Is coffee culture breeding toxic masculinity?

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As the barista switched on the blender, the contents inside fused into a delicate shade of light pink. She was fulfilling an order for a strawberry milkshake topped off with tiny strawberry bits. “Order number 86!” she shouted across the noisy room filled with chattering college students who were excitedly awaiting their sugar fix from the boba shop she worked at. As a thin Asian man stepped to the counter to claim his fluffy pink strawberry milkshake, his guy friends began to laugh.

“Dude, what did you order? It’s so…pink! You’re such a girl!” one of his friends said as he continued to sip on his own safe order of classic milk tea. The customer flushed red at the sneers of his friends, and reluctantly grabbed his pink drink.

This is just one of the many instances I’ve witnessed at my workplace in which men have been mocked for ordering “girly” drinks. Of all the flavors our menu offers, men rarely ever order a rose or strawberry flavored drink since the syrup would turn their drinks pink.

Logan Garrity, manager of BlackHorse Espresso & Bakery on Broad Street in San Luis Obispo, shed some insight on this phenomenon. As a male barista, Garrity has first-hand experience of the harmful gendered labels surrounding drinks, and what men believe they should and should not order in public. “I have had a guy order hot cocoa and his friends snickered at him for not getting something manly. I even had a few instances where a man will order a drink, like a vanilla latte, and he’ll ask me to call it out as something more manly so he’s not as embarrassed about getting a ‘girly’ drink.”

So, what exactly constitutes a “girly” drink? “Women are more likely to get flavored lattes and use milk alternatives, [like] soy or almond milk more often than men do,” Garrity said. “In comparison, most men order just a plain black drip coffee with no room. Some will order a blended coffee beverage, but never with any whipped cream.”

It is no surprise, then, that men may feel limited in their drink options due to the social backlash they’ll receive from their friends. In Garrity’s opinion, men are boxed into this role of consuming plain drinks since society labels everything as inherently “masculine” or “feminine.” Straight from the coffee bean black coffee is bitter, obviously a clear indicator of a man’s drink. In contrast, vanilla lattes and caramel macchiatos are sweet and fluffy, something that society dictates only women should be seen drinking.

“Men don’t want to be seen as less ‘manly’ because of a drink they ordered, so they stick to the drinks that they know are safe,” Garrity said.

I decided to sit at a Scout Coffee for an hour and observe the kinds of drinks men ordered. I sat down between two men, both finishing up their black coffees. I peered around the rest of the coffee shop, seeing men with shots of espresso and more black coffees, a few of them indulging in an occasional blueberry scone or chocolate croissant as well. In comparison, the women I saw ordered more flavorful drinks such as macchiatos, lattes and cappuccinos.

I even had a few instances where a man will order a drink, like a vanilla latte, and he’ll ask me to call it out as something more manly so he’s not as embarrassed about getting a ‘girly’ drink – Logan Garrity, Manager, BlackHorse Espresso & Bakery

I asked the man next to me if he usually ordered black coffee. Nick Nishiyama, a math major at Cuesta College, told me that he had been drinking black coffee since he was three years old. “My Mexican grandmother always gave me black coffee since I was a child on cold days. She always wanted to keep me warm and I grew to love the taste of bitter coffee.” Nishiyama said that black coffee wasn’t the only thing he indulged in though. “I really like drinking hot chocolate too. I’m not afraid to order what I want, I’ll even put whipped cream and sprinkles on my hot chocolate if I feel like it.”

On my way out of the coffee shop, I ran into a man carrying two frappuccinos. As he sipped on a chocolate frappuccino, I asked animal science senior Brian Cheng if he felt like this was too “girly” of a drink for men to publicly order. “No, I actually always tend to buy more sugary drinks, such as frappuccinos and blended mochas. I don’t really care about what people have to say,” he said.

So if men are saying they don’t care what they order, but the baristas are noting that they do— where is the disconnect? Maybe I was asking the wrong questions— do guys really want to admit that they care?

23-year-old San Luis Obispo resident Steven Estes admits that he has been in situations where, in a group of guys, his friends were made fun of for not ordering black coffee. But not because they are guys, necessarily. “Usually if you have higher standards for coffee, you drink black coffee. I guess it means you have more of a refined palate,” he said. But when asked if a girl would have been treated the same way in this situation, he had an interesting response. “I would be surprised to see a girl drinking black coffee… I don’t know [why], it could just be because most of my friends are guys who drink coffee. I don’t think I should be surprised to see a girl drinking black coffee,” he said.

Even more surprising is Estes’ own experience with being ridiculed for not drinking his usual black pour-over coffee. “Back in Kentucky there was a pretty well-known coffee shop that had a rosemary latte that I got sometimes. The stuff they put on it was pink, and a friend of mine made fun of me because of it. He said something like, ‘Did you bring your purse today?’”

Environmental management and protection junior Sebastian Gonzales remembers his dad making fun of him for ordering anything other than a black coffee at Starbucks. “If we’re driving somewhere and stop at Starbucks, and I get something like a chai, my dad would say, ‘Oh you’re getting one of those girly foo-foo drinks.’”

But he catches himself making comments like that, too. “Just last night my friend had gotten a 30-rack of fruity-flavored nature lite beer, and when I saw it in the fridge I said, ‘Of course he got this girly drink, why couldn’t he have just gotten a normal beer.’ And my friends and I made fun of him.”

This got me thinking, were men only limited in the kinds of drinks they order at coffee shops, or with other beverages as well? According to Isabel Hughes, an English senior and employee at the on-campus Jamba Juice, men tend to order their smoothies with way more protein than women.

The stuff they put on it was pink, and a friend of mine made fun of me because of it. He said something like, ‘Did you bring your purse today?’ -Steven Estes, San Luis Obispo resident

“I think men are self-conscious about [the kinds of drinks they order in public] because society tells them ordering ‘girly’ drinks jeopardizes their manliness,” she said. Although Hughes doesn’t believe men are limited when it comes to ordering smoothies, she believes they are very constricted to the alcoholic beverages they are able to freely enjoy.

According to Andrea Amavisca, a political science senior and bartender at Granada, men tend to stick to spicier drinks over sweet ones, and they typically don’t order drinks in martini glasses. “We have a signature drink which has a cucumber infused vodka base. We serve it in a coup glass, which is usually associated with feminine drinks. Many men who get their drink usually make awkward comments about how ‘girly’ the drink is and try to laugh off their embarrassment,” she said.

“I usually drink a beer, or if I get a cocktail, it’s usually a whiskey sour or an Old Fashioned,” Estes said. “Usually I think, ‘I hope I don’t get judged for this,’ or, ‘I hope my drink comes in more of a masculine glass,’ like one without a stem that comes down. But at the same time I don’t care that much.”

To Amavisca, cocktails are a form of art and men shouldn’t be limited to what they can or cannot order in public. “I think we need to stop advertising fruitier drinks towards women. Men shouldn’t just have to drink hard liquor,” she said “A fruity cocktail can be really good. Men need to get to the point where they can order whatever they want and soon people won’t question it.”

Likewise, Garrity believes that we can combat the stigma surrounding men and “girly” drinks through a change in advertising norms. “Whether on social media or the Internet, we need to normalize men drinking something other than black coffee. We could have them sitting and enjoying a latte or cappuccino with their friends or family. Something to veer away from the notion that men can only drink black coffee and that they have just as many drink choices as women do.”  

When Googling “kinds of drinks men order,” there are numerous links to “essential manly drinks” that are “safe” for men to publicly order: whiskey, Old Fashioned, rum and coke. However, an article written by Shante Cosme for Complex in 2013 challenges confident men to order “girly” drinks, arguing that it is the content and taste of the drink that matters, not the “gender-appropriate” labels placed on them.

Hopefully we, too, can change the way we may judge men by the drinks they order. Men should not feel ashamed for enjoying a vanilla chai latte or for wanting to indulge in a dirty martini. We should not ridicule men for actually having taste buds. By encouraging men to order whatever they desire and normalizing men drinking flavorful drinks through ad campaigns and more, perhaps one day men can genuinely order whatever they want, whenever they want.  


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