Tuesday, July 27, 2004


One element of office culture I have yet to fully understand is that of Coffeequette – the art and science of getting hot beverages for work colleagues. 

Firstly, you can tell a lot from how people order their coffee and tea at work. Where you hear the refrain “coffee, white with one” or “tea with a splash of milk” you can be safe in the knowledge that you work for a friendly, probably small, company equipped with a kitchenette. There’ll be short momentary bouts of anger related to people not rinsing their spoons, but the people around you are your friends, feel safe.

However, where you hear the words “Mine’s a 21” you’re in a big ugly corporate with a Nescafe drinks machine on each floor that spits its insipid venom into a small plastic cup. It will peel a couple of layers of skin from your fingers as soon as you pick it up.

If you hear the term, “Tea, nine sugars” you work on a building site.

More complex is the fetching of coffee. There are approximately three schools of thought employed here: -

1. The each to their own school of thought focuses rather firmly on the self. Quite simply when the need takes you, you glide to the beverage paraphernalia and fill your boots without a thought to those around you. This has the distinct advantage of efficiently satisfying your personal needs. However it is at the expense of others. This is a particularly acute problem first thing in the morning when you’re often found tangoing with others who are trying filling their own boots. This results in awkward questions such as “Do you want me to put a bit more water in for your cup” or “Can you throw a teabag in there please” which simply highlights the selfishness of it all.

2. The close community shuffle is a means of engaging with those around you, offering your more caring inclusive side. It means that you are expected to take your turn in making teas and coffees (and always ONE hot chocolate). The upside is that, of course, you are part of the group. The downside is that these groups tend to be like a disorganised peloton, never knowing who’s next to take the lead. I used to work in a department of ten; each person would take their turn in getting the drinks. By mid-morning, and six coffees down the line, I was spent. I could either get a round in for the good of the group, or refrain completely which would leave me getting more than I gave (this would result in extreme agitation amongst others because you hadn’t taken your turn, and because they were going cold turkey). I would simply live off the caffeine for the rest of the day. The next morning the cycle would begin again, meaning I never reached my turn. 

3. The inevitable end to the close community shuffle is the drinks are on me drift. This is where slowly but surely, the close community involve more and more people in the round. Soon enough people are getting drinks for whole floors of people and you’re drinking eighteen gallons a day, you can’t focus on your computer screen because you’re eyeballs are shaking. The collective coffee craving grows and grows and the cycle gets tighter and tighter. Soon you’re getting in nine rounds of forty cups of coffee all by yourself, and everyone else is doing the same. Productivity plummets and you’re made redundant. You can’t keep up your mortgage payments, and you’re thrown out on the street where you freeze to death. Alone.

No, really, my advice is when you flick the kettle on… think.


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