes, appreciates their tightly-tied aprons and is on his way. Given that we’ve been together forever and he’s dealing with a wife high on Clomid-induced hormones, who am I to interfere with this exchange? The poor guy has got to have something.

Though I’m rarely stuck behind the Fancy Drinks Crowd, on the rare occasion I pick up the beans for him, I’m usually shocked by how long it takes. Given that I fulfill this duty about once a year, I generally have no idea which beans to choose, so the barista has to come from behind the counter to help me. Generally, it takes her about five seconds to identify me as a Non Coffee Drinker, which in the world of the coffee shop marks with a giant L on my forehead. After she faux-patiently picks out the Ethiopian variety, then grinds it, then packs it, then swipes my card, a solid 10 minutes have passed. Probably because there is no prize at the end of this race for me, i.e. a cup of Joe, I find it dull and lengthy. So I just stare at the pastries in the front counter, which are usually drizzled in a delectable white icing, and toy with the idea of buying one, which I manage to never do.

I suppose if I actually drank coffee, it would be different. But caffeine, unfortunately, gets me so high it makes me want to yip like a very small dog barking at the mailman. It also makes me wake up at 1 in the morning and I stay that way, stiff, uncomfortable and unblinking, for the next five hours. Needless to say, I avoid it.

So I’ll continue to live the coffee shop experience through my husband and wait for the rare times he gets back in the car with a little blush and a chuckle. “They have a sign in there saying, ‘Unattended children will be given espresso and a puppy.’ That’s rich.”

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