Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Texan and the Coffee Machine

I walk into the kitchen and a Texan client, in the office for a three day meeting, is staring at the coffee machine.

By the time I’ve filled up my glass with water, I notice he’s still standing there regarding the machine with what can only be described as absolute bafflement in his eyes. He seems to be having difficulty making a choice, and he hovers with his coffee cup reading the labels next to the frankly extensive choice of buttons. Including, but not limited to:

  • Hot chocolate
  • Cappuccino
  • Expresso

For a second, one finger is raised within touching distance of one particular button, then pulled away. There is clearly some inner turmoil going on here. Glass duly replenished with water, I turn and, by way of friendly acknowledgement (had we both been Brits there would have been awkward small talk by now), smile as I go to walk back past him to my desk. But hark! He speaks.

“What is…white coffee?” he asks me, the only non-coffee drinker in London, pronouncing the last two words as if they’re written in Japanese.

I pause for a beat. In that time, I think about what should be a fairly simple question, as if I’ve been questioned on something I’ve always known is fact, but then start doubting myself. What is white coffee? Is it what I think white coffee is? It seems obvious, but having only ever drunk coffee three times, two of them being expressos, how can I really be sure?

( At this point, a scene flashed before my eyes. I remembered having an argument with the Suffolk-born ex about whether the road leading up to Buckingham Palace was The Mall (as I knew it was) or The Mile (which he said it was). I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was The Mall. “I’ve lived here all my life” I said, “It’s THE MALL”. I didn’t know why I knew, I just did. In return, he made a valid argument “No, it’s The Mile. Because it’s a mile long and there’s definitely somewhere in London called The Mile”. Without the internet close to hand, the battle had raged for hours; and towards the end I’d actually started to doubt myself. Was I sure? Was it definitely The Mall? The Mile would make more sense. Of course, I was right. And told him so repeatedly: to his face, by text, and on my blog. Even when I saw him the other day it came up in conversation as we walked down Pall Mall Road. "Remember Mile vs Mall...?")

And now here I was 2 years later, in the office kitchen being asked what white coffee was. I thought I knew: what else could it be? Of course it was. I bit the bullet.

“It’s coffee with milk in it”
“Oh. Wow. That’s a new one.” He said, all surprised n that.

But not a choice that appeals to the Texas folk, I noted, as he selected “Black coffee” instead.

I may doubt myself sometimes, but White Coffee is coffee with milk in it. Fact. No lie. True story.

(Isn't it?)


Zstep said...

I've lived in Texas for 15 years and I've never heard of white coffee either. Everyone here I know calls it a latte as Americans as a whole have been Starbuckified.

James said...

Of course, the really confusing thing is white tea.

Americans often ask me what kind of tea I like. It takes longer than it should do to explain that I like both black tea (but with milk in) and also white tea (e.g. silver needle).

What annoys me is when people say they're tea-drinkers too, and it turns out they mean herbal tea.

It's not tea.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Zstep - An intriguing nugget of info, I've never really thought about America not really calling white coffee, white coffee. Although strangely, I think there's a latte option on the machine. Now I'm confused. What's a latte?

James - I recently discovered white tea, not drunk it, just found out it existed. I favour peppermint myself. How should I refer to myself? A peppermint flavoured hot water drinker?

Zstep said...

I always thought a latte was coffee with a healthy dose of milk or cream added in so it takes on a very pale tan color. I'm not really a coffee guy either so am hardly an expert however.

James said...

I think peppermint-flavoured hot water would be about right.

Coffee-drinkers would be horrified if we picked a random bean (say, kidney beans), roasted it, ground it up, mixed it with water and called it coffee. That's how I feel about herbal tea.

White tea, incidentally, is awesome. (That officially became fact when I learned that Johnny Marr and Gary Jarman regularly drink white tea, hanging out in Portland.)

Blonde said...

White coffee: black coffee (ie, americano / filter coffee) with milk.

Latte: Longer; double shot of espresso, topped up with hot milk.

I think.

Ellie said...

I miss my coffee!

I HATE white tea (sorry James) -- as opposed to tea with milk in it. At least the kind I have seems to leave a very weird tart after-taste.

Don't forget the machiato ('stained') ... and espresso with a splash of milk.

Anonymous said...

Coffee should only be drunk black, hence his confusion!!! :D

Huw said...

Woah, now I'm really confused. White tea?

The Mile is in Edinburgh. I know that much.

Lynx said...

White coffee comes from medieval times, when coffee was simple. You took the (full fat) milk out of the fridge and added a dash (or more) to the otherwise standard black coffee. If you were bourgeois you used cream instead of milk.
Black coffee was also simplicity itself, requiring just boiling water and a teaspoon of freeze-dried coffee granules (preferably Nescafe Gold Blend - as advertised by Giles from Buffy). Oh, and sugar, lots of sugar!

I'm sure you know this, but I feel I have to enlighten our colonial cousins. As to why the septics don't understand it, could this be a generational thing there? The result of the rampant PC that is emasculating American English? (And proper English come to that!) I can't quite imagine John Wayne or Clint Eastwood asking for a decaf low-fat skinny latte with extra foam!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Zstep - All I know is that my mum hates lattes. I tried to buy her one once, she appreciated the gesture but was not impressed. Starbucks n everything it was.

James - I will endeavour to try White Tea by the end of the week. And I now have horrible visions of Starbucks creating a Kidney Bean Coffee. Bleauurrgh.

Blonde - Ah, the voice of experience. If PR doesn't work out, Nero is a'callin ;)

Ellie - Expresso with a splash of milk? I thought the whole reason you had Expresso was because you were hardcore and could handle the real stuff? Or at least that's what someone told me.

Perp - Aha! The Coffee Police have arrived...put down your milk!

Huw - I'm with you. I never knew such a thing existed. That's white tea as in White Tea, not White tea as in tea with milk. Confused. Yes, I am. And Edinburgh? Great news, he's even more wrong than I first thought. I feel an email coming on. (joking. I won't contact the ex. Promise)

Lynx - But kind sir, I was informed at the weekend while my friends made coffee and I watched wrinkling my nose, that you should leave the water for a few minutes after boiling, because if you put boiling water straight into coffee it burns the granules. Fact? Fiction? Please advise.

Homer said...

All these distinctions are irrelevant to people who have realised that coffee is but the spittle of Satan. How can anything smell so good and taste so vile?

Lynx said...

As I am the fount of all instant coffee knowledge, I will answer your plea.

There is a chance that boiling water would burn the coffee. The optimal temperature for the water is actually 96 degrees, so I would say you only need to wait a few seconds after the kettle has boiled. Mind you, if your friends are that bothered about the taste they should buy a decent filter / espresso machine! :-)

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Homer - Fully with you on that one. Love the smell, hate the taste.

Lynx - Well, you don't tell me that, our house is fully eqipped with a coffee machine thing - not that I ever use it. A Tassimo jobby. But 96 degrees, I shall spread the word!

Time Traveller said...

I'm confused :(

Isn't it something to do with the French? Cafe au Lait?


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