Welcome back to What’s The Ish, Trish?—an advice column on Sprudge.com, featuring words of wisdom from Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, Director of Programming at the Coffee Quality Institute, creator of the term “Third Wave“, and more.

Dear Trish,

I was recently at one of these “Third Wave” cafes and when I ordered an espresso the barista asked if I wanted it for here or to go! Can you believe it? Who drinks an espresso to go? Why would that ever happen?!

I told the barista “Of course I want it to stay” and then they looked at me like I was a jerk. I don’t think I’ll ever go there again, but they have the best single origin beans so of course I’ll be back. I couldn’t believe they’d even offer espresso to go. What’s next? Will they ask if I want my beans pre-ground? Why would a reputable cafe offer this to me? What’s the ish?

Beside myself,

Shocked over Shots

Photo by Henry Hargreaves.

Dear S.O.S.,

Get a hold of yourself, buddy. People want their coffee all different ways. They just do. And for the most part, they are not criminals for wanting what they want.

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Let’s break this down a bit with a story from the days of yore. If you’ve heard me tell it, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. When I lived in Norway about 15 years ago, almost nobody was taking coffee to go. The city of Oslo was indeed cosmopolitan and progressive, but there were things you could take away and things you did NOT take away. Hot dog? Yes! Cup of coffee? No! What are you crazy? (Hva? Er du gal?) One day, the very stylish and handsome young crown prince of Norway fell in love with a very beautiful and brave young woman. She accepted his proposal to become a fairy tale princess, and they promptly went out for a coffee! The next day’s newspapers showed the newly engaged couple enjoying a nice cup of coffee from Java on Ullevålsveien—on a bench in the park—out of paper cups! It instantly became acceptable to enjoy coffee out of paper cups, and take-away sales skyrocketed. (Mind you, I have no hard data of skyrocketing sales, but we all saw a big jump in acceptance and use of paper cups after that newspaper came out).

Fast forward to this year when I went to see the movie Pitch Perfect 2. In that film, Anna Kendrick’s character is an intern at a music studio where she must make several coffees for staff. She grapples with various capsule-style brewing machines and proceeds to brew all the coffees into paper cups! She then distributed them throughout the office to a bunch of elitist bullies who supposedly have either very refined tastes, or else have no idea how to make their own coffee. Either way, it’s the same for me. Why the hell are they using paper cups IN the office? (De har ingen følelse av stolthet?)

Paper cups are in our lives, S.O.S. They might be low-brow, synonymous with specialty coffee, or an indicator of the chooser’s choosiness. I am not sure which. My good friend, Mr. Peter Giuliano, chief coffee nerd at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (actually the Senior Director of Symposium) believes the paper cup is one of the main ways we devalue an otherwise very high-end experience. I am honestly not so convinced, although I do acknowledge that perspective as true in many instances. We have a good tradition in the USA of really cruddy coffee served in ceramic or even bone china cups, as well.

What about an espresso in a paper cup? When would that ever happen, you ask? A very obvious answer from that barista who gave you the hairy eyeball might be that they simply get that request often, so they wanted to give you the option before serving you.

Who drinks an espresso to go, you ask? Let’s take a look at that. Disclaimer: I’m not trying to be cheeky here; these are honest reasons:

• A person who is bringing it out to a third party sitting in a parked car just outside who has a broken leg and just needs a shot, man!

• A person who finds the paper’s neutral temperature preferable to risking an insufficiently heated demitasse, which means they’re actually more of a snob than you are, so there!

• A person who wants to swirl it fast and wide to bring the temp down a bit for a better experience. My husband does this a lot when he tastes his own pour-over brews. He’ll sometimes only quarter-fill a ceramic cup for a guest and ask them to swirl it a bit to cool before they try it.

• A person who wants to get the hell out of a busy shop because they are introverted, and they just read an article that empowers introverts to be themselves.

• A person that does not see what the big difference is in the cup quality, and likes how light the paper feels in the hand compared to cramping their fingers around a tiny heavy-for-its-size cup.

…for any number of reasons, actually. From my perspective, it’s probably okay.

Oh and if someone asks for the barista to grind their beans up, they might be on their way to a backpacking trip, or maybe they still have their dream home grinder on lay-away. Just because they’re outdoorsy or poor doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get a nice coffee when they want it, right?

Right, S.O.S.?

It’s okay, right?

Yours always,

Got questions for Trish Rothgeb? Send ’em our way at whatstheish@sprudge.com.

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