“Could I have a cup of coffee, please?”
With a deliberately (and provokingly) uncomprehending glare and furrowed eyebrows, the lady on the till replies, “Just coffee?”
“Well, this is a coffee house, isn’t it?” I chuckle in an attempt at humour (which isn’t appreciated).
“We do latte, cappuccino, Americano, flat white, macchiato, frappe or moccachino,” she lists with fatigued indifference.
“Latte is fine.”
“Small, regular or large?”
“Do you want any syrup in that? Vanilla, caramel or hazelnut.”
“No, thank you. Plain will do.”
“Full fat, skimmed or semi?” she questions.
“What kind of milk do you want?” her voice is filled with impatience; her scowl grows fiercer with every exchange.
“I really don’t mind.”
“Fine. Decaf or regular?”
“Whichever you recommend,” I smile, hoping to make amends for my apparently infuriating ignorance, “I’ll have it to-go please,” I add, feeling as though I’ve already outstayed my welcome.
“Can I get one regular latte, no syrup, semi-skimmed milk to take out please?” she shouts to the idle ‘barista’ behind her, who begins fumbling with the enormous coffee machine. From his hasty floundering I deduce that I’m not the only one who is intimidated by the interrogative cashier: the poor guy looks terrified.
“It’ll just take a minute, the machine needs to warm up,” he announces half apologetically to me, flinching at the exasperated sigh which emanates from the till area.
“That’ll be £2.85 please,” she declares, and I hand over the correct money; I wouldn’t risk incurring the wrath of this Starbucks employee, not judging by the whimpering coming from the coffee machine.
Standing aside to let the next customer endure this brutal examination, I recover from my ordeal by surveying those lining up for the same fate, oblivious to the torment they will soon experience at the hands of the clearly-not-a-morning-person and her superfluous selection of beverages. I recognise the usual suspects.
First in line and gazing straight ahead is the runner. Likely up since five and stopping to grab a rejuvenating energy boost after an invigorating early morning 10K sprint, she’s made her decision already, and won’t have any trouble dealing with the snappy demands of the till guardian.
It’s obvious that she’s one of those tiresomely energetic people who insist upon the magical powers of spinach smoothies, who bake beetroot brownies regularly and are adamant that low-fat non-dairy frozen yoghurt tastes even better than chocolate fudge ice cream.
That nonchalant gaze towards the skinny blueberry muffin says it all. ‘It’s not skinny, really,’ she’s thinking, and wouldn’t hesitate to point it out to an innocent indulger mid-scoff, ‘and the low-fat brownie only means that it’s high in sugar,’ she’d announce with a winning smile, utterly unaware of the hatred bubbling inside the eater towards her – the manifestation of their guilt.
‘I don’t have bad hair days,’ smirks the sleek blonde pony tail as her Asics Gel Pro trainers squeak on the wooden floor. Placing herself in front of the till in one swift, elegant stride she glances casually towards me, beaming sickeningly, and places her order.
“Take-out black coffee please, with a dash of skimmed milk. Do you do decaf? Wonderful. No, that’s all thank you.” And off she bounces, paper cup in hand and ponytail swishing.
Next up is the crisp grey suit complete with slim navy tie, carrying a briefcase full of super-serious, top priority, high importance this-must-be-dealt-with-today documents, and tapping his foot eagerly: the business professional. Glancing at his Rolex with vexation whilst waiting keenly for a latté to go, his tidy brown hair whispers his urgency; his clean white shirt sighs his agitation. ‘People to see, places to be,’ they scold the clumsy staff. Then off the smart black shoes hurry, snatching the take-out cup, barely waiting for the unfortunate employee to fix the plastic lid atop it. A spillage is narrowly avoided.
Engrossed in my observation, I forget to declare my indignation at being the neglected party, left in wait for a simple cup of coffee in order that the apparently busier members of the public might be served as quickly as possible. Does my failure to express my righteous anger at being punished for moving at a leisurely pace stem from a mild phobia of the previously mentioned stern face who is taking their orders or my fascination for these interesting customers? I guess we’ll never know (but the frightened operative of the coffee machine could probably hazard an accurate approximation of my situation).
Happily distracted by my analysis of the customers and contented to stew to a mild simmer before voicing my objections (which readers uncomfortable with any form of confrontation will agree must be well-crafted and practised before being raised), I let my gaze rest on the gentleman next in line: the classic hipster. Delightful dimples accompany his cheeky, lopsided smile, and he carries a shabby wallet in one hand and a smartphone in the other. His tamed curls defy all stereotypes and challenge me to deem them a ‘mop’ – alas I cannot. Called forth by the cashier he strides unhurriedly to the till, gazing upwards at the menu board with a nonchalance that sets her twitching. But wait, here he looks towards her (grinning softly and letting loose the symmetrical dimples – his secret weapon) and the ice thaws.
“What can I get for you today?” she asks sweetly, all signs of venom melting away alongside any remnants of my regard for her, which were admittedly but little.
“I’ll have a caramel mocchanio. Cream? Yeah, great – thanks.”
I congratulate myself on knowing that cream costs an extra 30p (the declaration of which is visible only at the bottom of the menu in font size 4), simultaneously triumphing over the rewarding ignorance of others, and lamenting at the sore injustice of the trap into which they all inevitably fall.
And away Mr what’s-the-Wi-Fi-code saunters to a comfy armchair by the window, moccachino balanced expertly on his fingertips whilst he grips the smartphone tightly in his palm, unwilling to relinquish the pleasures of his Tumblr feed but momentarily.
Before I can catch the eye of the struggling chap at the coffee machine without disturbing the serenity of the sleeping dragon at the till, up to the ordering point amble the dawdlers. Insensible to the rapidly returned scowl which passes over the countenance of the now awoken beast, they are deep in chatter about the latest scandal on Julie’s street.
“Oh right then – oh gosh, what do I want? I’ll have….no wait….okay, yes a regular Americano please. No make that large actually,” dithers the first of the middle-aged hesitants, induced by a pointed cough from behind, adding, “and a cinnamon swirl? Oh, excuse me – Claire dear are we having cakes? Or just a quick coffee?”
An interesting use of a word which the majority of English speakers typically find synonymous with speed or another such form of at least mild urgency.
“Well I hadn’t thought…oh, go on then,” deliberates Claire.
“And what do you want to drink? I’ll pay, love.”
“Oh no I couldn’t possibly let you.”
“Well either way don’t faff with your purse here sweetie, there’re people behind us. Deary me,” announces Julie with an exaggerated what-are-some-people-like-eh sigh. “What are you having anyway?”
“Oh I’m not sure…what are you having?”
“Large Americano,” snaps the cashier through gritted teeth in a tone that makes her treatment of me seem the picture of benevolence.
“Ooh no not for me – I like something a little stronger. I’ll have a latte then…or a cappuccino? No, a flat white.”
Will she question this customer as rigorously as she did me? Apparently not, and from a glance at the cashier I conclude that she’s not much grieved at the prospect of Claire’s choice of beverage being rather more restricted than mine.
“I really shouldn’t,” she continues, “oh go on then, I’ll just have a skinny blueberry muffin.”
I smile to myself; the humour of the link between my thought processes upon examining the first the lively, then the loitering, is brilliant. Praising myself on my own insightful witticism, I am reminded of the reason which induced me commence this observation, and I turn, firm and decided, to look the terrifying till warden straight in the eyes.
“Can I have my cup of coffee now, please?”