Readers of this blog post likely will have two common reactions to it: "Brian, you have too much time on your hands" and "Brian, you think too much." I disagree. To both notions.
Ordering coffee is a subject of great importance to me. Ditto with using my brain to ponder matters of Great Importance (the thought just came to me that those words deserve capital letters).
So I've decided that it's time to bare my caffeinated soul.
I need to talk about the ethical quandary that arises almost every time I go into a coffee house and ask the barista to fill my much-beloved Thermos Stainless King 16 Ounce Travel Mug with some brew.
On the positive side, most coffee purveyors give me a reduced price for using my own mug. At Starbucks, its ten cents. At Salem Oregon's downtown Beanery, it's a marvelous thirty-five cents -- which makes a 16 ounce brewed coffee $1.55 instead of $1.90.
After ordering, though, some moral questions usually start to arise. Typically I hand my mug to the barista with a "16 ounces is up to the line" comment.
I say this because while the Beanery pumps coffee into containers of defined sizes, then pours the content of the 16 ounce container into my mug, other places (including Starbucks) have a more free-form approach to filling a customer's own mug.
Yesterday a Starbucks barista at the south Salem Fred Meyer store offered to give me a senior discount on a tall coffee when I handed her my mug. I told her, "But it holds a grande, 16 ounces." That quashed the deal. However, she said "Your mug looked like it held a tall."
Once I've communicated that an interior line in the Thermos mug marks the 16 ounce level, typically the barista asks "Do you need room?" (for milk).
The pause before I answer isn't a sign of a "senior moment." Rather, it's produced by my mind going into moral quandary mode. My legalistic side considers that since I'm paying for a 16 ounce coffee, I should get a full 16 ounces. Fill the mug up to the line, damn it!
But I do put milk into my coffee.
I just want the milk to be in addition to 16 ounces of coffee, not a replacement for part of the coffee. There's a problem, though, with offering up a simple "No" to the "Do you need room?" question.
The Thermos mug instructions say that liquids shouldn't be added above the "full" line, because the cap has to be screwed on in an open position. If it is closed, the vacuum can be so strong it's very difficult to push the lever from closed to open.
But if I add the amount of milk I like to a full 16 ounces of coffee in the mug, making the liquid level reach almost to the top of the container (ooh, I like breaking the Thermos rules!), I've found that the coffee/milk mixture will ooze through the holes in the lid as I screw it on.
If I'm careful it won't overflow the lid, just come close. This allows me to say "No, I don't need room" and still be able to add quite a bit of skim milk or half & half (depending on how overweight I feel that day) to my mug.
Morally I worry a bit, though, about how I've already gotten a discount for using my own mug, and then I'm able to get a full 16 ounces of coffee in my mug plus a lot of milk, while customers who get coffee in a store container have to ask for room (meaning, less coffee) if they want the same quantity of milk.
This isn't a huge deal to me, just a mild feeling of possible unfairness that I'm getting more coffee than other 16 ounce buyers are. (Remembering that the Thermos mug cost me $20 helps extinguish that feeling.)
My larger moral quandary comes when I'm in a rush and don't want to go through the fill to the brim and carefully screw on the mug top deal. I just want to quickly pour in some milk, close the lever on my mug, and dash out the coffee house door.
In this case, if I say "No, I don't need room," that's untrue. I do, because I don't have time to sip some black coffee and get the brew safely below the full line before adding my desired quantity of milk.
So if I've gotten a full 16 ounces of coffee, often I'll pour some out into a trash container in the middle of the milk bar, then grab the skim or half & half container. I feel sort of funny doing this, since this wouldn't have been necessary if I'd asked for room.
But I also don't like giving up my God Tao-given right to have 16 ounces of coffee put into my Thermos mug if I've paid for that amount.
This does, though, run the risk of splattering coffee on the floor of a coffee house where I get a full 16 ounces, add milk, and then quickly screw the top on my mug -- resulting in an overflow.
("Run the risk" isn't entirely accurate, since this exact scenario happened today as I was conducting research for this blog post. I choose not to name the Salem coffee purveyor where this happened, as I'd prefer not to have the owners use my name as an epithet when they wonder why it's necessary to clean their carpet earlier than they expected. Note: in my defense, carpets shouldn't be used as a floor covering near coffee bars.)
Well, I'll continue to struggle with my ethical quandary. Fortunately, my moral compass seems to function best, or at least most energetically, under the influence of caffeine.