The Macchiato and The Problem of Babel

  Let’s get this out of the way: like an American football or an Italian political corruption scandal, a macchiato made by a well known chain is not called a macchiato anywhere else. The term ‘macchiato’ means ‘marked’ in Italian, and refers to an espresso with a spritz of foam and nothing else; that’s how Gorilla, and other shops that take coffee seriously do it. The slurry of caramel syrup, milk, and espresso presented at a ubiquitous national chain is only called a macchiato because they were running out of available words for things on their menu.

 This presents a problem for us: when somebody asks for a macchiato, do we ask for clarification? Do we prepare our macchiato without asking questions, confident in the knowledge that we’re doing it the right way? We see our fair share of mixups and mishaps surrounding the macchiato problem, and it seems like an inconvenience that’s going to stick around for a while. This is the problem we all have when language is used in a new way; it fosters misunderstanding, whether it’s a teenager in 1985 explaining to her parents that ‘bad’ means ‘good’ or that same person in 2005 explaining to her boss that ‘literally’ means ‘figuratively’.

  Ultimately, can we fault the branding goons at bucks for their decision? Sure, they’ve introduced a (probably permanent) division and confusion in what was once a usefully precise term. But without invention in language, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, or Waka Flocka Flame. And besides, the history of coffee terminology is full of confusion and misdirection: for all that we list and prepare our café au lait and our latte as distinct drinks, the two words mean the same thing in two languages. The difference between our approach and that of the bucks marketing machine is a difference of degree rather than kind. The macchiato problem is inconvenient and frustrating, but for us, as coffee lovers behind an espresso machine, and as humans in the world, it’s the cost of doing business.

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Gorilla Barista, Sean Chin, Performing in Shakespeare's "Henry V"

Support Sean and his troupe of thespians as they travel across water and land performing Shakespeare's "Henry V".

HENRY V by William Shakespeare

Directed by Stephen Burdman

WHERE: in Battery Park (meet in front of Castle Clinton) and Governors Island!

Join us, as we journey with King Henry and his army from England (Castle Clinton/Battery Park) and travel across the English Channel (New York Harbor) by boat to France (Governors Island), where the bloody Battle of Agincourt will be staged across the huge rolling vistas of the parade ground surrounding historic Fort Jay with a cast of 40!

Open Rehearsals: June 6 - July 3 (in Battery Park and Governors Island, times vary, please see "Rehearsal" page at left for info).

PERFORMANCES: July 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21 & 24

TIME (see note directly below): 7PM

PAY HEED! Special wristbands, distributed 5:00-6:30pm on the day of each performance in front of Castle Clinton, will be required for ferry transportation to Governors Island. Limit 2 wristbands per person.

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