Coffee Bilingualism

Coffee Bilingualism

by Donald Baillargeon

It is said that coffee dates back more than one thousand years, the
first plants apparently having come from the Horn of Africa on the
shores of the Red Sea. Interestingly, it was considered a food, not a beverage back then, the coffee cherries ground and mixed together with animal fat.
Rolled into little balls, the mixture was an energy boost for warriors in battle.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coffee is enjoying
a renaissance in the 21st century as a stop by the coffee shop on the
to work prepares the warrior in us for the upcoming day’s battles.

The comedian Jackie Mason is appearing in a one-man show in New York’s
Broadway District, during which he pontificates on coffee’s surging
popularity. “You can go to a coffee shop, get a good cup of coffee for
fifty cents”, he muses. “But then you can go to Starbucks and get a cup
burnt coffee for 3 bucks. That’s a good deal?”

On the first day a new coffee establishment opens, there are instantly
25 people sitting on its patio, sipping coffee and reading. I always
where these people were drinking their coffee yesterday; were they just
aimlessly wandering the sidewalks, seeking their java jolt?

Buying a cup of coffee has become increasingly more complicated as the
availability of choices abound. I know it is just a matter of time
before I
meet someone who introduces themselves as a coffee sommelier at the
local java joint. I received some Spam email last week offering me the
opportunity to acquire a distinctive Sumatra coffee from Indonesia which
had been aged for five years. Aged? Five years? I am sure I have some
Gevalia vacuum packed hazelnut in the pantry at least that old, but it
did come with a free coffeemaker.

I endured one of my most embarrassing moments in a Starbucks a few weeks
ago. Out and about on a Sunday morning, I called my wife and asked
if she wanted me to pick her up a coffee as I was stopping off to get
one myself. “Yes, please get me a Tall, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato”, she

replied, to which I simply said, “A what?” She repeated her order into
the phone and I spent the five minute drive repeating it to myself, over
over. Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato, Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato,
Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato. I was ready.

You walk into a Starbucks on a Sunday morning and you instantly realize
that no matter what career path you have chosen, it was the wrong one,
because you are standing in line with 20 other people offering to pay
two to four dollars for coffees with exotic names like what my wife
asked for,
a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macadamia. As your internal abacus slides back
and forth, calculating revenues versus costs equals earnings, the
process is compounded by the fact that the line behind you has become
longer as you approach the counter.

It is then I became nervous, because I was now hearing people order
exotic coffee drinks like Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino or a Vente Non-Fat
Mocha Chip. Nonetheless, I was confident, self-assured and able to
deliver on my promise to bring home a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Michelin.

Starbucks employees are the most cheerful and effervescent people on the
planet, fringe benefits must include free sampling of the product. “Hi,
how are you today, what can I get for you this morning?’, cheerfully
said through a huge smile with amazingly white teeth with no evident
stains of
coffee. No matter. I was having a black coffee for myself and a Tall Non
Fat Caramel Mozzarella for my wife.

My order was easy. “One large black coffee and a…”. I could almost
hear the sounds of screeching tires as I was cut off in mid sentence.
Vente or Grande….Verona, Gazebo or LightNote?’, asked The Smile. My
lip quivered, I stammered. “Ummm, your largest size….black…please?”
thought sure the “please” would be the universal diplomatic approach,
but The Smile’s smile soon disappeared as I was given a hasty education
small was Tall, and large was Grande, Verona was bold and LightNote was
Decaf. I wanted to be at McDonald’s where coffee was coffee. The line
behind me was getting uneasy.

“Anything else?”, asked the former smile. I threw back my shoulders and
said in a large voice, “Yes, a Tall Non Fat Caramel Machiavelli!”

There was a stunned silence in the room, followed by muffled laughter in
the line. The Smile was smiling again, but this time from amusement
rather than customer service. “Do you perhaps mean a Tall Non-Fat
Caramel Macchiato?”

I had held the power walking into the shop and was losing my grasp as I
stood there dumfounded. Machiavelli had said the only skill that counts
getting and maintaining power and knowing exactly what to say for every

“I am so sorry”, I said to the smile and the growing line behind me.
“But I am not yet Coffee Bilingual!” Everyone laughed. Someone in the
repeated what I had just said and everyone laughed again. They were all
having a wonderful time.

The smiles and the smirks continued as I collected my coffees and made
my way out of the door. About halfway home in the car, it dawned upon
me that I was never charged for my coffees, I had made it out of there
without paying. Maybe it was the confusion, perhaps The Smile took pity

I like to think it was my subconcious Machiavellian recapturing of


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