On Coffee and Uselessness

Monday, December 31, 2007

I just traipsed downstairs to get a coffee from my non-normal vendor (our building coffee bar is on break).
I handed the barista my mug (standard issue 16 oz travelers mug- not handmade) and request a 16 oz skinny mocha.

The milk is frothing and espresso steaming, and my barista is stirring… into a paper cup? She made up the drink in a paper cup, then poured it into my cup and handed it to me, throwing away the paper cup she mixed in after our transaction.

I was too surprised to offer her a gentle and polite prodding on the spot. I use a nonpaper cup for its superior thermal qualities and to avoid the paper cup = trash cycle. I can’t believe she wouldn’t realize my offer of a non-paper cup wouldn’t reveal my tendencies towards reducing waste. I wasn’t just after the 10 cents off offer.

How should I go back and bring this up?

Part 2: On coffee and tips on reusing your coffee cup


posted December 31st, 2007 at 8:19 pm

Comments should be fixed now.

- Sweets
posted December 31st, 2007 at 9:42 pm

Absolutely say something. How is one to learn without people pointing things out on occasion? It’s really sad that the world is so politically correct these days that we hesitate to talk to one another. I tend to even give compliments on a whim (if I’m thinking it, shouldn’t they know?). I had to teach my friends about recycling their bottles and packaging at our last get together. Hopefully my words will make an impact.

- Barb
posted December 31st, 2007 at 9:50 pm

I think the next time you go, mention that you would like her to make it in your cup, not the paper one, as one of the reasons is to reduce waste. Make sure you’re polite, because then she won’t get on the defensive and disregard everything you say. Also keep in mind it might be how their cart is “run,” and the management themselves might need some educatin’. Unless they flagrantly disregard what you say, I would be kind and gracious, yet firm. What’s that saying about flies and honey?

- Tricia
posted January 1st, 2008 at 10:08 am

Not only is she wasting paper, but assuming this is a latte style drink, she has ruined the milk/foam layer as well as the separation from the espresso!


Man I miss good coffee…

- Jack
posted January 1st, 2008 at 12:13 pm

I was a barista for many of my 20 years in coffee, and there are a couple of reasons your barista may have prepared your drink into a paper cup. The first is portioning. I know you think your cup is a “standard issue” size, but you would be surprised how many cups one sees behind the counter, and how difficult it is to gauge the internal volume capacity of any given cup at a glance. The second, and most likely reason, is cross contamination. Since most baristas will stir the chocolate into the espresso before adding milk, she would have needed to put the spoon into YOUR cup to do so. After that she would not have been able to use that spoon again until properly washed and sterilized.

As for your impulse to “gentle and polite prodding”, the next time you see a foodservice professional doing something you don’t understand, maybe you should politely ask why, instead of just assuming they fail to grasp the greater concept.

Lastly, the very best baristas would have acknowledged and complimented you on your excellent waste reducing efforts, would have explained the situation, and maybe the two of you could have come up with a solution that would satisfy both.

- wendy
posted January 1st, 2008 at 12:59 pm

You simply must go back, could you do an “replay” and try it again, explaining the thermo cup when you hand it to her/him. Feel this give both of you a chance at a clean coffee slate (a green on at that. Also worth emailing or calling the owner so he can educate team.

I love your site……the marshmallow idea was awesome.
Look forward to more yummies in 2008.

- coffeechris
posted January 1st, 2008 at 3:29 pm

My first thought were the sterilization & food prep issues associated with using your cup. While I am with you on the paper to trash cycle, the more important issue is the cleanliness of the operation in the long term. I would talk to her rather than gentle prodding as there is more going on than just eliminating trash. While you may have washed your cup before bringing it to her, she has no way to know/verify that, esp if this is your non-normal coffee spot.

More inquiry, less outrage…

- labrador
posted January 1st, 2008 at 4:09 pm

I tend to try not to use a well known coffee stand that usually is on every corner but once in a while I do as a matter of convenience. One of my favorite stainless steel mugs happens to be one of their brands. The last time I tried to refill my cup the barista told me she couldn’t fill my mug, she’d give me my paper cup of coffee but I’d have to pour it into my own mug. It was a matter of cleanliness. I didn’t think it looked that gross…

- MoM
posted January 1st, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Thanks everyone- you’ve brought up some great points.

This discussion also jogged my memory as to how the Beanery in Eugene handled this issue. The had a plastic beaker / measuring cup of sorts that the drinks were made into (with the beaker being cleaned out). The drink was then poured from the beaker to the customer’s cup.

The coffee bar in question is a Starbucks that operates inside the hospital.

Will approach the coffee issue again tomorrow…

posted January 3rd, 2008 at 9:00 am

Super interesting – please keep us posted. I’m wondering if Siel has talked about this — she’s usually on top of Starbucks’ doings.

(happy new year!)

posted January 5th, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Personally, I would be disgusted if she DID mix it in your cup. It’s not sanitary. It’s why if you go to get a refill at a fast food place, they ask you to take your straw and lid. They don’t want to touch anything your mouth may have been on.

Assuming you don’t re-use the spoon that does the mixing, this practice of mixing a drink in the customers cup is sanitary.


- Dootsie
posted January 6th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I’ve had the same thing happen at a starbucks kiosk in the airport, and they explained it as a cross-contamination thing as well. Which makes perfect sense to me.

I do agree that the Beanery’s beaker idea is an optimal solution.

- allison
posted January 8th, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Definitely need to say something, but just make sure you get coffee there again and say something like, “Last time I got coffee here, I wanted to use my mug to reduce trash, but the attendant still used a paper cup to make it in. Would you please make my coffee in my cup?”

- Jeromy
posted January 12th, 2008 at 10:20 am

[...] Part II of On Coffee and Uselessness [...]

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