Ticket for Frustration: Ordering Black Coffee

Drinkers of straightforward coffee face long waits, confused baristas.

February 27, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The Wall Street Journal reports on a conundrum familiar to drinkers of black coffee: “What lovers of straight black consider simple, easy-to-pour orders can wind up stuck behind a jam of customized, multipump concoctions. … Sometimes their pristine black joe is lightened with sugar or cream anyway. Some baristas seem bewildered by the concept of coffee taken plain.”

“Hassles over getting black coffee aren’t unique to Starbucks … but afflict many chains offering complicated, customizable brews, according to black-coffee enthusiasts,” the Journal reports.

The Journal relayed a story from one frustrated customer who waited 30 minutes for a 10-second pour, with the simple coffee order stuck in line behind much more complex beverages. Another customer suggested adding an express lane just for drinkers of black coffee.

“If black-coffee drinkers feel like a shrinking minority, it’s because they are. The number of iced lattes, cold brews, iced mochas and iced Americanos on coffee chain menus rose by double digits in the past five years, while regular-filter coffee options declined 24%, data from market research firm Technomic Inc. show,” according to the Journal.

At Starbucks, 80% of customers “add milk, sweetener, syrups or other modifiers to their coffee,” according to Andrew Linneman, vice president of global coffee and tea, Starbucks.

According to the article, many people aren’t even sure what black coffee is. Baristas report that some customers order black coffee and then complain it contained no sugar or cream. 

“Some Starbucks workers said they themselves sometimes wonder whether black coffee should include sugar or room for milk. They ask customers who order their coffee plain whether they also want it sweetened, just to make sure.”

The article quotes Brooke Cross, a Starbucks barista in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: “It’s the biggest debate. What is black coffee?”

Last week, Starbucks announced that it was adding olive oil-infused coffee to its menu.