One lump or two? Or three?

Friday was a three-coffeeshop day.

I started at Cummings Candy and Coffee, not working but writing, trying to restore to memory what I’ve done so far in the writing of my novel. Cummings has terrific booths with classic wood seats and marble table-tops, and a warm small town vibe, which makes it ideal for writing (or pretending to write).

From there I moved on to the Panera in Highland Park, just south of the PA Turnpike. It also has a warm and welcoming vibe, although none of Cummings’s history. My Fat Plum partners and I have been meeting there for months. We like it for the endless refills on the coffee and the way the tables can be rearranged for multi-person meetings. Also, we can get something substantial to eat there — a little too substantial, actually. I lay the blame for at least 10 of the 15 pounds I gained last year on the shoulders of Panera Bread.

We put in a couple of hours, discussing business and life and bringing everyone up to speed on recent writing progress. We brainstormed the ending of my novel for a while with great results. No actual ending, but several good pieces which will gel soon I’m certain.

And then, on the way back to Butler, I stopped at a Starbucks to check out the long-anticipated Chantico Drinking Chocolate. The Chantico was announced months ago but not to be released until 2005. Well, 2005 is here, and I thought I’d do some reconnaisance on it for my Cummings employers. After all, chocolate is the Cummings game. We like to be aware of modern coffeehouse developments.

I first checked for posters announcing the Chantico. Nothing. Then I searched the chalkboard menus. Again, zilch. I resigned myself to the idea that it was being introduced in big cities first and wouldn’t make its way to little suburbs like ours for some weeks.

At the counter I told the girl that I’d read a newspaper article about a new chocolate drink they were introducing. Was it available?

She knew right away what I was talking about. "It’s not on the menu yet," she said. "I can check whether we’re allowed to sample it." Before I could say anything she’d walked to a nearby manager for a conference. He immediately looked stern and shook his head, saying something as he looked to where I stood at the counter, checking what sort of person I might be.

The girl came back to deliver the bad news. "We’re not allowed to sample it out until next week."

She seemed relieved that I wasn’t upset and quickly typed in my alternate order for a vanilla steamer. (Actually, according to Starbucks terminology I ordered a vanilla creme, which is steamed milk with vanilla steamer. At Cummings, any flavored steamed milk is a steamer, and it’s about a dollar cheaper than what Starbucks charges. It’s also less likely to be burned. Although my vanilla creme was yummy, I have to say.)

Still in my innocent chocolate enthusiast persona, I asked the Stabucks coffee girl whether the new chocolate drink was hard to make.

"No, it’s easy. You steam the chocolate. But there’s milk in it too. We sampled it earlier — it’s really good."

I thanked her warmly, secure in the thought that Cummings could match or exceed the Chantico offering easily, even without having sampled it.

On my return home I rechecked the press release to find that the Chantico would be released officially on January 8 — I was a mere one day off.

Actually, I then also stopped by Cummings to pick up my paycheck for the previous two weeks. I didn’t have a coffee because after my bottomless Panera cup I felt positively fried — it turns out there is a maximum to my coffee intake after all.