There is no substitute

You don’t go to a coffee shop, order a coffee and get an Americano. However, a barista is smart to offer an Americano as a substitute because it’s similar, but the differences can end up being crucial.
There is no substitute

By Jeff Lund

Instagram: @alaskalund


So, there I was, driving to school on the first day of the second semester. It was during one of those torturous days between the finishing off of last month’s PR Blend, and the arrival of the new bag. I was too distracted by the podcast I was listening to pull off to my favorite local place that sells a large coffee for $1. It’s roasted right there, ground right there and brewed right there. So good. Anyway, I missed it and pulled into one of the drive thru coffee places in town. 
On the outside wall “Good Coffee” was painted in conspicuous black paint against the white siding.

“I don’t have drip.”
A green Starbucks sign was in view, so if I really wanted coffee I’d just keep driving. She must have sensed my distain for the chain, so she offered an alternative.
“I can make you an Americano.”
“Uh. Ok.”
She started working.

“When is your drip usually ready?”

“We don’t make drip.”


I had the following conversation in my head while I waited dumbly for a coffee drink, which is not coffee.  


“Initially you said, ‘I don’t have drip’ which would lead me to believe you don’t presently have it, but it is due to conditions outside of your control. Then to say, you don’t make drip would not only have made your statement misleading, but the advertisement on the side of your building, false.”


“My initial statement regarding our ability to serve drip coffee was not false, nor should it have been misleading. I said, ‘I don’t have drip’ which clearly meant I didn’t have it.”


“Sure, but isn’t there a reasonable expectation that a drive thru coffee place would have coffee? So, by saying you didn’t have it, I could have assumed that the pot was broken or the brew wasn’t done yet. Still, on the outside of your establishment it clearly says, ‘Good Coffee’ so wouldn’t I expect coffee?”


This concludes the conversation in my head. 

“That’s $3.49.”

I paid, thanked her and drove off. Had I been more calculated in my measuring, I’d still have PR Blend. Had I been more attentive, I could have purchased the same size of cup, but with coffee, for $2.49 cheaper. But no. I was a little poorer and I had a coffee drink, not a coffee.

You don’t go to a coffee shop, order a coffee and get an Americano. However, a barista is smart to offer an Americano as a substitute because it’s similar, but the differences can end up being crucial.

An Americano is steam through finely ground beans, whereas drip is water working its way through the mound of grounds. With the Americano, you are left with a powerful shot (around 3oz), which you then add about the same amount of water to. So, if you get an Americano as a substitute, that shot might be diluted with just more water, but still get charged for the extra because it’s a coffee drink rather than a coffee-coffee. The point of an Americano or other coffee drinks is to add crème and other flavors so that you can get more sugar in your body faster. So, a larger drink has more sweets to dilute the shot. If your Americano for a coffee substitute is just more water on the same shot, it’s going to taste different because of how it is prepared.

Ground to water ratios, water temperature and duration all play a role in flavor.

Anyway, I could complain that the false or misleading advertising cost me an extra $2.49 this morning, or I could just not worry about it, because if I have the time and energy to get really angry about something like the difference between coffee and an Americano, and take out my frustrations on the employee whose fault it is not, then I have bigger issues.

If I did, I’m probably the type of person who attempts to ruin, or bury someone on Twitter.

Anyway, I got 650 words into this column before I had my first sip of the Americano.
It’s actually pretty good, but my PR Blend should arrive tomorrow and all will be right with the world.

Click here to shop the PR Blend 



Jeff Lund is a freelance writer and high school English teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska.