Cup of Coffee, Please?

There is an old saying that says: the more things change, the more they stay the same. I am a lover of old wisdom, but I disagree with that one. Lately, the more things change, the more they change. Little things we take for granted become hurdles to be conquered. Take the simple pleasure of coffee, for one.

I love to start my morning with a cup or two. I get up, make myself presentable, make my bed, and turn on my Keurig for a delicious cup of plain, Green Mountain coffee. Keurig has become so popular that even the old, favorite Bustelo brand my mother brewed throughout my childhood years, is now offered in little Keurig tubs.

I consider myself quite progressive in my use of my Keurig. My mother used to make coffee using the old-fashioned, low-tech “colador” or strainer that was made of cloth. She’d boil a few spoonfuls of coffee grounds in a small pot of water, and she’d strain it in a cloth colander. The result was the most delicious, simple, black coffee you will ever taste.

Of course, that was years ago. She never accepted the automatic coffee makers; she made coffee the old-fashioned way to the day she died. I, being brought up to the American way, quickly adapted, and my cup of black coffee with a teaspoon of sugar became a lifetime habit.

On most mornings, you will find me sitting in my open terrace with my simple cup of coffee and my morning novel. Every few minutes I look up from my book to sip my coffee and take in the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. I enjoy my hour of reading and coffee before tackling my writing and social networking. The exception is when I have an early appointment in the city.

Last week I had to rise early and drive to the nearest big town which is about an hour away. About eleven o’clock, I was feeling hungry and irritated because I needed my coffee. I walked into a brand-new Chili’s and, as soon as I was seated, I asked for a cup of coffee. The young, cheerful waitress asked if I wanted a regular cup or the small cup. Of course, I asked for the regular.

Soon, I had in front of me a large mug full of the aromatic black stuff. I noticed that it had foam on top. On tasting it, I found that she’d brought me a mug (10 ounces at least) of thick, black Espresso!  Now, if you know coffee, you know that Espresso is imbibed in tiny cups, and there is a reason why. It is a “concentrated” brew so heavy in caffeine that a full cup of it will put you through the roof!

Back in Miami, my Cuban friends would drink it after dinner, and it served to stave off the somnolent state that often follows a heavy meal. At work, we drank it in tiny paper cups when our energies were floundering, usually at two or three in the afternoon. At no time is it advisable to down ten ounces of thick Espresso, unless of course, you’re hoping to stay awake for twenty four hours straight. I called back the waitress, and the conversation went like this:

    “There has been a mistake. I ordered regular coffee.” 

    “That is a regular coffee. You asked for the regular cup.” She smiled politely.
    “No, this is Espresso. I want regular coffee. You know, the one brewed in a drip coffee maker. It is regular American coffee, thinner. A cup of this will kill me.”
    “That is American coffee. We brewed it here.” The girl was looking confused.
    “No. I am not making myself clear.” At this point, I’d love to conjure dear Flo, of Mel’s Diner. She’d know what I mean. “Do you know what Espresso is? It’s meant to be drunk in tiny cups because it’s super thick and concentrated.”
    “Yes, but you said you wanted the big cup!” She looked at me with growing frustration.
    “Yes, the big cup of regular coffee!”
    “But I pushed the regular button on the machine,” she insisted.
    “You mean the Espresso machine?”
    “We only have one machine. The coffee machine.” She looked frustrated and pitiful. I felt sorry for her. I gave up. I took two sips of the thick brew and left it.
Yesterday, I had to visit Home Depot, another drive to the next biggest town. Afterwards, I pulled into Applebee’s for an early lunch. This time, the conversation went like this: 

    “Do you have regular coffee? Not Espresso. I want regular Folgers or Maxwell House made for drinking by the cup.”
    “I don’t know,” said the young man. “I’ll have to ask. I am new here.” He smiled nervously and went off to ask. A few minutes later he returned.
    “Yes, we do.”
    “I’ll have a cup. Bring it right away. I’ll need a few minutes to look at the menu.” Five minutes later, the cup of coffee sits in front of me. Imagine my frustration when it turns out to be, you guessed it, Espresso! I recalled my young waiter.
    “This is not regular coffee. This is Espresso! It is not what I ordered.”
    “I’m sorry. I will take it back and get you the right thing.” He seemed flustered and nervous, but eager to get it right. He was back quickly with another cup of coffee.  I did not have to taste it to see that it was the same.
    “I am not trying to be difficult. I understand that you have a tough job and many customers are rude and demanding. But honestly, don’t you know what regular coffee is?”
    “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t drink coffee.”
    “Ok,” I tried to explain. “You should have two different coffee makers. One to make Espresso coffee, this one. You should also have one that makes regular coffee.”
    “No, ma’am. We have one machine. We push one button for the small cup, and the regular button for the regular cup.” He smiled at me condescendingly, as if explaining to a child.  I smiled back and refused the coffee.

I understand we are in the age of Starbucks where dozens of coffee concoctions that have little to do with real coffee are the craze. When even McDonald’s puts up the McCafé, you know a trend has turned mainstream. But is the simple, regular cup of coffee disappearing?

Obviously, selling a simple cup under $2.00 is not as lucrative as selling the $5.00 cup of Espresso or the $8.00 cup of Cappuccino. Or is the answer as simple as the young waitress or waiter not knowing where the regular coffee is? I am baffled. At least McDonald’s still has regular coffee, but I fear it will not be for long.

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