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Home » Culture and Criticism

Coffee Talk

Submitted by on May 10, 2010 – 9:20 AM167 Comments

I have a couple of questions about coffee — about the word "coffee," the ways we use it, not about the beverage itself.

The first one: "coffee black." I don't order my coffee in the same style every time; usually I want it with milk and two sugars, but sometimes, I just want the bean juice — no cream, no Splenda, nada nunca. It seems logically as though that is coffee black.

It isn't, at least in NYC-area delis and restaurants; around here, "coffee black" only means no dairy products, and if I don't specify "a coffee black, nothing else in it," the server will add sugar. Even when I've specified, the server usually asks, "Sugar?" "Black. Nothing else in it."

I meant to test the theory that it's a Gotham regionalism on my road trip, but I've conditioned myself so thoroughly to ask for black coffee in that fashion that I never got to test the theory (and I could have just asked people, but I never remembered, because I…needed coffee).

My basis for believing that New York City has its own coffee-ordering m.o. is not the firmest: my mother explained to me once that, "in the city," "coffee regular" meant cream and sugar. I don't remember the context of the conversation; I do know that neither of my parents took their coffee that way (half-and-half only — or, as my father rendered it on the shopping list to save time, "1").

So, English-speakers and -watchers around the globe: discuss. What does "coffee black" mean to you? What does it mean to your local servers? To your parents? What about "coffee regular" — does it mean the same thing in Wichita and Walla Walla? Do we even observe these nuances anymore in the age of Starbucks, the cup of coffee as lifestyle signifier?

The next question addresses what I've observed as a regionalism shift. I didn't do a ton of coffee-getting as a teenager, but as of when I left for college, when I wanted to invite a friend or cute boy to enjoy a caffeinated beverage outside of the home, I said, "Let's have coffee." (Or, sometimes, "Let's 'do' coffee," carefully rendering the verbal air quotes — I think we still thought of that as ironic phrasing then.)

As I got closer with Ernie, a European, I adopted her more British usage of certain terms — "glovebox" (versus "glove compartment"); "have a coffee" or "get a coffee" (versus "have/get coffee," no article).

My parents would tease me a little for adopting these lexical Ernie-isms, but I've noticed over the last few years that that one — "have/get A coffee" — is becoming standard. And if I had to point to a reason, I'd say that it's the lifestyle-signifier shift I mentioned above; for most of us, twenty years ago, coffee was coffee was coffee, and while you could order it different ways — black, regular, light one sugar — it was still coffee. Nobody had an opinion on the merits of drip vs. percolated that I can remember, although a perk coffeemaker looked impossibly complicated to operate when I was a kid, the domain of grandmas and church kitchens too strapped to upgrade.

Now, nobody doesn't know what a cappuccino is, what an espresso is, what a French press is. You might not care, but you know these terms, and their contemporary presence everywhere seems to have elevated coffee lexically from a useful beverage to an experience, a mini-event. When you have dinner, that could mean anything from a Michelin-starred steak to microwaved mac-and-cheese; when you have A dinner, that's something different, with invitations and linen.

Do you still have coffee? Or do you have A coffee? If you have A coffee, is this something you grew up saying, or hearing your parents say? Or did you start saying it in the last five or ten years, without realizing it or knowing why?

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167 Comments »

  • bristlesage says:

    I'm from Las Vegas, NV, I mention for regionalism purposes. Out there, black coffee means just coffee–no sugar, no cream. And I live in Chicago now, and it's the same here.

    As far as getting A coffee vs. getting coffee, I think they're used pretty interchangably both places. I do think that at home, you pretty much always just have coffee, though, in either place. It's when you're talking about stopping at Intelligentsia or some place that people will sometimes say, "Let's stop for a coffee."

  • Lisa says:

    My father told me that if I wanted to drink coffee, I should learn to drink it black, because then you'd never have to worry about whether or not the server has milk, or cream, or Splenda, or sugar or whatever. So I did.

    I grew up in Illinois, but I now live in Arkansas, and servers in both places know what I mean when I say "black coffee." I rarely go to Starbucks or other "coffee bars" because when I say "black coffee" they look at me like they don't know what that means. Hate them.

  • Amie says:

    I'm in eastern Connecticut (which sometimes shares some of the linguistic oddities of the New York area and sometimes really, really doesn't). In my mind, "coffee black" has nothing at all in it, too, but I find that often I'm "wrong" in interpreting other people's intentions when they order that around me, and they simply mean "no dairy". "Coffee regular" or "regular coffee" has, in my experience, referred to "cream and sugar" although, due to the variety of options out there now, I rarely hear it ordered that way anymore, because more often that ISN'T how someone is going to want it (it no longer stand for a "most likely" configuration which one would assume as a default).

    When I drive through Dunkin' Donuts, my typical order is "large hot coffee with sugar and extra skim milk". I used to not specify the "hot" part, but I got sick of every time having to clarify that no, I did NOT mean an iced coffee.

    As far as invitations for a casual meeting over some kind of beverage, I still say "Let's get/have coffee or something", but I really don't invite or get invited to such things much anymore, so I might not be current in the phrasing. I tend to think "A coffee" would refer specifically to going somewhere intending to drink coffee, rather than "get coffee" as a substitute for the generic experience of meeting over a casual beverage. I kind of wonder how this parallels the "let's have cocktails" variation on an invitation.

  • Julia says:

    I'm in Sweden, but I would say that a black coffee both in Swedish and in English is a coffee with nothing else in it. (Regionalism: It can also be called a smooth or even cup of coffee, "slät".)

  • Kriesa says:

    I live in upstate NY, and I order "black coffee" not "coffee black". And it does not come with sugar. We go "for coffee" or "to get coffee". I don't remember hearing anyone say "A coffee". I'll have to remember the nuances if I ever get down to NYC again.

  • Carole says:

    I love these coffee questions because as a server and a coffee drinker I learned to specifiy, specify, specify. Or, there would be trouble. If you order your coffee black, you will normally get a double take to make sure you really mean black, or with sugar. Before I was a server I thought black meant, black, nothing else. I was in for such a surprise when usually the person saying black just meant no cream. I live in Florida, so people are from everywhere here, and I no longer assume anything about anyone's coffee. I'm always surprised when I do the local fast food iced coffee and the amount of cream they put in the coffee basically turns it white. Is that how people are preferring it these days or is it just the fast food component?

  • Jane says:

    Speaking as a Midwestern tea drinker who couldn't pick a French press out of a lineup (though I do know what the thing does), I'd say that here "go for coffee" is the standard form for the social outing. If I hear people talk about "getting a coffee," that's walking over to pick up the item; they don't "get a coffee" by sitting down with somebody else over the beverage. If there's a tea analogue, it's "tea" versus "a cup of tea." And while I often hear the former for the latter–"I'm going for coffee–anybody want anything?"–I don't hear the latter for the former–no "let's go get a coffee sometime."

  • Katherine says:

    Central Ohio – black coffee is just coffee, at least in my experience at locally owned business, Starbucks or McDonald's. At delis/diners, usually the only question is for cream since the sugar is on the table. And I do say "Let's go to the park and get a coffee and walk around." So more in the vein of what Amie was saying – where getting the coffee is part of the reason for going. If that makes sense – I'm only on my first cup of coffee!

  • attica says:

    I'm not a coffee drinker (Diet Coke, represent!), so I only know coffee through the experiences of others. My first exposure to 'coffee regular' being 'w/cream & sugar' was from my stepdad, when he sent me on coffee runs. I was skeptical that 'regular' would mean 'fully adorned', but the counter people agreed on that nomenclature (Upstate NY and Vermont, and thirty years ago, fwiw).

    I used to rely on 'have A coffee' as a sign that the American-accented players in English movies weren't actually American, but you're right; that's a tad less likely anymore.

  • Jas says:

    Here in mid-Michigan, "black coffee" is just coffee, no additions or extras.

    I guess I've never paid attention to the phrasing used when people are suggesting going out for coffee, but in reading over your post, both "get coffee" and "get A coffee" sounded right to me. I've used both myself, and never gotten strange looks.

  • Katharine says:

    I'm Canadian, so our coffee vocab is shaped by Timmie's. "Roll up the rim!" Coffee, black (or, more usually, "large (small, med, etc.) black") is black here, no sugar. Regular is one cream, one sugar. The "double-double" – two of each – seems to be a very popular choice.

    I "get a coffee", meaning either the social event or yet another in the procession of my daily caffeinated intake, but I definitely picked that up on my own. My parents are first-generation European immigrants and don't use slang, and for them, coffee is a thing made from a scoop of Taster's Choice and a scoop of Coffee-Mate, in their own kitchen in a real stoneware cup with a saucer, once or perhaps twice per day.

  • kellyu says:

    In Australia you'd want a long black. A short black is a bit bigger than an espresso, but a long black is just espresso with a lot of extra water.

    Coffee regular would be a flat white.

  • Katie says:

    From London, UK – and I have a black filter coffee if ordering in a restaurant (just a black coffee in a shop – usually with the "just" included). And although I'm more likely to say, "lets go for a drink", I would invite a friend for "a" coffee every time.

  • Delia Lloyd says:

    I'm an American who's lived in London for 4 years. I've now made the switch from having coffee to having A coffee. But let's not get started on what you call the different drinks. My most arcane coffee-related discovery of late: the difference between a Flat White and a white Americano…I'll leave you hanging.

  • Hellcat13 says:

    I have coffee up here in Ottawa, Canada. As far as the contents, we're very influenced by the Tim Horton's culture (the chain is everywhere, but it has TERRIBLE coffee IMO). Black coffee means just that – no cream, no sugar. Regular is one cream, one sugar, and then we have the double-double: two creams, two sugars. Even non-Tim's coffee shops use that nomenclature now.

  • Charity says:

    I remember learning back high school age or so (late 80s) that "coffee regular" meant two creams and two sugars. I don't think I've ever heard anyone other than my grandparents actually use the term though.

    I've lived plenty of places across the country (midwest, southwest, west, mid-atlantic) and have always only heard black coffee meant for coffee with nothing else at all. I can't remember ever having coffee anywhere other than Starbucks in NYC, though, so can't help with that in particular.

    Also, I've never heard anyone I actually know say, "Let's get A coffee." I've only heard it on TV. We just say either "coffee" or "some coffee."

  • Kathy says:

    Coffee black? Do people really say that? Here in Ohio, it's black coffee and that means no cream or sugar. And not sure if it is just me, but will say "get a coffee" rather than "get coffee".

  • Halo says:

    I'm from Seattle, which somewhat complicates things, but I was also raised by old Swedes. Seattleites would say black coffee to mean coffee with nothing in it, while my family calls this coffee. Sometimes, in a coffee house, you have to ask if they have brewed coffee. The standard question the counter staff asks is "room?" It's rare that anybody would add the cream and/or sugar for the customer. The east weirds me out for this reason.

  • Nik says:

    I have lived in Pittsburgh all my life and have been drinking coffee for about 14 years. When I order black coffee, 9 times out of ten the server follows that with "Sugar?" so I have started saying "plain ocffee". It works but I also find it weird bc I grew up here so if "black coffee" does not equal "coffee without sugar", then how did I understand it that way?

  • Shissher says:

    I'm from Boston … a "coffee black" means no cream, no sugar. A "coffee regular" means cream and sugar. I didn't realize that that was a regional thing until I traveled out of New England, asked for a coffee regular, and the woman at the counter wanted to know if I wanted cream and sugar.

    I had always hoped that the rest of the country would get on board with ordering coffee regular or coffee black, making ordering coffee a bit easier, but now that we have Venti, Half-Caff, etc., it seems that I am cursed to spend an eternity in the line at Starbucks.

  • Mrs. Whatsit says:

    In the SE, specifically Atlanta, black coffee means without anything in it, and regular coffee means not decaffeinated. Also, around here, you don't hear the word "coffee" preceding the adjective.

  • Leigh in CO says:

    I think NY is different, based on the tales/instructions told by my friends from that state. I'm originally from New Mexico, with parents from Mississippi and Indiana, and in my world, black coffee means plain coffee. When I visited NY, I was kind of surprised to realize people trust the coffee preparers to put the right amount of dairy and sweetener in it; not doing it myself was a very strange concept.

    Also: My friends and I "get coffee" and "have a drink." I cannot say, however, that I haven't used "get a coffee."

  • tulip says:

    I live in Atlanta, GA and if you ordered "coffee black" from me I'd give you coffee with nothing in it. I've never heard it used the other way, to mean just with no dairy. I've never heard the term "coffee regular" to mean anything other than the size of the cup. My coffee ordering is usually tea but when I do order actual coffee I say "light and sweet" and get cream and sugar. Some places I go to want you to be specific, "large coffee, 3 half-half (or skim etc…)and 4 sugars (or splendas etc…). I order chai lattes a lot and add a shot of espresso to them. My shop calls that a "dirty chai" but I've found if I say that elsewhere people are confused.

    I also say "get a coffee" and glovebox but I had no idea these were British-isms.

  • JenInBoston says:

    It took me years after I moved to Boston to get into the habit of ordering "coffee regular" instead of "coffee with cream and sugar". I would order "coffee, cream and sugar" and the server would then say, without fail: "you mean regular?" I felt like I was going native when I started saying coffee regular without having to think about it first.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Even if I order a black coffee, I still have to specify; the word order doesn't seem to make a difference (the reason for saying it "coffee black" is that I put the size first, I think — "Can I get a large coffee? Black, nothing in it").

    But if somebody asks me what I'm drinking, I won't say "coffee black." "Whatcha got there?" "Black coffee."

    @Halo: "Seattleites would say black coffee to mean coffee with nothing in it, while my family calls this coffee." So does mine. The coffee is the coffee; I assumed growing up that "coffee regular" meant "as opposed to decaf," not "coffee with cream and sugar."

  • Anna says:

    My experience comes from working at a Dunkin Donuts about 20 minutes outside of NYC. If someone ordered a coffee black, it meant nothing in it. But sometimes people would use the black to specify no dairy and add on how many sugars they wanted. "Black with two sugars." But if you said black, we were trained to give you straight coffee. Regular meant cream and sugar. Light and sweet was extra cream and sugar. Dark and sweet was a bit of cream and extra sugar. I don't know if this was specific to northern NJ or what because I ordered a light and sweet coffee once in a Dunkin Donuts in another part of the country and they had no clue what I meant.

  • Ducky says:

    grew up in Alaska, went to college in Montana, now in Bay Area, CA.

    To order "coffee, black," means coffee by itself. No cream, no sugar, just pour from carafe into mug.

    "Regular coffee" is opposed to decaf, or "regular coffee" – not espresso, not cappuccino, etc.

    and we "get coffee," no article, even if no one in the group drinks coffee.

    (does the word "coffee" look misspelled to anyone else?)

  • Nicole says:

    Growing up, I was trained by my mother to say "black, no sugar" when I got her a cup of coffee from the deli. She was born and raised in the Bronx, and now lives in Rockland County, an NYC suburb with a lot of residents who grew up in Manhattan and the boroughs. I always thought it was odd that I had to specify no sugar, and the few times when I tried to rebel (I thought my mom was just being overly cautious), the guy at the counter would ask if I wanted sugar. So yes–coffee black means back coffee with sugar. Odd. "Coffee regular" is a term I've heard often too, and through college and grad school (both in NYC) I've also heard "coffee light and sweet" to mean one of two things: A. the same as "coffee regular" or B. coffee with skim milk and Sweet'N Low.

    I usually say (and I believe I hear most often) "Let's get coffee." This may be crazy, but I think it sometimes has to do with what the getting of coffee means in the context of the day. Like, if a friend and I are both in the same class/rehearsal/party/whatever, then we want to continue hanging out after it's over we'll say, "Do you want to get coffee?" But when I'm being asked out for coffee as the only thing we're going to do (a date, or meeting, or something like that), I usually hear "Why don't we get a coffee?" like it's an event.

    Ok, the word "coffee" is starting to look all weird and meaningless now. Better stop.

  • Lisa says:

    Okay, after reading these comments, the word "coffee" doesn't even look like a real word.

  • Carrie Ann says:

    Minnesota born and raised:
    If we're talking about a coffee "date," as it were, it would be "Let's get coffee sometime" or occasionally "We should go for coffee next week."

    When you order coffee, you just say "coffee" or "decaf." I can't imagine any server in a restaurant, coffee shop, or corner store here adding your cream or sugar for you. Midwesterners would never presume to know what you want. They always bring the cream and sugar to the table.

  • Alexandra says:

    In the places I've lived (Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest) black coffee is coffee with nothing in it.

    I say "get coffee" or "get some coffee," but "get A coffee" wouldn't strike me as odd.

  • Rachel says:

    I'm from Ohio, and the classic Kent State University coffeehouse was called "Brady's" so it was "let's go to Brady's" as shorthand for "I have a chemistry final coming up and require copious amounts of caffeine." Sadly, Brady's is now a Starbucks. I bet they don't have Sharpies on the shelf in the ladies' room to write on the walls with. Sigh. Anyway, you'd order 'coffee' and they would leave you to doctor it up in your own way. I never heard of ordering it any other way (regular, light/sweet, etc) until…

    …I moved to New Jersey, and was utterly befuddled at the fact that the Dunkin' Donuts would put in the cream and sugar for me. They overdo it, AND the Dunkin' coffee sucks so incredibly, I can't believe people drink it willingly. ANYWAY, ordering coffee anywhere but there (the diner, the Starbucks, the Italian bakery with the chain-smoking dudes watching soccer at all hours of the day, whathaveyou) is just "let's get coffee" and I'm left to my own devices with the add-ons.

  • Colin says:

    As a native, in fact, of Wichita, I can say fairly definitively that "coffee black" there means just that, but I can't comment on "coffee regular" – my parents are both black-drinkers, so I hadn't even heard the phrase (at least, outside of the versus-decaf context) until fairly recently. And I've done most of my living since childhood in Colorado, where black coffee is also, um, black, thank goodness.

    Sars, I think you've saved my bacon; I'm looking at a grad program in NYC, and I'm sure I would've, at some point, made the mistake of ordering "coffee black" and getting a nasty surprise. Endless thanks. I need my caffeine unadulterated.

    I think the hair-split for me (re: the inclusion of the article) lies on the event versus the object. I'd say "get/have/do coffee" to mean, you know, sitting and chatting in the presence of beverages, and "get/have A coffee" if I meant more of a surgical strike involving just one coffee. For what it's worth.

  • Krissa says:

    First of all, "coffee" no longer looks like a word.

    Second of all, I grew up in Alaska, went to long years of school in Oklahoma, and am now in the DC area, and "black coffee" has always meant "coffee with nothing in it."
    Regular coffee = full caffeination; has nothing to do with additions to the mix. Also called "the real stuff."

    I would be very confused if I ordered black coffee, and it came out with sugar added. Also, who drinks coffee with just sugar? Is this a popular combination that I've somehow avoided all these years?

  • LauraP says:

    My adult coffee-drinking life has been spent in Portland (OR) and I've never heard anyone order coffee "regular" or even "black." Coffee = coffee except when it is a latte, espresso, etc. As @Halo said, the baristas don't add things to your coffee except in the case of syrups or foamed milk or whatnot. I order my coffee at the local coffeehouse thus: "medium coffee, with room [for the milk I will add myself]."

    And when nipping out during the workday, we say "going for coffee." No articles here yet.

  • Anna says:

    In my suburban town Out West (CA), "regular coffee" means definitely NOT decaf, no dairy, no sweetener, not a large-sized cup. Even prior to the Starbucks ubiquity, the server usually did not add the condiments, but there was a cream jug and a box of sugar packets somewhere to the side to accommodate. Plus those plastic teensy straw-like stirrers that get all bendy in the heat and then don't agitate so much as irritate.

    Getting a coffee vs. just coffee is interchangeable among my crowd, except that most of us don't drink coffee in the afternoon in the amounts we did in college, so "coffee" usually means something frothy and decaf, or tea, or some kind of pseudo-healthy juice thing. Very Californian.

  • StillAnotherKate says:

    As a member of the seemingly miniscule non-coffee drinking portion of the Nation, I thought I would have nothing to add to this conversation. But when I was in college, I worked summers in a deli in Westchester County (just north of NYC). The young-but-old-school Italian guys who ran this deli used to call me "College" cause they thought it was hysterical I thought I needed advanced education. Anyway, they used to make the distinction between "Regular" from the City and "Regular" locally. "Ya got to be careful, College, cause the City drinkers think regular means cream AND sugar while around here it means just sugar." Black was black. I can just hear them: "Sheez, College. Everyone knows that!"

    As for the article argument, I think Matt and Ray of the M&R Deli would say "Well, aren't you special, you got to go for A coffee? Well all we serve here is coffee and if you don't like it, there's the door." This was, of course, a decade or so before anyone had ever heard of Starbucks.

  • Liz in Minneapolis says:

    You know how words suddenly lose all meaning and look wrong when you read them too many times in succession? That just happened to me with "coffee."

    Raised in rural Ohio, living in Minneapolis, worked the counter at Hardee's for half a year – black coffee has nothing in it. I understand "coffee, white" to have just cream, although I know this from the same literary sources that let me know about "Adam and Eve on a raft" rather than ordering exerience – and those Coffee-mate powdered things are all labeled as "whiteners."

    I don't think I've really heard the "a coffee" construction, even from my English choir director, who's always telling us we have 10 minutes to "go have some coffee" between rehearsal and the service. I do hear people talking about getting "a cup of coffee," always with the cup included, but it seems they're making a statement about limiting intake – it means they aren't going to go hang out re-filling that cup all night in the coffee house, or be standing in the fellowship hall talking for 20 minutes while also eating cookies, but are just going to grab a beverage which happens to be coffee and go about their business. Coffee consumption is so ritualistic that it seems a reasonable thing to be specifying.

  • Vex says:

    I've spent most of my life in Texas, save for a few years in Florida, and I've never heard of "black coffee" being anything other than coffee with nothing else in it.

    For that matter, unless it's a Starbucks drive-through, I've never seen a server add the cream and sugar for you. Cream and sugar is either brought to the table on request or available at a condiment bar.

    As for the "have/get/do coffee"… it's usually "get", sometimes "have". Neither would get you looked at funny.

    And "have coffee" vs. "have A coffee"? It's "get/have SOME coffee". "Have coffee" works fine too, but I've never been invited out to "have A coffee".

  • Colin says:

    Also, I LOVE that "digestible" is considered a key selling point in that ad. [snerk]

  • Cyntada says:

    Teas snob here, thanks. I do drink the bean juice, and find that "black coffee" gets me unadorned brewed beans. Anything else is a crap shoot… be as specific as possible.

    Some years ago a friend told me that in the Eastern states, if you wanted more cream you ordered "white" or "extra white." I've seen a few old-fashioned coffee vending machines with that option as well.

    I also worked for a design department that had a chart of Pantone chips demonstrating eveyone's preferred tone of coffee after the cream was added, but that's a bunch of graphic artists for you.

  • lizb says:

    At Dunkin Donuts in the greater Boston area, black is no cream or sugar, regular is cream & sugar. Anything else, you need to specify.

  • Sharon says:

    Another Canadian here. It's interesting to read all the different interpretation of what coffee means to people. I live on the West Coast, and grew up just asking for coffee. That means black coffee – nothing in it. If you wanted milk/cream or sugar, you had to ask. If you order it in a sit down restaurant however, a platter with creamers and sugar packets is almost always brought along with your coffee, so you never have to ask for it. "Coffee regular" would mean you wanted the opposite of decaf, if you were having it late at night or something.

    As for get/have A coffee, I've said both as far back as I can remember. I guess that comes from our British ties here in BC/Canada? I dunno.

  • Rachel says:

    I grew up in and currently live in Chicago, and I've only known "black coffee" to mean coffee with nothing in it.

    As for getting coffee vs. getting a coffee, I usually say something like "Let's go out for coffee" or "Let's have coffee." If I use an article it's because I'm referring to a cup of coffee: "I could really go for a cup of coffee right now." vs. "I could really go for some coffee right now."

    I lived in the UK for three years, and I honestly didn't pick up on a difference. But now that I think about it, the "a coffee" phrasing might have been more popular.

  • Michelle says:

    The word "coffee" suddenly looks and sounds very strange. As a Midwesterner who now lives in Boston, I tend to put the "a" in front of coffee. I'm not sure if there's a dominant version in Boston. I actually searched my emails and saw it both ways. There seems to be a formal/informal determination though. When I lived in London, I definitely remember "a coffee" and "a cup of tea". I don't know about ordering as I don't drink coffee, but I remember visiting Americans in London had to ask for an "American coffee" as otherwise they found it too strong.

  • penguinlady says:

    I've now seen the word "coffee" so often it doesn't look correct anymore!

    Canada and Upstate have been represented already; the only other place I've lived is LA, which doesn't count, because everyone orders a "venti half-caf soy frappe with a double shot".

  • Amy says:

    As a native NY'er, I grew up understanding that coffee regular (generally ordered from street vendors in the morning along with your roll/bagel/whatever) meant coffee with milk and 2 sugars. It seems fewer people understand that these days other than long-time diner waitresses. And in my morning deli black means coffee without milk or sugar.
    I've generally started adopting "have a coffee" over the past few years, but I also work with a lot of Europeans and have found myself adopting their terminology.

  • chellebird says:

    I'm in Chicago, but grew up in Joliet, a city of Greek-owned "family restaurants." Ordering "Coffee, black" (with the pause, using black as a description of the coffee) will get you a cup of plain coffee with no additives. If the waitress asks if you want "regular," it's a references to the caffeine–you can have regular or decaf. I've never heard "regular" referring to cream & sugar. Those you just ask for by name.
    I first heard of "having A coffee" when I visited a friend doing a semester abroad. I always say I'm going to go get coffee, or some coffee. If I'm at work and offering to pick things up for coworkers, it's "I'm going to Starbucks, need anything?" It's right at the corner, it's gonna be the place I go.

  • Sophie says:

    I'm from New Orleans and now live in Chicago. In both places, I agree with Halo…if you go to a coffee shop and order a coffee, they'll just ask you if you want room. Ordering a "small coffee" will get you a plain cup of coffee with no milk or sugar. The only time someone in either of these places would put milk in your coffee for you is if you were to order a cafe au lait or something similar, or and iced coffee. When I was younger, my parents only drank plain black coffee, but I think I knew that "black coffee" could mean coffee with sugar. But even then, at restaurants, you'd never expect the server to add the cream and sugar for you…it would just come on the side.

    As for "getting a coffee" vs "getting coffee," we have always used the two interchangably.

  • Otter says:

    I'm not a coffee drinker, but my understanding is that "black"=nothing in it. And now Sars' comment reminds me that "regular"=not-Sanka (decaf)

    My northern-Michigan grandparents always referred to decaf as Sanka. FWIW margarine was "oleo", the couch/sofa was the davenport, and Grandmother regularly used "queer" in the non-sexual sense.

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