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The other day, a friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook of a cup of black coffee and said, “I ordered my coffee light and sweet at Starbucks, and they gave me this.” It made me laugh, because I don’t think such a traditional phrase as “light and sweet” is in the Starbucks lexicon. If you’ve ever been to a Starbucks, you know what I mean. From cup size (venti?) to coffee type (macchiato?), the place has its own language. Don’t even talk to me about shots, half-caff, soy, and whip. I am clueless about all of it.

I’ll drink a cup or two of light-and-sweet coffee at home on the weekend and enjoy it, but I’m more of a tea girl. However, I grew up with two coffee-drinking parents, most notably my father, who could single-handedly put away a pot or more over the course of a day. And it was black. Always black. None of this cream and sugar frippery for him. I doubt he’s ever been in a Starbucks; I can’t help but wonder what he would make of it.


I have fond memories of my parents setting up the percolator on the weekend and watching the coffee bubble up in the clear window on the top of the pot. This was in the 1970s, when Starbucks was a single store in Seattle and hadn’t yet achieved nationwide domination. (So when you think about it, there were coffee fads even then.) While today little kids are jonesing for their Starbucks fix, I would get a cup of milk with a teaspoon or two of coffee in it after much begging and whining. Back then, coffee was a decidedly grown-up drink (I never really drank it until after I graduated from college, and neither did my roommates), but now a good number of the coffee drinks available are really more like dessert than anything else.

While here in the States we’re carrying around cardboard cups with our names written on them, in Europe coffee is a whole different animal. At a McDonald’s in Germany, my mother was met with blank stares when she tried to order a decaf. (Later, when we told this story to a local, she said, “No caffeine? What’s the point?”) And in Vienna, a city known for its cafes, our guide said that you could always tell who is American by observing who wants coffee in to-go cups. In Vienna, one lingers over coffee, preferably at a sidewalk cafe, instead of cramming a cardboard cup into a car cup holder.

Whether the current fad is a percolator or an iced caffe latte, I’m sure it will eventually move on to the next new and big thing. (Cold brew, right? I don’t have any idea what that means, but it sounds familiar.) I think I’ll keep things simple and just stick with my tea bags.