I considered it fairly good luck when I was third in line at Starbucks. I expected the orders to be Hemingway length paragraphs that included words in coffee language I didn’t understand. I called them high maintenance orders. What always amazed me was the baristas taking these orders. They would take that long list of demands, reduce them to a few initials that were written on the side of the cup with a sharpie, ask for a name, and draw a heart or smiley face. Then the cup would be passed down to a colleague to pour, mix, flavor, steam, foam, dollop, design, sprinkle, or blend to the customer’s specifications.  

When it was my turn, I stepped confidently up to the counter. My capable Barista readied her sharpie in her right hand, her left hovered over the stacks of cups. “I would like a Vente...” She snatched the appropriate cup and moved her marker in place. “Decaf coffee.”

My barista froze, she wrote nothing on my cup. “What?”

She didn’t say it loudly, but the place went silent. Evidently, Baristas didn’t ask customers to repeat themselves very often. I felt a slow burn begin at my hairline and work its way down. I repeated my order, “I would like a cup of decaf.”

“I don’t think I can do that.” If there was anyone who wasn’t paying attention to this exchange before, they were now. She placed my cup and her marker on the counter deliberately and stepped to her colleague who was looking at me, mouth agape. They conferenced in low whispers. I really wished I could take back my order, but that wasn’t possible now. I had to see it through.

The barista returned. She smiled stiffly. She picked up my cup, wrote nothing on it, and handed it off to her partner. To me she said something about a seemingly complex process involving something called an Americano, but she thought they were going to be able to fill my order. “If it’s not to your satisfaction, I’ll make you an herb tea,” she said in a not-so-nice tone.

In You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks said a person’s complex coffee order was a way of “getting an absolute sense of self.” If that is true, then the barista becomes part therapist. I robbed my barista of that part of her job. Although I am a little proud that I stumped a barista, I also feel a little bad, so from now on, I’ll just make my decaf at home.