ONCE upon a time, when I was young, cafes provided tea with or without sugar and that was it. The same went for coffee. Black coffee was as exotic as it got.
Your drink arrived in a standard cup or, very occasionally, a glass mug, but there was no choice. You knew what you were getting and accepted what was served up.
These days all that has changed – and how!
Buying a tea or coffee calls for the kind of decision-making usually reserved for multiple choice answers in exams and, in my case, the success rate (or lack of it) is probably pretty much the same.
Advancing years, alas, have accentuated my tendency to dither when asked a question. This, coupled with the alien terminology of coffee house culture, renders me incapable of coherent thought, let alone sensible speech.
First hurdle is size. Would I like small, medium, or large? I don’t know. How big are they? To confuse me further there is regular, which appears to replace small in some outlets, while taking the place of medium in others.
If I fancy a cuppa there is a bewildering variety. Should I pick English breakfast, Earl Grey, or green? Or shall I try herbal or fruit tea?
Coffee is worse. Even the hot potato man in the town centre offers three different types, which is bad news when you don’t know your Cappuccino from your latte. Then there is Americano, espresso, mocha, ristretto or macchiata. And what about skinny, a word that should apply to people, not drinks?
I could opt for a ‘speciality’ and have coffee flavoured with syrup - ginger, cinnamon, hazelnut, caramel or vanilla, topped with marshmallows, chocolate or crunchy crumbs, all perched on inches of froth and cream.
I wouldn’t advocate a return to the tasteless brews of the past – but I would like to order a plain, simple drink without feeling like a complete idiot.
(A version of this article originally appeared in the Tamworth Herald in 2009)
After all, what’s wrong with coffee that tastes like coffee and doesn’t look like the kind of sickly dessert dished up at a children’s party?