He wants his coffee straight, mate -- and that means no flavors and no foam

November 30, 1995|By KEVIN COWHERD

THE WAITRESS was in her early 20s, with a pinched face and an attitude that suggested she was the logical successor to Meryl Streep in terms of pure talent, but for now had to keep this crummy job waiting on tables.

When she finally sauntered over to take my order, I said: "Cup of coffee, please."

"Hazelnut, amaretto, French vanilla . . ." she began.

"Just a regular coffee," I said.

". . . Swiss mocha, Dutch chocolate, butter rum . . ."

"No, a regular coffee," I said.

". . . Macadamia nut, maple walnut, Irish cream . . ."

At this point, it became clear that someone had to smack this woman, or else she'd go on all day naming the various exotic coffees sold in the joint.

But she looked like the sort of woman who might smack you back, so I decided to try the peaceful approach one more time.

"Look," I said, "I don't want any of those coffees you named, OK? I don't want apple coffee, I don't want pizza coffee, I don't want salmon coffee.

"I JUST WANT A REGULAR$%& CUP OF COFFEE, OK?!"

She looked at me the way your dog would if he just got bopped with a newspaper for no reason.

"What's your problem?" she said before stomping away.

I'll tell you what my problem is, hon.

My problem is, I'm tired of walking into places with goofy names like the Coffee House, The Coffee Barn, the Coffee Palace, Just Java, Greta's Gourmet Grinds, Lots o' Brews, Hill o' Beans, etc., and trying to order a regular, old-fashioned cup of coffee.

By this I mean a cup of coffee made from beans hand-picked by sweaty, underpaid Colombian laborers which has not been flavored with Bavarian chocolate, Grand Marnier, Viennese cinnamon, and so on.

That's the kind of coffee we're talking about here.

Is that too much to ask for?

Apparently it is. Because when you walk into some of these rTC places and order a regular coffee, they look at you like you just ordered a cup of roofing nails.

The hottest thing in the gourmet coffee biz are these places that specialize in latte, cappuccino, espresso, etc.

At the risk of sounding like I just dropped off the turnip truck, the appeal of this stuff mystifies me.

To me, a cup of latte or cappuccino is a cup of dishwater with a layer of detergent floating on top.

But I know people who talk about cappuccino like it's some kind of religious experience.

"Oh, I had the most wonderful cappuccino last night!" they'll say, eyes glistening, cheeks flushed, breath coming in quick, short bursts at the memory.

And, meanwhile I'm thinking: Geez, if you get this excited about coffee, they must have to shoot you full of Thorazine when you have a beer.

(It reminds me of those commercials with James Earl Jones where he gushes on and on about the genuine C&P Yellow Pages.

(Every time I listen to this guy, I think: How can anyone get this worked up about a phone book?)

Espresso is a little different. I actually like espresso, except that every time I drink a cup, I want to drop to the floor and knock off 200 push-ups.

Then I want to vacuum the entire house, clean all the windows, lube the car and slap a redwood deck together before lunchtime. Yeah, I tend to get a little wired from espresso.

Anyway, this is how retro I am about this whole coffee issue.

My idea of heaven is your basic greasy-spoon on the side of the highway, where you order a cup of joe to go and nobody says: "The raspberry coffee or the rum-raisin coffee?"

The coffee comes in a good, old-fashioned Styrofoam cup, the kind that can't be reduced or recycled and will be found atop some foul-smelling landfill 200 years from now.

Then you pay for your coffee at the cash register, which is manned by some fat, grouchy guy of indeterminate Middle Eastern descent.

He has the first four buttons of his silk shirt open, displaying acres of unsightly chest hair and a huge gold chain around his neck. And as he takes your money, he's screaming at one of the waitresses to clean up Table 4, where there's a ketchup spill the size of Lake Superior.

Best of all, as you walk out the door, the guy at the register doesn't chirp: "Enjoy your coffee and please come again!"

This is what made America great at one time.

It's not too late to return to it.

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