Home » the 18-month coffee debate, and other stories of office coffee wars

the 18-month coffee debate, and other stories of office coffee wars

A few weeks ago, I asked for your stories about office coffee wars (or tea/milk/etc. wars). Here are 10 of my favorites.

1. “We share our space with other organizations and there used to be one of those touch-screen made-to-order coffee/espresso things on each floor. Then one of the lease holders signed a non-compete contract with another company (who served coffee and espresso drinks) that was moving in and we were going to have to get rid of them. Except … we weren’t a party to the non-compete so we bought all the fancy machines and moved them out of public areas and into ours.

At which point people from all the other companies started casually walking into our kitchenettes (we share other things like meeting rooms so there aren’t restricted access issues) and using the machines. There were polite reminders. There were pointed, ‘OH ARE YOU NEW TO [OUR COMPANY] WHICH SECTION DO YOU WORK FOR?’ barbs. There were Post Its. There were signs. Signs got torn down. There were new signs. Someone in [other company] took a picture of one of them and sent it to their entire distribution list inviting them to come drink our coffee. There were executives talking to executives about how to stem the invasion. There was talk of PUTTING BADGE READERS ON THE MACHINES. It was bananacrackers.

And it’s not over yet. We have no resolution. I think most of them have just gotten bored but we still see people furtively ducking into the kitchenettes periodically.”

2. “My company provides coffee machines on every floor but charges 20 cents per cup (except for ‘meeting coffee’ which is free). There are lists. People on every floor whose responsibility it is to refill coffee, sugar, and milk. Deputy people for this job. Monthly bills. Cash boxes on every floor where you are supposed to pay your bill. People who manage the cash boxes. Somebody in housekeeping whose responsibility is to manage cash logistics. Some other person in sales who hands out coffee, sugar, and milk (but needs a receipt for everything). Probably substitutes for these people too, I don’t know – you get the idea.

At some time someone made an official ‘proposal for improvement’ to eliminate the charge for coffee, the lists, the cash boxes and the whole system. Have a single person whose job it is to refill the coffee machines daily and be done with it. There was a short calculation how much time and effort could be saved. (A lot.)

That proposal has gone through the improvements committee (yes, that’s a thing), the sales people, the union, the CEO and back to the improvements committee. It is still under consideration after 18 months.”

3. “As has often been the case in my career working in a fairly male-dominated field, I was the only woman in an office. When I started I would make a pot of coffee in the morning and then have some. After a couple weeks I noticed nobody else would make the coffee – they would just wait until I came in to make it.

So I started bringing my coffee from home because I didn’t want to be the office coffee maker. The first day they just waited…and waited…

‘So there’s no coffee.’
‘Guess you have to make some then.’
You do it so well!’
I sure do – this cup is delicious!’

It was all passive aggressive as hell. Nobody made coffee that day. The next day someone finally did it.”

4.I bought my own coffeemaker/pot to keep in my office after the brutal territorial battles of the teacher’s workroom became too much for me. Word got around, and now many of my colleagues (in my department, who have access to my office) share my coffee, most of them contributing creamer and coffee.

People around campus are outraged! Outraged that I keep my office locked at all times due to FERPA laws that require student documents to be secured. I’ve found sticky notes on the door, asking me to bring coffee to people in their classrooms, had people say rude (and quite stupid) things to my face and had multiple administrators come by my office to say: we’re investigating your office coffee pot on the basis of a complaint. Keep your coffee pot.

The people who want my coffee are not my friends or close colleagues – they are people I barely know! And nothing is stopping them from using the break room or bringing their own coffee pot. When people complain about people acting ‘like they’re in middle school’ sometimes I think they are talking about the staff.”

5. “We just got an all-staff email sent around to say that someone had taken some other team’s milk from the fridge and it had not been returned. Our building has been consumed by milk wars because the kitchen is shared by a university department and a bunch of charities who all have different rules and milk clubs (especially since the university USED to provide milk for staff for free but now does not). The fridge is literally stuffed full of half-used, meticulously labelled milk bottles to the point where you can’t put anything else in there.

I mean, I know the British love their tea but it’s reaching levels of parody.”

6. “In our tiny office there’s a Keurig and a pot. Only two of us use the pot daily, but we do make coffee every day and drink it (a third person drinks it as well, but flies under the radar). When I was going to be out on vacation, the office manager asked my coworker if she could refrain from making coffee that week so as not to waste it. Keep in mind none of use have had raises in several years. I now pride myself on making financially ruinous pots of coffee.”

7. “My dad was a middle school teacher. As the first one in the building most days, he was usually the one to get the pot of coffee going. I think at some point, a group of teachers wrote a note on the coffee maker that requested using half the number of scoops that he normally used.

Then … my dad’s coffee sent someone to the hospital. Another teacher drank a cup from a pot that my dad made, and he started getting heart palpitations. This guy went to the school nurse, who suspected that he was having a heart attack. She called 911 and the teacher got taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Testing revealed that he thankfully hadn’t had a heart attack. He was just REALLY not used to the strength of my dad’s coffee. My dad got some sort of comedic ‘Dumb Ass’ award for doing the stupidest action that month. I think he slowly gave up coffee making at work after that.”

8. “LastJob had a coffee club. I was not a member.

There was one coffee maker. There were coffee wars over caffeinated vs. decaf coffee. Regular coffee vs. flavored coffee. Regular caffeinated vs. flavored decaf.

This was slightly mitigated when the company expanded to another floor of the building and we gained a second break room and a second coffee maker. One floor’s coffee maker was designated for decaf only, and the other for caffeinated. The flavored vs. regular battle waged on.

Two employees ended up getting disciplined (separately) for spending too much time each day ‘making coffee.’ They were in the kitchen for hours, cleaning the carafe, waiting for coffee to brew, organizing the containers of coffee, walking around polling people about what flavor of coffee to try next.”

9.I work at a small college, the pretentious kind that loves to call itself ‘elite.’

About two months after I started, I walked into the kitchenette to get my lunch and found 3 faculty members puzzling over the Flavia coffee maker – none of them could figure out how to get it to work. I don’t drink coffee, but I walked over to offer my assistance.

There was a sign, with pictures, hanging on the wall over the machine with instructions. I followed the instructions and voila, coffee! None of the faculty said thank you; instead, they all loudly exclaimed to each other how ‘complicated’ it was and how ‘you need a PhD to operate this thing!’

Between the three of them, they had at least three PhDs. I had had my B.A. for less than a year. I still wish I had pointed that out to them.”

10. “Ok so there is this guy at my work who is a contractor, he develops this particular bespoke computer system that my organisation uses. He is kind of an asshole, doesn’t come to team meetings, doesn’t really consider himself one of us.

Anyway he has for the past couple of years planted his personal espresso machine in the shared kitchen. With its own coffee grinder and shit. He also brings his own milk in (the organisation provides milk). But he gets very angry if someone uses his gear. Once someone used his milk and he hung the bottle in a noose from a shelf with a big sign DO NOT USE THIS MILK.

Anywho one day he really lets rip at a new guy who used his coffee machine, really balls him out in front of everyone. He puts up a sign saying THIS EXPRESSO (sic) MACHINE IS A PRIVATE APPLIANGE, DO NOT USE. This really pisses me off.

So I bring in my own espresso machine from home and plonk it on the counter next to his with a big sign YOU ARE MOST WELCOME TO USE THIS ESPRESSO MACHINE. I even provided some coffee. People use it and leave a donation and I buy more coffee, it’s a great system.

So he puts up a little hand written note on his sign THE OWNER JUST WANTS HIS WISHES TO BE RESPECTED AND FOR PERMISSION TO BE ASKED BEFORE USING THIS MACHINE. Haha, what a baby.”

the 18-month coffee debate, and other stories of office coffee wars was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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