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black/white coffee
Posted: 14 September 2012 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I recently read Alan Bennett’s Diaries where he relates how a British friend innocently asked for white coffee in an American diner and was upbraided by his black waitress. From this I surmise it customary to ask for coffee with or without milk there. Is this right? Has that always been the way or only since the 1960s and the ERA?

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Posted: 14 September 2012 05:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It is customary to ask for your coffee “black”, but we usually specify cream, milk or sugar if we want it otherwise.  I don’t recall ever hearing anyone ordering their coffee “white”. 

BTW, I think the waitress was being overly sensitive.  I can’t imagine what she thought he was ordering.  Perhaps she thought he wanted a white person to make and serve his coffee.

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Posted: 14 September 2012 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t believe the story for a moment.  It’s exactly the kind of thing people make up to support their preconceived notions about political correctness or whatever.  (Whether Bennett or his friend made it up is unknowable.)

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Posted: 14 September 2012 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It’s exactly the kind of thing people make up

Hear, hear. Like the story “A friend of mine had a kidney stolen in Brazil”.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 01:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Virtually all coffee in the U.S. is served “black.” I doubt there is any place that pours the milk/cream/half&half/creamer for the customer.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 03:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Maybe he faked all his casual old diary entries with a view to later publication and posterity. Brits always asked for white coffee before Starbucks-like establishments. I would have too if I’d visited America and was unaware of the niceties of usage.

What’s the coffee nomenclature in South Africa then and now?

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Posted: 15 September 2012 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 15 September 2012 01:16 AM

Virtually all coffee in the U.S. is served “black.” I doubt there is any place that pours the milk/cream/half&half/creamer for the customer.

Back in Boston, MA, around 1970 if you ordered your coffee “regular” you got it with cream and sugar already in it.  I have no data from any other time period although I would assume it had been this way for some time before 1970.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 04:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Yes, there are many places in the US that pour the milk/cream for the customers. And until relatively recently a “regular” coffee in the NYC area would also be served with cream and sugar. Serving black coffee with milk on the side is the most common mode, but it is far from universal.

And there is this exchange from a 1998 episode of Law and Order that plays off the changing usage of “regular coffee”:

Coffee Shop Clerk: He usually likes to keep a close watch on the cash drawer, but he hasn’t been around in a couple of days. Anyway, how about a free large latte on the house?
Det. Briscoe: Maybe for the kid here, but I’d like a regular coffee.
Coffee Shop Clerk: Okay, how would you like it?
Det. Briscoe: Uh, regular?

And here in Canada, Tim Horton’s serves its coffee with the milk already in it.

[ Edited: 15 September 2012 04:28 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 15 September 2012 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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And here in Canada, Tim Horton’s serves its coffee with the milk already in it.

And McD’s is now asking “Cream and sugar in that?” and if you say “yes” they’ll ask, “How many creams?” and then put it in for you before handing it to you. I’ve always thought it was because of that lawsuit about someone getting burned in the crotch trying to put cream in their coffee while driving a car.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 06:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Maybe he faked all his casual old diary entries with a view to later publication and posterity. Brits always asked for white coffee before Starbucks-like establishments.

Of course they did; that’s not the unbelievable part.  The unbelievable part is his being upbraided by the black waitress:  “Oh, Mister Whitey wants a white coffee?  Yassuh, massa, comin’ right up!  Would you like that with a Ku Klux hood on the side?” It would make a nice bit of shtick for a Woody Allen film (like the bit from Annie Hall: “Not ‘Did you?’...JEW eat? JEW? You get it? JEW eat?"), but it didn’t happen in real life.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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"His diary entries”

And perhaps his dairy entries as well.
VB, I think the suggestion was that his friend had not faithfully described the events, not that Bennett had invented the whole thing. It certainly has the ring of a story reworked to make a point but it is a big world and every now and then something really happens the way it would happen in Reader’s Digest.

I think I’ve already mentioned in another thread that it was only in recent years that I realised that when Americans say coffee with cream, they mean coffee with milk. I had the idea in my mind that in the US, people were adding actual cream to their coffee.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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unbelievable ... it didn’t happen in real life.

Your certainty about this makes me again want to ask, ”What color is the sky on your planet?

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Posted: 15 September 2012 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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when Americans say coffee with cream, they mean coffee with milk. I had the idea in my mind that in the US, people were adding actual cream to their coffee.

Often they are, especially at home, or at least [adding] something that is more like cream than it is like milk.  Most grocery stores [in the US] sell “light cream” specifically for this purpose, and “half and half”, a blend of milk and cream, is, I believe, even more widely used. Compare these butterfat contents:
Whole milk: 3.25% fat
Half-and-Half: 12% fat
Light Cream: 20% fat
Light Whipping Cream: 30% fat
Whipping Cream: 35% fat
Heavy Cream and Heavy Whipping Cream: 38% fat

edited to add bracketed words

[ Edited: 15 September 2012 07:49 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 15 September 2012 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Well then, it is a more complicated world than I thought. Thanks.

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Posted: 15 September 2012 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Your certainty about this makes me again want to ask, ”What color is the sky on your planet?”

And your linking to that thread reminds me that you called what I said “outstandingly stupid,” which doesn’t incline me to be charitable.  Note well that I am not claiming that no black ever took offense at something that was obviously not intended to be offensive; that would indeed be stupid.  I am claiming that either Bennett or his British friend made up the anecdote about the outraged waitress.  If you don’t understand the difference, then I may toss the “outstandingly stupid” back in your direction, or at least sentence you to a week of reading nothing but “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and writing 100 times “Just because something happens in real life does not mean a given account of a similar thing is either probable or plausible.”

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Posted: 15 September 2012 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dave Wilton - 15 September 2012 04:22 AM

And here in Canada, Tim Horton’s serves its coffee with the milk already in it.

As I recall, in Canada an American can confuse a Tim Horton’s worker by asking for “half & half” instead of “10%”.  Saying Half & Half to a Canadian can make them think you want half Caf and half Decaf.

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