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No Shame Coffee


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“I like my sugar with coffee and cream.” - Ad-Rock

I do not understand espresso.

I have a rough idea of how it’s made. I know that it’s an ingredient in drinks that I like. But I do not understand how people just drink it.

I have tried (and will continue to try, intermittently) to drink espresso. But I’d be lying if I said a hot shot of ‘spro is my ideal breakfast treat.

Pour over coffees can be wonderful. Sometimes. And sometimes they taste like moldy dirt. That’s down to the beans and the roast and every other factor that goes into making coffee. When I don’t like the way a pour over tastes, I do what I was brought up to do: pour in sugar and cream.

“Oh no!” the coffee purists say. “You must not have the palate for it!”

Maybe. I mean, that’s certainly possible. Or maybe I just like what I like. What I’m used to. And I’m used to drip coffee with a spoonful of sugar and a dollop of half-n-half. And that’s okay.

Because I know a secret.

I have talked to the baristas and they have told me the truth: they do not care what you order.

Ordering an espresso and a shot of Topo Chico is fine. Ordering a vanilla latte is fine. Ordering black coffee with room for cream is fine. They don’t care.

The era of the snobby barista who looks at you incredulously when you order an iced mocha is coming to an end. For whatever faults you may have with the mega-corporation, it was Starbucks killed it. There’s simply too much money going to a giant coffee conglomerate for small shops to alienate customers. Coffee had to be nice to survive.

And coffee culture is nice. Baristas, by and large, enjoy making coffee. They’re in a unique customer service position. They sell a highly addictive product that makes you highly productive and that you are generally grateful to receive. Wouldn’t you be happy if your job was handing people exactly what they wanted?

But in order to make yourself and those baristas happy, you have to order what you actually want, not what you think they want you to order.

If you want espresso, and I know a lot of you do, they will gladly make one for you. They will talk to you about where the beans are from and what the character of the shot is and they’ll be super into it. You might even get into a conversation about how much ground coffee goes into the shot and how it gets tamped down and lots of other things I barely begin to understand. Seriously, it’s like listening to people talk knowledgeably about the anti-aliasing settings on your TV.

Baristas are, by and large, deeeeeeep in the coffee and they love to interact with people who are just as obsessed. But they’re also just as happy to make you a cappuccino or a pour over or an Americano, if that’s what you want to drink.

As a wise, beard-y man once told me, “If someone order a vanilla latte, I’m going to make the dopest-ass vanilla latte I can for them.”

Perhaps that person will want to explore deeper into the coffee and try new things. Or maybe they’ll just be happy with that dope-ass latte and come back the next time they’re thirsty for coffee.

Maybe someday I’ll come to appreciate espresso the way others do. What I’ll never understand, though, is elitist vs. anti-elitist approach to coffee (or really any kind of food).

What does it hurt you if someone likes to make their coffee in a Chemex using beans they ground themselves and a specially calibrated kettle that gets the water to just the right temperature?

And what does it hurt you if someone likes a bag of mass market pre-ground coffee run through a 12-cup Hamilton Beach and diluted with milk and sugar?

The answer to both is: It doesn’t.

You don’t like someone else’s coffee? Don’t drink it. Also don’t be a jerk about it. That should go without saying, but as I keep running into jerks, let’s reiterate: Don’t be a jerk. Jerks suck.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.