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TMSPB: Café au Lait

TMSPB stands for “This May Seem Petty, But…” These posts were borne out of the frequency of small, albeit meaningless daily occurrences/gripes that nevertheless grind my gears on a regular and consistent basis. I’ve decided that instead of merely complaining, I’ll air my grievances for the world to see. Seems reasonable. Enjoy (or don’t… I don’t care).


I am, if nothing else, a creature of great habit and routine. When I was younger, I used to loathe the idea of doing anything habitually; it seemed like an easy and obvious way for someone you don’t know to get a beat on you and as an almost-obsessively private person, the idea of someone knowing that at 9:15 am every morning I’ll be in the same place, doing the same thing everyday would have driven my personally conservative sensibilities up a wall. Perhaps I sound a bit paranoid, but that’s for another post. I simply prefer as much default privacy as possible–meaning, I’d rather have to opt-OUT of my real-life privacy settings than to have to opt-in to them. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve also learned the value of not letting strident dogmas–like my immense desire to keep people guessing–stop me from embracing the little things in life that make me happy on a regular basis: a regular 30-minute dose of SportsCenter in the evening, checking POLITICO as soon as I get to work, and–most pertinent to this particular entry–sipping on my daily cup of coffee. There are others, of course, but today let’s focus on the coffee.

Those who know me well know that I am to coffee what an eastern Washington State fiend is to meth (I can make that joke because I’ve lived in Washington and my mom used to pastor a church in Yakima). I’ve been drinking coffee since as far back as I can remember. Growing up, my parents were both avid coffee drinkers and never started a day without brewing a fresh pot each morning and having at least one full cup, respectively. My mom has always liked her coffee black, a severely bitter coffee experience that to this day I will never understand, appreciate, nor embrace for myself. My dad was more traditional, but nothing fancy. A bit of cream, a bit more of sugar and that did the trick. Early on, like most kids who drink coffee, I was drinking it to seem older. The actual taste? Eh… it wasn’t anything to write home about, so like most kids I simply inundated my coffee with an unholy heaping of granulated sugar, balanced the rest out with milk and–despite the actual drink being more akin now to a Yoohoo than an actual cup of Joe–sipped my morning beverage with a distinct and well-earned air of bougieness and faux-maturity.

As an adult, however, I became a much more practical coffee drinker. I’d drink coffee to wake up, coffee to go to sleep, coffee when I was bored, coffee when I wanted to have scintillating conversation, Irish coffee, coffee because I was thirsty, etc. I’d probably wager that while I’m now at a respectable-albeit-excessive 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day, that’s considerably down from my career high of roughly 7 cups a day when I worked as a supervisor and barista at Community Coffee in Baton Rouge during law school. As such, however, the way I fashioned my coffee also began to more accurately reflect my real preferences and taste. It took me a few years to finally become THAT guy who always orders the exact same drink, the exact same way, at the exact same time, but around my 3rd year of law school, I finally discovered “my drink” and I haven’t turned back sense.

As a barista, I had the chance to taste literally anything we had the ability to concoct and like most service-industry vets, I most certainly took advantage. And in doing so, I discovered a couple of things. First, my caffeine tolerance was and is simply too high to view drinking coffee as anything more than muscle memory and habitual. I don’t drink it to stay awake or give me a boost of energy. No matter how strong the coffee, it still has little effect on my energy level. So why would I spend “top shelf” money on an otherwise ineffective espresso shot in a latte? Second, I actually preferred the taste of coffee over the taste of espresso prepared grounds.

So, in that spirit, I discovered my love for a medium Cafe au Lait with medium roast coffee, two healthy pumps of chocolate, and two Splenda. That’s it. I call it the “Anderson Mocha.” Effectively, it gives me all the hedonistic pleasures of a traditional Mocha at about half the price. If you know me well, you know the lower the price, the better it tastes. That being said, ordering a cafe au lait in Louisiana is pretty standard; ordering it across the country, as I’ve had to do the last few years, is a different story entirely. Thus, the catalyst for my petty gripe.

The last few years, I have had epic, almost-scorched earth verbal battles with non-Louisiana coffee shops over the proper way to prepare a cafe au lait. And I’ll be honest: I have no idea why this particular drink seems to not only be a source of great contention, but it also seems to be a hill virtually every barista is willing to die on. Today, a barista literally argued with me that an au lait is just coffee with a dash of hot milk. A couple weeks ago, I was given half coffee, half cold milk. Months before that, I had to walk another barista through why her question of whether I wanted my au lait “hot or iced” didn’t make any sense (hint: try making an argument for the difference between iced coffee and an iced au lait). I’ve had baristas tell me they can’t make an au lait… despite being able to make lattes (another hint: it takes LESS to make a latte than an au lait. It’d be like telling me you can take me to Montana in your car, but you can’t drop me off around the corner).

So I’ll be clear: A cafe au lait is HALF coffee, HALF steamed (HOT) milk.

That’s it. If you’re raising your hand to dispute it, you’re wrong. Or, rather, you’re relying on alternative facts that I don’t acknowledge. If you want to go all bayou on me, then yes, I acknowledge the TRUE Louisiana au lait is made with chicory coffee. But aside from that slight variation, a cafe au lait is among the easiest drinks in the world. Stop arguing about it and just pour the coffee, pour the milk.

Ok, I’m done.

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