Jitters Coffee or How Not to Make a Whole Milk Latte

Jitters Coffee
Jitters Coffee, originally uploaded by andai.

Ok, I think we need to get this 2% + (1/2 & 1/2) = whole milk issue resolved once and for all… and to do that, first I have to tell you a little story. This is the true story of my visit to Jitters Coffee this morning and meeting the unblinking barista. But before I begin, a little background first.

Many, many months ago, I used to go to Jitters Coffee, in Bellevue, every so often for my morning double tall latte. This was when I was working on the East side of the pond and I didn’t have time to stop somewhere on Capital Hill for a coffee on my way to work. They have a drive-thru which is great when you are in a hurry and also because it was just easier having to park and all that. As an aside, here’s a tip for those in a a hurry, in general drive-thru customers tend to get served faster than in-store customers, no matter what type of store you go to. Anyway back to the story. At the time I was frequenting the place, I was on an extremely stressful and long project. At the same time, it was also that time of the year in Seattle when it’s overcast, dark and cloudy all the time, and the sun would set at 4:00 pm while I’d be siting in the office surrounded by stress and yellow Jitters coffee cups. And for these reasons that I somehow subconsciously began to associate Jitters Coffee with the winter blues and stressful projects and so I never really liked going back there once I was done with the project. This was a year and some months ago.

Well today, I had a early morning conference call in Redmond, and I didn’t have time to pick up a latte on the way to the office, so I begrudgingly decided that I would pass by Jitters and get a latte after the meeting. Now rather than go through the drive-thru, I decided I’ll go in and place my order and at the same time see what sort of beans they use.

The first thing I asked the barista was if they had any whole milk. Without batting her eyelids, the barista looked at me and replied, “Yes”. This is great I thought because I remembered in the past they did not carry whole milk, the closest they had to that was 2%. I was excited. So I asked her when they start carrying whole milk thinking that it must have been customer requests or something like that that made them decide to start carrying whole milk. she looked at me once again and without batting an eyelid she tells me, “No we don’t actually buy whole milk, we make our own. We mix 1/2 & 1/2 with 2% and that makes whole milk!”.

As soon as I heard that my heart sank! Ok, I was thinking, nothing much has changed. And most places will at least acknowledge that they don’t have whole milk but them will offer to add 1/2 & 1/2 to the milk to ‘fatten’ it up a bit. but I have never heard anyone tell me unabashedly that whole milk is simply a combination of 1/2 & 1/2 and 2%.

At this point I am thinking whatever, so I let her continue with my order while I start looking at the far wall behind the counter where the beans were stored in big clear plastic containers. I was happy to see that Jitters actually uses Cafe Vita coffee beans. I get my coffee, add my usual sugar and start sampling.

Now under normal circumstances I would say that Cafe Vita is a great roast and so I’d expect Jitters to make me a great… well let’s say a decent latte. Not so! My coffee was really not too great. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t one that would really make me want to go back again. I think the main reason why I didn’t enjoy the coffee was their faux whole milk. Contrary to popular belief at many similar coffee shops (or stands), 1/2 & 1/2 + 2% does not equate to Whole Milk. Its as simple as that.

Even accounting for the fact that many coffee shops do not use good milk, i.e. organic, hormone and pesticide free milk, I believe it is much better to stick to one or the other in the absence of whole milk. Personally I prefer whole milk but I have also had good lattes that were made with just 2%. I also remember a time when I used to really like breves, but now I find those a little too rich for me. 2% can work, and I have been to places where it certainly has worked, but you have to get a really great barista, and have the right brand of milk, preferably organic, and beans to pull that off. I have come to conclude, after having had this done in a number of places that mixing half and half with 2% (or fat free milk for that matter) is just not a substitute for whole milk!

One other reason I really don’t like about Jitters was their store’s interior design. Normally, you would think of coffee shops as a warm and welcoming place, especially during the winter times, but unfortunately, Jitters is not quite like that. Jitters is not really a place that I feel give that inviting, come hither feel. The seating is rather sparse and some how feels odd, and in some ways the place almost feels unfinished. The irony is that there is a Starbucks across the driveway and one thing you can say for sure about Starbucks, at least their stores tend to feel much more relaxing and welcoming.

I hope Jitters Coffee will take note and start stocking whole milk for the few of us who do enjoy our lattes a little more fatty, a little more creamy, a little more delightful. And I guess as long as I am using the drive-thru, then the interior doesn’t matter as much… at least to me…

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