Five Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Coffee Shop

Flickr user seguin_maxim

Coffee, the staff of life; coffee, the fuel of the American economic engine; coffee, the liquid that went from being a cup of brown water sold for a quarter anywhere to being a tarted-up, high-test dose of caffeine sold from fancy, purpose-built shops at prices eight times that of gasoline.

I have a love-hate relationship with coffee shops. They provide me with the drug of my choice, but they're also wildly inconsistent. New coffee shops open up every day, with people who make common errors that move their life's dream firmly into the "meh" category.

5. Refuse to serve dairy.
No half-and-half? Of course, I wanted my coffee to taste like hot, gross pumpkin pie anyway.
Some coffeeshops refuse to allow their coffee to be adulterated with things squirted out of a cow's nips. Some coffee shops don't want the expense of providing things such as half-and-half or milk. And some coffeehouses are just run by people with wooden palates who think non-dairy creamer--made of such savory ingredients as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and high-fructose corn syrup--is indistinguishable from real dairy. Riiiiight.

4. Have major attitude--deservedly or not.
Flickr user EvanHamilton
Coffee doesn't taste good when it's been turned bitter by some holier-than-thou pedant behind the counter. This doesn't mean good coffee can't be a learning experience--the folks at Portola Coffee aren't stuck-up, yet their customers get lessons just by ordering. The eye rolls from baristas--seen at "third wave" or common coffee chains--ruin a cup of coffee faster than any other means.

3. Have bad coffee.

Jean-Paul, the famously cantankerous (the French would say grincheux) proprietor of Jean-Paul's Goodies in Laguna Beach, is famous for his dismissal of Starbucks. "I make Starbucks every morning when I go to the toilet," he sneers. He's not far off--Starbucks burns its beans and specializes in coffee so bitter it takes three packets of sugar in a 16-ounce cup to make it palatable. They're not alone: Americans seem to have been taught to think coffee isn't coffee unless it can be used as paint solvent.

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