— by Terry McKall
Coffee rides are a long-running tradition in cycling and triathlon. There’s always time to sit and savour the sweet flavours of your favourite brew and the added caffeine boost to get you home.
Tasseography is the centuries-old tradition of reading coffee grounds to divine one’s fortune or fate. Like cycling, coffee reading traces its roots back to Europe, originating in Turkey and Greece. Mashing two traditions together, we’ve attempted to divine what your preferred coffee ride order says about you as a cyclist.
Classic, tradition, functional. You know, and will cite in the cue, the Italian tradition that no milk-based drinks should be ordered after 11 a.m. Alternatively, you know you faff too much at stops, and you need a drink you can finish quickly so you can adjust your brakes and change your layers before your friends leave without you.
Standard, basic order. You appreciate coffee and want to enjoy it, but not disrupt the flow of the ride too much. Or you’re too intimidated by the barista at the hipster cafe your friends have dragged you into to order what you really want, if this place even serves drip coffee. We’ve all been there. Don’t break down and order the pour over, it won’t be ready by the time your friends are back on their bikes.
You want to look like your Italian heroes, talk about tradition, would never ride anything but campy and say bidon, not water bottle. At the same time, espresso can be too bitter and acidic, right? Your inner child is begging you to add a little dark chocolate, to soften the blow without losing too much face. Cortado it is.
Your bike is decked out according to whatever boutique brand you’re most loyal to, or whatever local-team obligations you have. You’re fast and have fancy parts because you’re probably young enough that you still have time to train too much and don’t have kids.
This is a coffee ride, and you rightfully point out that coffee comes first in that description. So why not take your time to enjoy the barista’s foam art before you dive into your mid-ride beverage, right?
Back on the road, your kit fashionable and your bike, while nicely appointed, is functional. Carbon wheels are for the people attacking the group over the next hill, and you’re here to ride with your friends. You can cover any distance and will talk comfortably up even the steepest hills, but you’ll be helping a friend ride back up to the group before ever attacking off the front.
You got to the coffee shop early just so you could order this, along with a decadent croissant. It’s a drink that requires time to enjoy, you’ll say, but will use the word savour at least three times describing it. While a cappuccino may seem similar to a latte, you also know, and will tell at least two different people during the stop, that the difference between a latte and a cappuccino lies in the milk content. A latte has more milk while a cappuccino is considered a strong coffee. The traditional Italian espresso-based drink is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 wet foamed milk.
On the bike, you’re riding only the finest. You’ll want the pace to be vigorous but will avoid overexertion of any sort. That is to say, you’re not likely to still be on the front at the end of a sprint or the top of any longer hills.
Either you’re Dale Cooper / Kyle MacLachlan, or you’re following up a travel mug full of damn fine coffee with another steaming cup of Joe because it’s all you ever have time to make before you drive the kids to soccer on the way to the group ride.
If you didn’t arrive at the ride in a mini-van, various social media reports indicate drinking black coffee might mean you’re a sociopath, but who believes anything they read online these days, right?
Your bike choice has less to do with esoteric homages to Italian tradition than with the fact that your kids hockey equipment is expensive and league fees go up every year. A bike is a bike, though, and you are happy to work on the front all ride without hiding in the pack, pretending to save your legs for the sprint against the latest junior that’s going to beat everyone anyway.
Americano, but please leave the cup half full
You know exactly what you want, but it’s not on the menu (or you don’t trust the barista to make it right). You like coffee enough that you want to enjoy more than espresso, but your also enough of a purist you don’t want to water down the flavour too much.
Your bike is quite nice and impeccably put together. The high-end parts have colour accents that match your frame. Your bar tape is always white and improbably spotless, even when its raining. You’re fast enough that you won’t notice that you’re attacking the group with your casual pace, but just want to ride with your friends.
Americano, but you say yes to room for cream then don’t put any cream in
Same as above, but you’re too nice to ask for what you really want. You know you’ll get close enough with this order, without holding up everyone else in the line.
Your bike is a mix of nice, well-working parts and broken things you haven’t fixed yet or missing things that were swapped over at the last minute from your other ride.
If your coffee ride is in km/hr and you measure elevation in metres, someone will somehow show up with a hot cup of Timmies, no matter what fancy cafe you showed up at. This person is loyal enough to Tim Hortons that they withstand the inevitable verbal abuse from the cycling purists/nerds over their choice of grinds. You know they can take the abuse on the road as well so, while they’re probably not riding a boutique brand, good luck dropping them on the next climb.
Your bike is exceedingly trendy and sparkling clean. Partially because it barely sees the open road beyond the ride to the nearest coffee shop. You came for the coffee and don’t care how long it takes. You’re planning on dropping out halfway through the ride anyway.
The wildcard. You could be headed straight to yoga after this or you could be cutting out caffeine because you think it’ll improve your performance, purify your system and help you sleep better at night. No one else on the ride knows if you’ll just chill in the pack or lay down a perfectly timed attack.
Who needs coffee? You’ve already been out for an hour because this ride wasn’t going to be long enough and it’s a mileage day. This is a training ride, even if its the only ride you do all week. Your bike and kit are the nicest on the ride, you still race and will attack the group frequently to remind everyone that you can. The pre-established pace and no drop rules are merely suggestions and go out the window the minute they get in the way of your heart rate, Power zone or Strava time.
A version of this story first appeared on Canadian Cycling Magazine.