Monday, April 5, 2010


A vital part of every morning routine – unless you prefer tea. If you're one of 'those' people who don't drink hot beverages at all.... you have my sympathies.

Remember when coffee was cheap? Wasn't that great? It was about $5 for one of those mega-enormous-you'll-be-up-all-night cups, and $2-something for a little cup of one-shot. Nowadays it costs around $5 for a SMALL coffee! This is, however, the part where I get to be happy about a uni student – coffee on my campus is wonderfully cheap. Cost aside, buying coffee in 2010 is so much of a risk, it just about qualifies for insurance.

There's the Line Factor: how many people are waiting to order? How many people waiting for their coffee to be made? There's a nifty method that involves adding these two numbers, divided by the number of staff on the till and coffee machine, which has to be multiplied by a factor of three when that woman in the funny hat pays with two handfuls of loose change, which allows you to estimate the number of minutes you'll be waiting, but who actually wants to do maths before they've had coffee? (Crazy people and engineers, that's who.)

Then there's the Oops Factor, depending on how complicated your order is (and how busy the barista is). 'Large flat white' doesn't usually cause any problems, unless the cafe is out of milk or something wacky like that. 'Not-too-hot half-pump caramel quarter-pump vanilla foamy latte with skim'? Good luck with that! Do you know how many coffees the average barista turns out in a day? Trust me when I say 'a lot'. If your chosen cafe does iced coffees, milkshakes or frappes, those recipes are taking up room in the poor staffs' brains as well.

Tied in with the Opps Factor is the Yeuch Factor. Coffee making is most assuredly an Art. Getting it perfect every time in an atmosphere as hurried, noisy, hot and messy as the area around a coffee machine is (speaking from experience here) is quite complicated. A great cup of coffee depends on such factors as:
  • Bean origin
  • Age of the beans
  • How long the beans were roasted for
  • How long ago the beans were ground
  • How finely the beans were ground
  • Length of drip time
  • Cleanliness of the coffee machine
  • Water temperature in the machine
  • Length of time the coffee shot is sitting
  • Milk temperature
  • Milk steaming technique
  • Additive quantity and quality (whether you use sugar, syrup or sweetener)
So in all fairness to baristas, turning out a bad cuppa isn't always totally their fault. There are many factors involved in making coffee that are simply out of their control. That being said, it really sucks to be let down by that long-anticipated first sip.

The Ow Factor: those flimsy paper cups only have to last for a single usage, then they go straight into the bin (hopefully the recycling bin). If your milk has been accidentally over-steamed and is too hot, it's not so pleasant for your fingers. Solution? Be wimpy and ask for 'not-too-hot' coffee, or get a reusable thermos. Coffee thermoses or flasks come in a variety of shapes, materials and colors. The most common travel mugs are usually made of a mixture of stainless steel or plastic and have a handy handle and has a lid which swivels closed when you aren't drinking, to prevent from spilling your coffee. If you're not keen on the idea of lugging said thermos around with you all day, you could opt for a coffee cosy (or 'cozy' is the American spelling). These are little knitted, felt or silicone sleeves that sit around your coffee cup, keeping the heat in the beverage and off your fingers. You can find them online, anywhere from $2-20 in price, in plain colors or with cutesy designs like bunnies, unicorns, or not-so-cute designs like Mario's face. Not that I don't think Mario's cute, he's just not quite as cute as bunnies.

The Fair Trade Factor: many industries source labor and parts from poorer overseas locations to get a better profit margin. This is all well and good(ish) until said companies actively start exploiting people because they're greedy. Coffee is a product which has, thankfully, delved head-first into the betterment of its practises, when it comes to its sourcing and production. The Fair Trade Coffee program focuses on giving fair pay and suitable working conditions to the often 3rd world countries which grow, harvest and roast their coffee beans.

Fair Trade Australia-NZ directory can be found here.

Until next we meet,

1 comment:

  1. I'm a tea person rather than a coffee person ... but also generally a cheap one (I can't help thinking "I could buy a whole box of 20 teabags for the price of one cup of tea here"), so I'll admit that drinks-to-go aren't usually part of my routine, although having a drink in a cafe sometimes is (usually as a good place to hang out ... at which point my mind switches from thinking "for £2 I could buy a box of tea" to thinking "£2 for hanging out on these sofas for an hour or so isn't bad").

    I've always been kind of intimidated by the different number of options somewhere like Starbucks, though. Maybe it's because I don't know anybody who would walk in and order something complicated - so the only times I come across a 'strange and complicated' order (e.g. anything more complex than "a cappucino, please") are in films or on TV where the person in question is being obnoxiously difficult. Maybe I should try it sometime.

    Also: knitted coffee sleeves are really cute. Although I imagine the silicon ones actually work better.


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