What should the froth/liquid ratio be in a good cappuccino? Is ‘a good cappuccino’ a oxymoron or does it only become so when we change it to ‘a good Starbucks cappuccino’?
These are the somewhat unexpected questions I find myself asking after a day on the front lines of the Christmas sales. We made it home, leaving the field of battle with only moderate lesions. Behind us there were a few isolated scenes of destruction wherever Judy did decide to tread. Some days I fear she’s more elbow than woman. Presents have been bought for our nearest and dearest. I tried my best for all you regular readers, though I fear that some of your comments didn’t get through in time. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t check my email on my iPhone due to an issue of incompatibility between my gloves and the touch screen.
The highlight of my day was an argument I managed to start at the local Starbucks where I refused to accept a cup of their milky java which contained 70% froth and 30% liquid. It amazes me when I do complain, being on the whole a rather placid man. I would say the Christmas spirit brought the best out of me but I like to think it’s because I’ve been reading A.A. Gill’s ‘The Angry Island’. It has encouraged me to become more overt in my displays of disappointment. Not for me, this hypothesis that we’re a nation of people who suppress their anger and then go and invent new and exciting types of lagging. There are no trips down the Nile because I couldn’t tell my wife that I don’t like the colour of her curtains.
Instead, mug in hand, I stormed the serving counter and demanded action.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t normally do this but I’ve been reading A.A. Gill’s “The Angry Isle” which has encouraged me to be more overt in my displays of disappointment. This cappuccino is more froth than milk.’
The serving assistants looked at me as though I’d asked them to run my cup through a battery of highly scientific tests to detect neutrinos. After one of those long moments in which the world seems to stand still, in silence, one of them gathered the general gist of what I was saying.
‘Cappachino is supposed to be half froth.’ she said, her eyes as empty of wits as the mug was devoid of dairy product. 'They all vary quite a bit.'
I looked at her and smiled. ‘The average human IQ is supposed to be 100 but I sure this fact didn't stop one's mother feeling a great sense of disappointment when it was recognised that we fell below that.’
She was surprisingly quick. ‘There’s no need to be rude,’ she said. ‘It’s not my fault that you don’t know your coffee.’
‘I don’t know it because I’ve yet to have been introduced to it.’
‘Well,’ she replied, picking up the jug of milk and topping up my cup. 'Nobody else seems to have a problem.'
‘I bet they don't,’ I said, darkly. ‘It’s this kind of shoddy treatment that makes me long for less professionalism in the catering service.’
And that, I think, is a truth of our consumer society. We have the perception that things improve because coffee shops have better decor and a more varied menu. Yet the identikit façades mask highly evolved organisms that put the customers’ needs a distant second to profit. Froth is the battleline where we stand nose to nose. They will know the exact froth to coffee ratio that ensures that 9 in 10 people don't complain. If they can sell half a cup of froth, that’s 9 half-cups of milk they save themselves. Transfer that to every Starbucks across the land and they must be saving millions. I fear for the milkmen. Starbucks must account for the majority of those notes left out in the morning that read, ‘No milk today, thank you’.
I think I made a difference today. Gill has clearly changed my attitude and my life. Though whether I was right to subsequently buy two collections of his essays is yet to be determined. There is only so much change that Judy will accept and what that cantankerous / placid ratio might be is much harder to judge.