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Brits Are Embarrassed to Order the Coffee They Really Want

Just a snide comment or misspelling of your name scribbled on your coffee cup could leave even Alan Rickman with a Horcrux-sized identity crisis.
July 27, 2015, 5:00pm
Photo via Flickr user joyosity

When humans are all just pulsating balls of light floating around Mars, anthropologists of tomorrow will endlessly analyze the institution that is the 21st-century coffee shop.

Consider the radical changes in coffee consumption over the past 50 years: while Mad Men in the 20th century ordered a standard "coffee" at the local diner, middle schoolers in America in 2015 order much more complicated—indeed, convoluted—coffee creations.

READ MORE: Boston Toddlers Are Addicted to Coffee

One Starbucks store manager, MJ Mclean, reports having to deal with this order: a "Quad venti half caf breve no foam with whip two splenda stirred skinny three pump peppermint mocha!" Another Starbucks employee says one regular orders this: a "Venti 1 pump caramel, 1 pump white mocha, 2 scoops vanilla bean powder, extra ice frappuchino [sic] with 2 shots poured over the top (apagotto [sic] style) with caramel drizzle under and on top of the whipped cream, double cupped."

The Brits, however, are much more reticent in their coffee orders, as reticence is generally their tea-tainted wont. A recent study by Rijo 42, a supplier in the UK of coffee machines and beans, found that 80 percent of coffee consumers won't order exactly what they want because "they are embarrassed or concerned about the long queue developing behind them," according to a report in FoodBev Media.

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Oh, the English. So concerned with appearance. So careful not to create a stir. We Americans have no idea what's going on with them—do we?

A further 50 percent of the British survey respondents said their reluctance to order what they really wanted came from fear of making a "fussy, weak, or sweet" choice. Odd, aren't they? We Americans pretty much invented fussy, weak, and sweet coffee drinks.

Why are they so careful to order a socially acceptable, non-sweet, strong coffee in England? Because they're busy judging each other, constantly: 52 percent said they would judge someone who placed an overly complicated or fussy order. A further 55 percent said they would judge others who asked for a creamy, sugary, or syrupy drink.

Middle America, beware. Don't go to England and hold up the line with your doctored-up Frappucinos. In England, 25 percent of adults say they have never tried a "fancy" coffee beyond a cappuccino or latte.

But the British are keeping a stiff upper lip, as usual. Even though only one in four really like strong coffee, they see it as the acceptable thing to drink. Most admit they are not coffee experts, but they seem intent on keeping up appearances.

Luis Nino, director of Rijo42 said, "There definitely seems to be some coffee snobbery going in the UK." You think?

He went on to say, "People admitted they felt uncomfortable placing complicated orders in case someone made a judgment about them based on it, while others felt it might be frowned upon to ask for a weaker coffee, or a decaf version."

Following the British model, hipster coffee shops in places like Williamsburg, Portland, and Silver Lake seem to have gotten the British memo.

Ah, the barista at the trendy, independent coffee place. There is truly no greater bastion of derision and cynicism than an ironically clad bean-slinger. And while there are undoubtedly numerous exceptions to this rule, when they're on form, just a snide comment or misspelling of your name scribbled on your coffee cup could leave even Alan Rickman with a Horcrux-sized identity crisis.

So we Americans really can understand the British fear of coffee embarrassment, at least in those blue states where snobbery over artisanal craftsmanship runs rampant. Nino and the rest of the folks at Rijo42 would like to see things change in England. He wants the Brits to let their inner suburban American teenager out, at least when it comes to coffee. He says, "If people are being put off from ordering the coffee they really want, it seems crazy.

To each, their own—the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. If you want a half-foam cappuccino with five sweeteners, then that's your decision. Reclaim your coffee choice!"