Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
markovitch

'coffee' or 'a coffee'?

Recommended Posts

I just returned from a short trip to the UK, and my nerdy word-geek self noticed that British people tend to refer to 'a coffee' as opposed to 'tea' (not 'a tea'), and usage suggests that coffee is a 'count noun' as opposed to a 'mass noun' (alternately an 'uncountable noun'). I have my own theory about this, but I wanted to ask the crowd here at egullet if anyone else can rep for my observations, or if anyone has noticed idiosycracies in how beverages are used in conversation.

anyone?


"The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom."

---John Stewart

my blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting topic to someone like me for whom English is a foreign language.

I think such expressions as "Two coffees, please" are quite common in the United States. I wonder if expressions like "Two teas, please" are common in England.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't really help you with your theory as I've not spent too much time in England, but I will point out that the 'a coffee' phenomenon exists in the US also--at least, in the Northwest. People tend to say "some coffee" when they are speaking of what has traditionally been consumed in the States--coffee brewed from a French press or a simple coffee maker. On the other hand the phrase 'a coffee' is used when referring to anything espresso-based--ie, "let's go get a coffee at Stumptown." Could be like you said--Americans haven't been consuming espresso or espresso-based beverages for years like plain old coffee or tea.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We usually just use "coffee", singular or plural.

"I'm going fo coffee."

"You guys having coffee?"

SB (does it almost every day) :raz:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The indefinite article is used just as often as it is without, and everywhere across the US. It isn't like the soda-pop-Coke phenomenon one finds in various regions across the US.

iml

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

IML--news to me. have you any sources I could scope? I've heard what eilen mentions about espresso-based drinks and indefinite articles, which makes sense--there's never a pot of latte brewing.

that said, it was a seminal moment in my linguistic career when I heard my cousin ask for a 'root beer coke'


"The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom."

---John Stewart

my blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had to think a moment about this. I use "a coffee" as informal shorthand for "a cup of coffee."

This morning to a young lady I chat with often at a local coffeehouse...

"Hey, how's it going? I'll have a coffee and a scone."

On the other hand, I would speak differently to someone I did not know...

"Good morning. I would like a cup of coffee and a scone, please."

I've never been to the UK and have lived all my life in the SF Bay Area.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My experience is like that of IML. It varies in usage wherever I travel in the US and doesn't necessarily stick to any rule. But I find myself saying "coffee" rather than "a coffee" 75% of the time.

This is a wild guess.... but it seems that "coffee" is often used when there's a group context and "a coffee" when it's a single person consuming.

e.g. "Let's go for coffee"... or a question to a group of guests "Would you all like coffee?"

in contrast I might say to an office colleague - "I think I'll go out for a coffee - would you like me to bring one back for you" or to a guest in my home who has just arrived - "Would you like a coffee?"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a wild guess....  but it seems that "coffee" is often used when there's a group context and "a coffee when it's a single person consuming.

e.g.  "Let's go for coffee"...  or a question to a group of guests "Would you all like coffee?"

in contrast I might say to an office colleague - "I think I'll go out for a coffee - would you like me to bring one back for you"  or to a guest in my home who has just arrived - "Would you like a coffee?"

I'm inclined to agree. If you preface the word "coffee" with the implied "cup of", it makes more sense this way, ie: "Would you (singular) like a cup of coffee?" vs "Would you (plural) like coffee?"

SB (drinking a cup of coffee as we speak) :wink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm inclined to agree.  If you preface the word "coffee" with the implied "cup of", it makes more sense this way, ie: "Would you (singular) like a cup of coffee?" vs "Would you (plural) like coffee?"

SB (drinking a cup of coffee as we speak) :wink:

Well, I just couldn't resist this thread, being an old linguistics major who actually tries to teach English to people who were not raised speaking this devilish language when I'm not teaching the much more reasonable Spanish. I just had to check with my buddy Dick M., former office-mate and retired senior linguist for the software company we used to work at. (Okay, "at which we used to work.") Here's his take on it:

"Ah, another earth-shaking linguistic issue whose resolution which will doubtless influence generations to come. My own intuitions on the matter are that the article can be used when the substance in question is usually conveyed to the end-user in a standard, relatively small container of some sort whose size more-or-less defines one "dose." The article then actually modifies the understood and omitted container. Thus, you can get a (cup of) coffee or tea, a (glass of) lemonade, a (shot of) whiskey, a (bottle/can of) soda, beer, etc.--even an ice cream (normally cone, maybe dish, but definitely not pint, quart, etc.) But you can't get *a rice, *a soup, *a spaghetti, etc. [note: the asterisks denote incorrect grammar]

"That's my not-well-thought-out, off-the-top-of-the-head, response. Probably I'm wrong, but whatever the case, I have an opinion. Shoot me down if you can."

What I'm seeing develop here is a picture of Owen preparing to have coffee - lots of it, which is logical. In his travels he will, also logically, be spending time with others who drink entire pots of the stuff - coffee. As opposed to one normal human having a coffee - in a cup, not a pot.

Kinda reminds me of the difference between "un pez" - one fish still swimming in the sea - and "pescado" - a mess o' fish piled up in the fish market.

Okay, back to coffee, no matter what the quantity or countability.

Lonnie


"It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers." --James Thurber

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But you can't get *a rice, *a soup, *a spaghetti, etc. [note: the asterisks denote incorrect grammar]

Well, Lonnie, it seems to me that what you're saying is the unit is implied and to be correct usage it must be easily understood/not easy confused?? I'm not sure I agree with that but to address the above.... a rice would be a grain of rice, a soup (if used as 'I'm going to buy a soup') would be a bowl of soup, except perhaps at the grocery where it might mean a can, and a spaghetti would be a dry spaghetti noodle.... at least to me :laugh: So if you said them to me you would be correct since I would understand them.... Hmmmmm

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But you can't get *a rice, *a soup, *a spaghetti, etc. [note: the asterisks denote incorrect grammar]

Well, Lonnie, it seems to me that what you're saying is the unit is implied and to be correct usage it must be easily understood/not easy confused?? I'm not sure I agree with that but to address the above.... a rice would be a grain of rice, a soup (if used as 'I'm going to buy a soup') would be a bowl of soup, except perhaps at the grocery where it might mean a can, and a spaghetti would be a dry spaghetti noodle.... at least to me :laugh: So if you said them to me you would be correct since I would understand them.... Hmmmmm

Ken

Another exception could be in a restaurant kitchen, when a waitress calls out to the cook, "I need a rice, a soup, and a spaghetti", refering to three specific menu items by their singular names?

SB (Is this contextual grammer?) :wink:


Edited by srhcb (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"let's go get a coffee at Stumptown." 

Can I just say how much I envy you your ability to go get a coffee at Stumptown? No matter how it's put?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lonnie re: a rice, a soup, a ____

I think his analysis goes further than he thought, one can also argue that there is a null modifier in the cases of serving units:

a [bowl of] rice

a [cup of] soup

a [carboard cylinder of black liquid known as] coffee

I think this is the core of the issue--the perceived semantic unit as related to consumption-- if a speaker does not think of rice as coming in a bowl next to their stir fry, they're more likely to use the totally non-specified 'rice'

stumptown example: When one makes Stumptown coffee at home, does one say:

1) 'I am making coffee'

2) 'I am making a cup/pot of coffee'

or

3) % 'I am making a coffee'

(note % denotes akwardness)

the third is the most akward for me. when purchasing a fixed beverage from a stumptown locale, one is getting 'a [cup of] coffee.' If one assumes a fair bit of contextualization, interlocutors will assume the unit of measure (cup). I think this is pretty secure contexually--much confusion would result if one were to say:

4) I am going to stumptown for a [pound of] coffee.

they'd expect a white paper cup on return, not a bag o' beans.

i think i rehashed a bit of the few posts, but oh well.


"The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom."

---John Stewart

my blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm inclined to agree.  If you preface the word "coffee" with the implied "cup of", it makes more sense this way, ie: "Would you (singular) like a cup of coffee?" vs "Would you (plural) like coffee?"

SB (drinking a cup of coffee as we speak) :wink:

Well, I just couldn't resist this thread, being an old linguistics major who actually tries to teach English to people who were not raised speaking this devilish language when I'm not teaching the much more reasonable Spanish. I just had to check with my buddy Dick M., former office-mate and retired senior linguist for the software company we used to work at. (Okay, "at which we used to work.") Here's his take on it:

"Ah, another earth-shaking linguistic issue whose resolution which will doubtless influence generations to come. My own intuitions on the matter are that the article can be used when the substance in question is usually conveyed to the end-user in a standard, relatively small container of some sort whose size more-or-less defines one "dose." The article then actually modifies the understood and omitted container. Thus, you can get a (cup of) coffee or tea, a (glass of) lemonade, a (shot of) whiskey, a (bottle/can of) soda, beer, etc.--even an ice cream (normally cone, maybe dish, but definitely not pint, quart, etc.) But you can't get *a rice, *a soup, *a spaghetti, etc. [note: the asterisks denote incorrect grammar]

"That's my not-well-thought-out, off-the-top-of-the-head, response. Probably I'm wrong, but whatever the case, I have an opinion. Shoot me down if you can."

What I'm seeing develop here is a picture of Owen preparing to have coffee - lots of it, which is logical. In his travels he will, also logically, be spending time with others who drink entire pots of the stuff - coffee. As opposed to one normal human having a coffee - in a cup, not a pot.

Kinda reminds me of the difference between "un pez" - one fish still swimming in the sea - and "pescado" - a mess o' fish piled up in the fish market.

Okay, back to coffee, no matter what the quantity or countability.

Lonnie

Going on this theory, I should ask my guest if she'd like "a water."

I suspect she'd fear I was getting ready to sprinkle her.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Same thing as Eilen described: I buy or make 'a' coffee when its anything fancier than straight from the brew vessel +cream and sugar. That old standby is 'coffee' or 'some coffee', or 'a cup of coffee'.

Same thing happened with beer. My folks drank a glass of or a can of beer (mass). My college roomies "had a beer" (or six) (count).

Jaymes, thanks for the chuckle. I suspect the day is here when some folks open the fridge, show off the various bottles of water in the door, and ask their guest if she wants 'a water'. I've been asked if I wanted 'a Perrier'.


Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By Johnhouse
      Hello everyone!
       
      I have been working in food and beverage industry for almost 10 years in different countries. I am looking forward to learn new things on this forum to expand my food and beverage knowledge as well as sharing my experiences that I gained in my journey!
       
      Have a good day! ☺️ 
    • By MattJohnson
      I've been a big coffee fan for years, but lately, I've been drinking more tea.
      Where do you get your tea? Do you have an importer you like? An online store you frequent. I've been buying tea from Rishi at stores in the Milwaukee area (they are located in the area too) and have been very happy.
      One of my favorites so far is the Earl Green. Very tasty.
      .... sorry if there is a thread like this already, I did a quick search but didn't see anything....
    • By liuzhou
      This arose from this topic, where initially @Anna N asked about tea not being served at the celebratory meal I attended. I answered that it is uncommon for tea to be served with meals (with one major exception). I was then asked for further elucidation by @Smithy. I did start replying on the topic but the answer got longer than I anticipated and was getting away from the originally intended topic about one specific meal. So here were are..
       
      I'd say there are four components to tea drinking in China.

      a) When you arrive at a restaurant, you are often given a pot of tea which people will sip while contemplating the menu and waiting for other  guests to arrive. Dining out is very much a group activity, in the main. When everyone is there and the food dishes start to arrive the tea is nearly always forgotten about. The tea served like this will often be a fairly cheap, common brand - usually green.
       
      You also may be given a cup of tea in a shop if your purchase is a complicated one. I recently bought a new lap top and the shop assistant handed me tea to sip as she took down the details of my requirements. Also, I recently had my eyes re-tested in order to get new spectacles. Again, a cup of tea was provided. Visit someone in an office or have a formal meeting and tea or water will be provided.
       
      b) You see people walking about with large flasks (not necessarily vacuum flasks) of tea which they sip during the day to rehydrate themselves. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, shop keepers etc all have their tea flask.  Of course, the tea goes cold. I have a vacuum flask, but seldom use it - not a big tea fan. There are shops just dedicated to selling the drinks flasks.
       
      c) There has been a recent fashion for milk tea and bubble tea here, two trends imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively. It is sold from kiosks and mainly attracts younger customers. McDonald's and KFC both do milk and bubble teas.
       

      Bubble and Milk Tea Stall
       

      And Another
       

      And another - there are hundreds of them around!
       

      McDonald's Ice Cream and Drinks Kiosk.


      McDonald's Milk Tea Ad
       
      d) There are very formal tea tastings and tea ceremonies, similar in many ways to western wine tastings. These usually take place in tea houses where you can sample teas and purchase the tea for home use. These places can be expensive and some rare teas attract staggering prices. The places doing this pride themselves on preparing the tea perfectly and have their special rituals. I've been a few times, usually with friends, but it's not really my thing. Below is one of the oldest serious tea houses in the city. As you can see, they don't go out of their way to attract custom. Their name implies they are an educational service as much as anything else. Very expensive!
       

      Tea House

      Supermarkets and corner shops carry very little tea. This is the entire tea shelving in my local supermarket. Mostly locally grown green tea.
       

       

      Local Guangxi Tea
       
      The most expensive in the supermarket was this Pu-er Tea (普洱茶 pǔ ěr chá) from Yunnan province. It works out at ¥0.32per gram as opposed to ¥0.08 for the local stuff. However, in the tea houses, prices can go much, much higher!
       

       
       
    • By catdaddy
      Mrs catdaddy has been good this year and I'm considering buying a Rancilio Silvia as a Christmas present. I know this machine gets a lot of love here, especially when outfitted with a PID. After reading many posts I'm just wondering if there is anything new (since 2013 say) I should know about  the Rancilio or other great machine on the market?
       
      Also any tips about use and/or essential other tools.....like a good knock box. We've got a great grinder already.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...