The Caramel Macchiato is not a real drink. Let’s just get that out of the way. It is a trademark owned by Starbucks, and when you leave a Starbucks, it ceases to exist. Or at least, it magically transforms into its true form, an iced caramel latte. Ordering a “caramel macchiato” in an independent coffee shop is like going to a steakhouse and ordering a Big Mac.
Just as some restaurants will happily fix you a double cheeseburger with mayo, some independent cafes will still make you an iced caramel latte if they can. But it isn’t so much a coffee drink as a milk and sugar delivery vector. This is why some baristi (the annoying plural of barista) are bothered when you ask for it, because we are trained to make coffee, not dessert. Perhaps you don’t actually like coffee. Go somewhere else and get a milkshake.
To those of us who work in the coffee industry, and every Italian in the world, an “espresso macchiato” is a single or double-shot of espresso “marked” with a small amount of steamed milk, not a bucket of cold sugar. Also, please notice it’s called “espresso”, not “expresso.” You will get an eyeroll, and deserve one, for saying “expresso.” It’s even written on the damn menu board. Or can’t you read through your diabetes?
You will also get an eyeroll and a groan if you don’t know this: “mocha” is coffee mixed with chocolate. It is not a third thing. It is not a plant. So when you say “can I get more mocha in that?” we contemplate tossing a pitcher of boiling water in your face so you will never be loved, and thus, never be able to procreate.
And speaking of scalding liquids, do you know what tastes awful when you boil it and combine it with espresso? Milk.
Milk contains several proteins which denature (i.e. unfurl and break apart) as the milk gets hotter. Things get dicey above 140F, and above 160F, the proteins are denaturing so fast they are no longer so much proteins as amino acids. This is called ectoplasm and it’s not fun to drink. So please stop ordering your latte “extra hot”. Want to impress your barista? Order it “on the cool side”. Milk tastes sweetest when it’s just above body temperature. Afraid your latte will get cold in the car? Order a smaller one so you drink it faster. Or better yet, sit still for five minutes and enjoy it from a porcelain cup in the shop.
Here’s another thing: espresso does not have more caffeine than a cup of coffee. It does by volume, but not by serving. In fact, a small cup of coffee may have as much as SIX TIMES the caffeine as a single shot of espresso. We don’t mind making you a redeye (or the quad-shot “black eye”), but we think they’re gross, and probably bad for your heart.
And yet, despite our constant eyerolling and groaning, baristi don’t mind your ignorance. In fact, one of the pleasures of the job is helping to educate customers, and introducing people to new things that make them happy. What we hate is your arrogance. We work with coffee all day. We read about it. We talk about it. We taste it. We experiment with different ways to prepare it. Therefore, we know more than you. Moreover, we like when you ask questions. Treat us like professionals and we’ll treat you like human beings instead of cattle to be herded quickly out of doors.
You may also be surprised to learn that not all professional baristi hate Starbucks. In fact, many of them began their careers there. Starbucks did a lot to make craft coffee popular in the US, and years ago their machines were all manual and their baristi, skilled. But gradually, shareholders and capitalism intervened, as often happens when a company gets that large and goes public. They still crush most independent stores for cleanliness, customer service, and employee benefits. So no need to hate just to impress us.
However, we’d appreciate you not using terms like “skinny” and “tall” in our stores. “Skim” and “small” have never not worked. And while I’m on the subject of marketing gimmicks, you should probably know that real coffee doesn’t come in flavors (i.e. “hazelnut”), and there is no such thing as “bold”. Dark coffee, which is probably what you mean, is dark because it is roasted longer. The longer a coffee bean is roasted, the more the carbohydrates and acids that compose it break down into components that taste bitter (look up “phenols”). The lighter the roast, the more you will taste the terroir of the bean, exactly like a fine wine. The darker the roast, the more you taste the roast. But a coffee that’s been roasted and roasted is like ordering a steak “blackened”. You won’t taste the meat any more, just the flames and the grease on the grill, and perhaps the cook’s sadness.
And this is why you’re so used to loading your coffee with milk. Big coffee companies over-roast their beans (often a simple business calculation ñ over-roasting hides defects in cheap beans and increases uniformity) so the coffee on its own is pretty unpleasant. The proteins and fats in the milk are very good at masking this fact, as is sugar.
If you want to taste the terroir (and better yet, smell it), order a pourover. It might seem intimidating, and the price often is too, but it’s actually the simplest method of making you a drink, and baristi love to do it. This is a slow-food method of preparing a single cup of coffee, custom-made for you with freshly-ground world-class beans. There are many methods, such as the Hario V-60, Beehouse, Clever Dripper, Chemex, Aeropress, the crowd-pleasing siphon pot, and even the humble Melitta. Any reputable shop will have at least one or two of these ready to go. Prepared correctly, a pourover is meant to be consumed black, and should not be bitter, but more like a strong cup of tea. Don’t know what to get? Ask.
If the barista makes you something you don’t like, though, please don’t complain and tell him he did it wrong. But do tell him it wasn’t right for you, and ask what you might try next time. You may be surprised how much he wants to help if you’re polite about it.
And don’t forget the tip. The guy likely isn’t making much per hour. He may be doing it because he likes it.
One last thing: when you order an espresso over ice, we know exactly what you’re up to. The plan is to amble your fat ass over to the condiment bar, empty the milk canister into it, and gain an iced latte while only paying for the shot. This is called a “ghetto latte”, and if we catch you doing it, you may get an earful, or at least may be looking for a new coffee shop. We’re not stupid. Pay for the drink you want.
If you must talk to the cute girl working on her screenplay in the corner of the cafe, make sure to heed Christopher’s tips on not being a tool in The Warm Approach. –>