The experience of bad coffee

“Two cappuccinos please”.

I see the operator pick up two cardboard cups. They have a terrible pattern on them. So I say,

“Sugar in one please”. I’m hedging my bets. “Brown.”

The ground coffee comes out of the hopper without a whiff. There is a light tamp, if you can call it that, when it comes at a 15 degree angle from a small plastic roundel, attached at thorax height to the hopper. I suspect a force of 20N at best.

Now it starts.

The portafilter is screwed in place, the cardboard cups are put straight under the nozzles and the button is pressed - the little button, which could have served admirable duty not ten seconds ago, flushing tepid water from the front of the boiler tube – the little button, with the two silhouettes of shot glasses on it, trying its best to remind the operator which vessels to extract espresso into.

“How many shots do you put in your cappuccino?”, I ask, smiling.

“It’s up to you”, is the reply, as the operator picks up a dirty milk jug.

“Oh. Well, how many normally?” I pursue.

There is a pause, before the operator says,

“We normally fill half coffee, half milk”. This starts a shiver of panic.

The steam valve is turned and the banshee is unleashed. The wail is awful to hear, high-pitched one moment, low and gurgling the next. I wonder how many times this same, poor batch of milk has been exhaled. Steam rises and there is a smell.

The pour passes by without incident. The operator’s back is turned and I am staring at my croissants. I am given the two cardboard cups with thin, white plastic lids, on a recycled cardboard tray.

I like to take my first sip from a cappuccino with the lid off, and cover my tongue in silky milk foam. I take the lid off the coffee with the sugar in it. There is a surprisingly gentle-looking white layer, powdered with brown. I sip.

I can’t be sure which hits me first – the bitterness or the scalding heat. As my eyelids close in recoil, I think about saying something, but of course, I don’t. I put my £3.80 down on the counter. Ten minutes later, I drop both cardboard coffee cups into a nearby bin.


One Comment

  1. Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    A similar bad coffee experience for you…: