The wise editor/writer/parodist Jim Windolf published an arch and provocative but also entirely accurate tweet this morning:
That extra-large coffee makes you look desperate. Get an advantage over your rivals by ordering a small.
— Jim Windolf (@jimwindolf) September 23, 2014
This is a fact. The small coffee—also known as a regular coffee—is one of humanity's great inventions: an easily handled, hot, delicious, stimulating serving of a beverage. Large, larger, and largest coffees are grim and tragic. (We have already discussed the related tragedy of the bucket-sized brownish syrup-and-caffeine hot milkshakes sold by "coffee" shops.)
When you drink a coffee larger than a small coffee, the coffee gets cold before you can finish it. You begin with a steaming, uplifting sip, and by gradual stages you end up sucking down cold, aroma-less dregs. Everyone knows this. Even people who disdain small coffee will confess that their larger beverages end in misery.
Thus the reasons they give for drinking wrong-sized coffee have nothing to do with coffee. They are mostly confessions of helplessness and defeat: It's more practical. They can "stock up" at one go. They need the extra coffee to wake up.
Drinking a large coffee, that is, means that they feel unable to assert their own dignity or control their own circumstances. The small-coffee drinker, feeling the need for more coffee, stands up and gets a second (or third, or fourth) small cup of coffee. Maybe even by going outside. The large-coffee drinker slurps the room-temperature excess coffee blindly, while staring at a screen.
Yes, the small-coffee perspective is one of privilege. Much of what we know as liberty is simply privilege extended to a larger circle of humanity. The fact that many workers lack the freedom to take a real coffee break is not an argument in favor of oversized coffee. It's an argument against prevailing working conditions.
Then there is the economic argument: For only a little bit more money than a regular cup of coffee, you can buy way too much more coffee. What kind of sucker doesn't buy the most? This is the logic that leads to endless acres of flimsy mass-built mansions in the Sun Belt, to overflowing hog-waste lagoons laced with growth-promoting antibiotics, to the Cadillac Escalade, to the plastic-choked oceans rising to drown us all.
Drink a small coffee.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]