When it comes to fizzy water, I’m a total Ted Lasso. I think the best course of action with the sparkling beverage is to spit it out right away if I accidentally drink it. I never understood the allure of bubbles in water. I never understood the allure of bubbles in any drink, but that’s a conversation for another time.
Yet about half of my colleagues at Ask seem to have a fixation not just with any sparkling water but with Topo Chico, a Mexican agua mineral that stormed Texas a few years ago and is now the refreshment of choice for hipsters and gourmets alike. Coca-Cola bought the company in 2017, widening its distribution and contributing to its effervescent success. Of course, this isn’t the only carbonated mineral water to have gained a devoted following in the U.S. Before Topo Chico, there was the Italian San Pellegrino, the French Perrier, and the only-French-in-name and naturally essenced LaCroix.
Even though I think Ted Lasso’s spot on when it comes to water, I don’t share his views in tea. Unlike what the TV football coach and London transplant believes, it is absolutely not “hot brown water.”
Just listen to Dame Maggie Smith in The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel. Her character is on a business trip in the U.S. and she’s desperate for a decent cuppa. So she decides to lecture an assistant on what constitutes proper tea. “Tea is an herb that’s been dried out. So to bring it back to life, you have to infuse it in boiling water. That is BOILING water. Everywhere I’ve been in this country, they slap down a cup of tepid nonsense with a tea bag lying beside it.”
After years of intensive research, I can confirm that having a good cup of tea is possible in this country — you just need to avoid it in most places. Not sure whether to avoid or try? Just perform the test: if the very legitimate question, “What types of teas do you have?” is followed by an answer similar to “black and green” without any more specifics, maybe don’t order the tea. If the answer is: “We have a herbal chamomile,” leave.
Coffee, Bagels, Pasta and Chocolate
There are a few other drinks and foods most likely to make a snob out of any of us. And I can’t write about the subject without mentioning coffee. Whether you partake in the whole Pumpkin Spice Latte craze or not — I don’t drink coffee but have a disapproving opinion about the sugary autumn concoction nonetheless — this country has a serious affair with java.
The retail market for the brewed beverage in the U.S. is valued at $46.2 billion. From almond milk cappuccinos to iced coffee and slow drip, the caffeinated options are endless whether you’re a Starbucks devotee, an enthusiast of smaller chains like Peet’s Coffee & Tea or Blue Bottle, or a loyal customer at your local family-owned coffee shop. Between the mochas, the cafés con leche, the Grandes, the Ventis and all the many options in between, you already need to be a little bit of a snob just to learn how to order coffee.
All the café talk made me think about chocolate, one of the most abused foods out there. I’m sure you love Kit Kat and Snickers — who doesn’t? Just don’t think they’re a good enough source of chocolate for the cocoa elitists out there. When it comes to chocolate, the less ingredients the better. Fair trade is always preferable, and there should be no milk and at least 70% cocoa, please. Otherwise, you should be catering to children or people who don’t like being overpowered by chocolaty flavors.
Let’s finish this list with two more controversial topics: bagels and pasta. Whether you prefer them dense and chewy or open-faced and served with some ripe Hass avocado, bagels are no longer an exclusively New York experience. Especially since The New York Times declared the best bagels are actually in California.
I’m still pondering how I feel about the whole declaration though. The article made it impossible for me to ever venture out to try the doughy creations at Boichik Bagels in Berkeley. With all the good press, the lines start at 7:30 am when the shop opens, and even though long lines are a good telltale of snobbery, I’ve never mustered up the energy to queue up so early in the morning — no matter how close the place may be.
As per the pasta, I just have one thought: al dente. If you’re not setting a timer when you drop the pasta into — again — boiling water, the end result is going to be meh no matter how good the gravy is.
Feeling hungry after reading about food? Don’t miss our article about American variations on barbeque sauce, regional takes on hot dogs and the many pizza styles the U.S. has to offer. I’m partial to California-style thin-crust pies topped with seasonal veggies, but let’s leave pizzas out of the snobbish conversation or we’ll argue endlessly.