• Rachel

In disguise as a coffee snob (but my outfit isn’t very convincing)

So it turns out, in a momentary tussle between my Britishness and the woman upstairs, my Britishness actually comes out on top. In a weird way, I'm oddly encouraged.

I do like a nice coffee. But anyone who has spent at least five minutes with me will know that I’m more than a bit devoted to the humble English cuppa...or eight. Given the choice of saving only one, "tea" would leave my lips faster than...well, fast. And, though I hate to admit it, my slight partiality to pumpkin spice means I couldn’t convincingly pass as a coffee snob even if I tried.

But, I deviate. I was ordering takeaway coffee for myself and a friend this week, when the lady upstairs had a bit of a, well, 'moment'...a moment in which being a coffee snob would have been a handy disguise. You see, the lady upstairs has a complicated relationship with what I’ll call “liquid calories”. In this instance: milk.

I worked Saturdays in a coffee shop aged 15 (yes, technically illegal, but irrelevant) let me just say that I have the utmost respect for anyone in this job. Contrary to popular belief, the customer is very rarely always right...and pretending to be cheerful and understanding when somebody really just needs their privilege slapping right out of's not the one.

Ordering more than one drink is always a bit of a gamble. There’s room for error at multiple stages of the transaction. This is likely intensified in the current clime when social distancing and mask-wearing has made us all realise that our hearing isn’t quite as good as we thought it was. I was ordering a latte for my friend, and an Americano “with a dash of hot milk” for myself. Yes, I would have also preferred a latte...but coffee is another tug-of-war situation (see my last post).

At this particular coffee place, the milk-adding process takes place right in front of the customer because of limited table-top space. This is usually particularly comforting to the lady upstairs’ meticulous need to control absolutely everything consumption-related. However, on this occasion, as I watched the man fill up both espressos with frothy blue-top body tensed up in horror. That was not a dash.

What is one to do in this situation? I know what I saw. Of course, in true British fashion my next words were, “I’m terribly sorry, but...”, followed by a, “that just seems like an awful lot of milk for an Americano...“ (what is it with us Brits using such melodramatic adjectives as intensifiers?)

The barista insisted that he had filled it mostly with hot water first, and then only added 'a little bit of milk'. I guess our perceptions of 'a little' are a bit different, amigo. Now, I know all about the fallibility of the eye-witness testimony...but, trust me on this one, the woman upstairs has eyes like a hawk (as long as my lenses are in). I know what I saw.

Without thinking I blurt out an anxious, "are you sure?!" which takes me back to my hospital days. He insists he is sure, and I sense his slight irritation. It is in this moment where I like to imagine this mini tussle between the anorexia and the polite Brit in my brain, like something out of the film Inside Out. But, in an admirable swoop, polite Brit steals the controller and I smile and say "okay, thank you", and walk away with my coffees.

Alas, this incident did trouble me for the rest of the day and took up an inordinate amount of brain space. But it is reassuring to know that, though expressed in a slightly unconventional way, anorexia isn't completely in control up there.


“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

- Helen Keller

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