Let Inga Tell You: I’m mastering CSL — Coffee as a Second Language

Let Inga Tell You. Look for La Jolla resident Inga's lighthearted looks at life every other week in The La Jolla Light.

This year I’ve made it my goal to master CSL – Coffee as a Second Language.

I don’t have to tell you what a social disadvantage it has been to live in a place with so many good coffee houses and not speak Coffee.

Of course, the main reason I haven’t learned it is that I don’t drink coffee. I love the taste and aroma, but the family caffeine sensitivity has my hands shaking before I’ve taken a second sip. However, as I am often reminded, you can get decaf versions of pretty much everything on the menu. Although a triple shot espresso decaf would probably defeat the purpose.

While I certainly agree with my friends that coffee houses are an ideal place to meet, I’ve never frequented them enough to really master spoken Coffee. That’s because the menu scares the daylights out of me. The French may not be very tolerant of people who massacre their language, but they sound like Barney the Happy Dinosaur compared to coffee drinkers stuck in line behind someone who does not speak Coffee. The caffeine fiends are 10 minutes past needing a fix, the tremors have set in, and anyone who holds them up is in critical danger of being fed into the bean grinder.

Photo: Juan Manuel Parra

Would that I was kidding.

Attempting to avoid becoming a new instant coffee drink if the clientele behind me seems unusually hostile, I tend to smile brightly at the barista and chirp, “I’ll have what that person just had in a decaf.”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t keep them from asking you more questions. Lots more questions. The milk options alone are terrifying. In fact, I think that if you factored all the possible combinations and permutations of coffee drinks, the number would be in the bazillions.

But the problem with spoken Coffee is that it is a language with an unbelievable number of dialects. For example, there’s the Frappuccino-Macchiato dialect from the Sucrose region of Italy. Only serious linguists and/or pre-diabetics really understand it.

And just when Coffee was already an incredibly complicated language, they’ve thrown in Fair Trade, i.e. that the farmers who grew the beans were paid a fair price for them. Was I born yesterday? I’m sure there are standards for this but the cynic in me still wants to see sworn testimonials from the farmers. Better yet, can I call them in person?

And of course, we now have the option of “organic.” I kind of hate it when they bring up that word because it immediately raises the specter of what’s in the non-organic. Should we be thinking egg farms in Iowa?  One thing is clear: if it’s fair-traded and organic, we’re going to pay more for it. So I’d just like to know for sure those South American coffee farmers have 401ks and I’m not drinking chicken doots.

But just when you think you’ve miraculously gotten out of the ordering process alive, you discover that when your drink is ready, they sometimes don’t call you by name, but by what you ordered. The shorthand name of what you ordered.

I have no idea what I ordered. I just hope it really IS decaf. And preferably has whipped cream on it. I have let my coffee order get stone cold for fear of taking someone else’s drink by mistake. Because if you think coffee drinkers are cranky being in line behind a non-Coffee speaker, don’t even think what would happen if you accidentally took their vente grande small cap no foam dolce.

My friend Amy’s mother, Toni, has been lobbying her local Starbucks to introduce a new drink, the mocha valium vodka latte. Now this is a drink I could get my head around. I wouldn’t even need this drink in a decaf. A nice simultaneous upper and downer, it just falls off your tongue when you say it. Of course, you might fall on your head after you drink it. But it has the added advantage that within minutes, you don’t care if you speak Coffee or not.

*** Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life every other week in The La Jolla Light.

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Posted by Susan DeMaggio on Oct 21, 2010. Filed under Columns, Let Inga Tell You, Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Let Inga Tell You: I’m mastering CSL — Coffee as a Second Language”

  1. Liz Fraser

    Hi Phil/Inga,

    I hope you won't feel "haunted" by my responses. I love your "coffee as a second language" article as a "platform" for delving into many more "coffee" topics. It really IS a gold mine for discussion :)
    Up here in Ontario, there is a subtle "coffee turf war" going on amongst our favourite fast food places such as Starbucks (which has more and more "ca-ching" significance plaza by plaza as new ones literally mushroom out in our booming area), Williams, Second Cup, Timothy's, and then on a more "everyman level", we have Tim Horton's, McDonald's, Coffee Time, etc., little specialty restaurants all over, and finally, not to be left out, all of our "middle of the road franchises such as Swiss Chalet, The Keg, Kelsey's and more all want to be known for delivering either the most coffee, best coffee, cheapest coffee, most gourmet coffee and any combo of the above.
    A second even neater topic is, "who owns the space of your average, favourite coffee place, on a given day, time of day, location, etc.!! That one is amazing for studying our Tim Horton's vs MacDonald's which has tried on all fronts to reclaim "its" Boomer audience! Example: a favourite Tim"s, located on a major highway near a town of ~15,000. If you go before, during or after "early kids' sports work-out practices, say 6am to 9am, they're all there in droves! The garage sale group is there, too. Then until lunch time, it's a "seniors' hangout with travelers like me. Lunchtime-it's a "zoo"-everyone's there! Afternoon is pretty random-occasionally interesting, like when I met a Mohawk parolee and his parole officer when the 50-something man wanted to compliment me on my Indian "boche", a neat Zuni broach from New Mexico that Peter gave me. That turned into a surprising and very touching discussion on many Indian topics-I couldn't just walk away-it was too "real" and called out for a "humane" response! Dinner time-I've never been, but After dinner is wonderfully amazing again-esp. with all of the youth who drop in, hang out and also the youth who work the shifts!


    Liz on Line in Kitchener :)

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