There I was at Peet’s Coffee, pondering ways that I might complain on Twitter about my overall Peet’s Coffee experience, were I to complain on Twitter, which I wasn’t. My Peet’s experience had once again had been sub-par, even for this part of the peninsula.
What happened was, I ordered a “Traditional Cappuccino™,” which is simply a rebranded “normal” cappuccino, but also Peet’s’s answer to the question “What have we done?,” which I guess someone at Peet’s corporate posed after realizing that years of adherence to Starbucks’ bastardized coffee templates was gradually alienating the ever-growing demographic of People Who Actually Like Coffee. Typically the Traditional Cappuccino, or “Trad Cap,” as it was quickly re-rebranded, is the drink I order at Peet’s. I appreciate that they offer it on the menu, even if it further anchors a culture which believes that a cappuccino, by default, is a small amount of watered dirt placed at the bottom of a bubble bath.
But look, I’m no traditionalist myself. I’ve only learned what little I know about coffee through years of trial and error plus periodic lurking on coffee forums where discussion is dominated by coffee snobs so snobby that they spend their time dominating discussion on snobby coffee forums, and even they can’t agree on basic issues like “How hot should coffee be?” or “What is milk?” Simply, I know what I like, and it makes sense to me that a cappuccino should feature milk, not be drowning in a goddamn basin of it.
I also know that I like to have a double-shot of espresso in all instances of espresso drinking, and I’ve glossed from the assertions of various snobs that “traditionally,” a cappuccino features just one shot of espresso, and then milk and foam in equal parts. Indeed, this is what Peet’s means when they say “Traditional™.” But the first time I had a traditional cappuccino at Peet’s Coffee, the fearlessly down-to-earth barista encouraged me to break tradition. “Try it with a double-shot,” she said. I liked the idea.
“See,” I said, “you get it. You get this.” I waved my arms out in a majestic arc, indicating the entire universe. “Sign me up.”
That was a positive Peet’s experience. It solidified Peet’s in my mind as a place I could sometimes get coffee, and come to think of it, the best espresso within walking distance in this particular part of the peninsula.
I’ve had positive and negative experiences at Peet’s since then, but the one constant has been my order: a double-shot, untraditional Traditional Cappuccino. Sometimes the cashiers get confused. One time at the location on Burlingame Ave., an indulgent strip of culture where service is uniformly bad, the barista summoned me to confirm my order: “You had the trad cap, right?”
“You understand it comes in a cup like this?” He showed me the little six-ounce cup.
“Yep, that’s the one.”
He seemed dissatisfied with my answer.
“I get it here all the time,” I assured him. “Earlier today I got one. He put double, right?”
“Oh. I ordered a double.”
“Ah, okay.” His hands resumed work.
“…Did he charge me for a triple?”
“Yeah,” he exhaled, forming just the faintest outline of a laugh with his breath, never stopping his hands or looking up. The conversation was over, apparently, but luckily the barista had come away from the experience with a valuable lesson: that life is funny. For me, though, it was a negative experience.
Other times, cashiers have shown momentary confusion at my order, paused with a head tilt, then quickly deduced that the cash register can be hacked into producing my off-script order by simply pressing the button for “Trad Cap” and then the button for “+1 shot.” I have watched this happen enough times that I have actually explained to other confused cashiers how to do it.
This time, however, I encountered a new variable: the overly confident cashier. I ordered.
“A double-shot traditional cappuccino for here, please.”
He hesitated, looked up.
“Okay, well, actually it already comes with two shots.”
See, part of the problem here is that I’m not overly confident enough. Because I immediately gave him the benefit of the doubt, suppressing flickering memories of half a dozen baristas pressing the “+1 shot” button, of the first barista’s explanation of what the drink was and her suggestion to modify it into a double, of her saying she wouldn’t charge me for the extra shot. There were just too many high social hurdles for me to accept a scenario in which I would find myself saying, “No, you’re incorrect, guy whose job it is to know the drinks, who probably spends between twenty and forty hours a week ringing these up.”
They must have changed the drink, I thought instead.
He rang me up for a flat three dollars. That seemed low. They must have changed the drink.
What eventually emerged was a single-shot traditional cappuccino, more traditional than ever. I could tell the difference from appearance alone as the barista handed it to me.
“Well, I tried,” the barista said, referring not to the espresso quandary to which he was blissfully unaware, but to his botched attempt at the beautiful marbling effect boasted about on the Peet’s Coffee Traditional Cappuccino web page. Few Peet’s baristas had ever executed this well in my experience. But I was humbly aware that I could have done no better, and grateful anyway that he had tried, and that he had told me he had tried, because otherwise I would not have known.
Mostly, though, I was preoccupied with disgust at the barista’s unfaltering, confident wrongness. Mild disgust. The kind of disgust that makes me want to tweet a snappy quip and get on with my life. Because hey, man, life is funny. Unfortunately I’m not sure I am. Was there an appropriate way to tweet about my experience without coming off as the world’s most shitheaded, arugula-chomping goddamn millennial? Was there a way to use the experience as inspiration for a one-liner without being deemed the sole cause of America’s imminent downfall? Was it still possible in this age to turn mild misfortune into a humorous observation on a public forum without being labeled “triggered” by someone in Tallahassee? And without being pounced upon by some vigilant, Twitter-roaming customer service representative from Peet’s offering unneeded atonement? Could I, who have eaten tapas in recent history, get away with the hyperbole that coffee was “one of my few remaining pleasures in life” without being taken seriously and then crucified for being the reason men can’t pee standing up anymore? No, surely not, I concluded. Not I, who have in recent history ordered a second glass of craft beer. I closed my Twitter tab and counted my blessings.
But hypothetically, if I were to complain on Twitter about my experience, I might have said, “When Peet’s says ‘traditional’ cappuccino, they’re referring to long-standing tradition of getting my order wrong.”
“Peet’s barista just alternative-facted my order.”
“Coffee is one of my few remaining pleasures in life. Can we not have THIS destroyed by overly confident, under-qualified liars too?”
“‘Trad cap’? More like bad crap.”
“Asked for a double espresso. Was assured I’d get a double. Got a single. If this were heroin they could be locked up for that.”
Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is, I’m starting to realize I like tweeting more than I like Twitter. And that sentiment goes double for Peet’s.