Select Page

The other day while walking around DC with a friend who we all know as Mr. T, which is made somewhat hilarious by his mostly gentle demeanor and slim physique, we decided to go check out a local cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up. We walked into Chinatown Coffee in (you guessed it) Chinatown whereupon I made the hideous and unforgiveable request for a coffee the way I like it.

My coffee of choice is cold, and it is strong. I like a doubleshot of espresso with some water and lots of ice. I used to order this as an iced americano, but too much of the time this comes only lukewarm, not cold, and too heavily diluted with water. So I took to ordering it as a double espresso over ice, figuring I could always ask them to top it up with a little water or more ice if the drink looked too concentrated.

Imagine my surprise when I was schooled on the finer points of coffee by the barista, who insisted that an iced espresso has been proven to taste bad, and then on proper coffeehouse etiquette, by telling me that 90-95% of the people who order an iced espresso then make themselves (and I’m quoting here, as this is exactly what was said,) “a ghetto latte” by filling up the cup with milk.

Ghetto latte? Ghetto? Are we still using this word? I prefer to invoke the shtetl in the old country, where my forebears would walk their tin cups of coffee poured over, I suppose snow (since refrigeration was antiquated at best there in the town of Necviz, which my grandfather once told me means “bad odor”). They’d then hold it under old Bessie and milk her right into the cup.

Sorry, is that the wrong ghetto? Perhaps you’re referring to one of the poblaciones in Santiago, like La Victoria, or maybe a favela like Rocinha in Rio de Janiero. Or maybe Soweto in Johannesburg. Ghetto latte. Look it up. Or don’t. I already have. 17,000 hits on Google can’t be wrong.

Getting back to what’s wrong with accusing me of being on the brink of the heinous sin of creating a “ghetto latte,” I also don’t ever put much milk in my coffee, which will be important in just a paragraph or two, show me patience (sorry, lotta two year old over here). So the preemptive accusation that I was planning on “stealing” an unfair quantity of milk, more than I deserved, in a world where coffee costs $12 a pound, and they use not a tenth of that and charge me $3 for my espresso, and then leave out all that free milk for the ghetto latte makers to dare to dump into their coffee is not only misguided, but also preposterous.

Plus I was surprised to find out that that the coffee I like, is simply not tasty. This reminds me of a time I went to a cafe in Santiago and ordered a tuna sandwich for breakfast. Eeew, the look on the waitress’ face said. You eat that for breakfast? Yeah, I do, I said, Now smile and go get it, porfis (cute Chilean slang for please). Also, as Mr T pointed out, if someone wants their coffee with a raw egg and some toilet water in it, your job, as the barista is to prepare it that way with a smile. The economy’s failing, people.

Back in the cafe, of the many things I would learn between the time I walked into the coffee bar and when I ultimately ordered something more mutually agreeable to both me and the barista at hand is that there was a giant to-do at the predecessor coffeeshop to this one, one called Murky Coffee, where an altercation between a customer who (guess what?) dared to order an iced espresso, and offered a work-around, when told he couldn’t have one, which included a glass of ice and a triple shot of espresso, later led to the nasty scribbling of invectives on a dollar bill left as a tip, an offer to commit arson, and the owner threatening to punch the customer in a part of the anatomy that a) women don’t have and b) I didn’t even know people would want to punch. The owner’s name rhymes with Rick. So does the part of the anatomy. So you’ll imagine that these stories might not be exactly work-safe. Here, here, here and here.

In the end, we stayed, because we wanted to support a local business (though at the moment I question why we decided to support this one), we were thirsty, and wanted to try the coffee. I decided to order a cappuccino, which would rob me of the opportunity to partake in the putatively free milk, and then asked for it dry, because I don’t like that much milk in my coffee (see above). But once again, the barista knew better than I did, and prepared a perfectly-frothed cappuccino, just like the man told him to, with a pretty little leaf design on the top. It was sublime, one of the best cups of cappuccino I’ve ever tasted. But it was not dry. It had lots of milk, despite my request.

So the cappuccino was tasty, and Mr. T’s iced tea (that’s allowed) seemed to perk him up a bit as well, but our grand entree into the cafe strewed seeds throughout my subconscious which grew into blog fodder, and I had to tell you about it, so that the next time you go anywhere to be served anything, you make sure not to step in the giant steaming pile of spent coffee grounds like I did. Don’t ask for what you want, like a white wine with a well-done steak. Ask the waiter, the bargirl, the barista not for what you want, but for what they want to serve you.

Then wonder (like I did) they don’t just invest in smaller cups in which to serve the iced espresso, or hold the precious milk behind the counter where the baristas can keep a better eye on it.

Then drink it, malign them, and don’t leave a tip, or at least don’t write anything nasty on the dollar that you do deign to leave.

Man I love the United States. And iced espresso. Even if the experts say it tastes bad. For I am a philistine. Please call me Phyllis.

(and I have a picture of the picture perfect extramilky cappuccino, but I am on the road and my cardreader is hidden (from me). Apenas lo encuentre, la subo. (As soon as I find it (the card reader), I’ll upload it (the photo)).