Confusing coffee and tea: blowing hot and cold

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Klaus Nuber, who four years ago sent us this amusing post, "Restaurant logo with a dingus" (5/29/19), has contributed another droll Anekdote.

The following article is in today's Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Kannste knicken?"* (11/23/23) — herewith the second anecdote of three from all over the world:

*VHM:  The meaning of the article title escapes me — can you fold / bend [it]?

Mitten in … Zhejiang

Weiter weg geht es kaum von der Großstadt Peking: Neun Stunden mit dem Zug, dann eine lange Autofahrt die Täler entlang, jetzt ist der Hunger groß. Im Restaurant? Keine Karte, bestellt werden kann, was im Kühlschrank liegt. Ein paar Karotten, zwei Kartoffeln, ein platt gedrückter Tintenfisch. Kommt sofort! Dafür um die Ecke, kaum zu glauben, ein Café! Draußen das ländliche China mit seinen Reisfeldern und Kohlelastern, drinnen brummt die Espresso-Maschine. Der lang ersehnte Schluck, aber was ist das? Der Kaffee – eiskalt! Vorsichtige Frage an den Barista, ob es den auch in heiß gäbe? Sein Blick zunächst: totale Entgeisterung, dann folgt schallendes Gelächter. "Diese Ausländer!", ruft er und alle gucken. "Hört mal her. Jetzt trinken die ihren Kaffee auch noch wie Tee!" So was Amüsantes haben die Menschen hier schon lange nicht mehr gehört. Lea Sahay

Here's a fairly ok translation by GT:

In the middle of… Zhejiang

It's hard to get further away from the big city of Beijing: nine hours by train, then a long car ride along the valleys, now you're hungry. In the restaurant? No menu, you can order whatever is in the fridge. A few carrots, two potatoes, a flattened squid. Come immediately! But around the corner, it's hard to believe, there's a café! Outside rural China with its rice fields and coal trucks, inside the espresso machine is humming. The long-awaited sip, but what is it? The coffee – ice cold! Careful question to the barista as to whether it was also available hot? His look at first: total astonishment, followed by a burst of laughter. “These foreigners!” he shouts and everyone looks. "Listen. Now they drink their coffee like tea!" People here haven't heard anything so amusing for a long time.  Lea Sahay

(Courtesy of Klaus)


From Ancient Greek ἀνέκδοτος (anékdotos), from ἀν- (an-, not, un-) + ἔκδοτος (ékdotos, published), from ἐκδίδωμι (ekdídōmi, I publish), from ἐκ- (ek-, out) + δίδωμι (dídōmi, I give).  (Wiktionary)


1670s, "secret or private stories," from French anecdote (17c.) or directly from Medieval Latin anecdota, from Greek anekdota "things unpublished," neuter plural of anekdotos, from an- "not" (see an- (1)) + ekdotos "published," from ek- "out" (see ex-) + didonai "to give" (from PIE root *do- "to give").

Procopius' 6c. Anecdota, unpublished memoirs of Emperor Justinian full of court gossip, gave the word a sense of "revelation of secrets," which decayed in English to "brief, amusing story" (1761).  (Etymonline)


Perhaps we should bear this heritage in mind when we cite anecdotal evidence.


Selected reading

And countless other posts about our two favorite sobrietous beverages.


  1. Phillip Helbig said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 9:44 am

    ” The meaning of the article title escapes me — can you fold / bend [it]?”

    It’s a relatively common expression, meaning “forget it!” or “you can forget about it”, often said about something which initally looked promising but then turned out to be a dud.

    I’d never thought about the origin of the expression. Maybe it comes from the literal meaning, “you can fold it”, as a prelude to throwing something away. But that’s just a guess.

  2. Jason M said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 10:55 am

    Just as a not particularly amusing counteranecdote (etymology: semi-whimsical neologism mixing Greek and Latin roots), the most beautiful latte art I’ve ever enjoyed sipping through was bought in a coffeeshop in the ländliche (for China) city of HeFei (population, less than 10,000,000). Said Anhui latte, which was as hot as expected stateside BTW, was topped with a many-feathered swan.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 11:23 am

    @Jason M

    Hefei is a very sophisticated city, nay, metropolis. Hefei was identified by The Economist in December 2012 as the world's No.1 fastest growing metropolitan economy. Considering that it is a center of higher education for the whole of China, that is not surprising.

    The city is represented by several major universities, including the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei University of Technology, Anhui University, Anhui Agricultural University and Anhui Medical University. Notably, the University of Science and Technology of China is one of the top 100 comprehensive public research universities in the world.

    University of Science and Technology of China (USTC)
    Hefei University of Technology (HFUT)
    Anhui University (AHU)
    Anhui Agricultural University (AHAU)
    Anhui Medical University (AHMU)
    Anhui University of Chinese Medicine (AUCM)
    Anhui Jianzhu University (AHJU)
    Hefei Normal University (HNU)
    Hefei University (HU)
    Beihang University (BUAA) – Hefei Campus
    National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) – Hefei Campus
    Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) – Hefei Campus
    Tianjin University (TJU) – Hefei Graduate School
    Peking University (PKU) – Hefei Graduate School
    Tsinghua University (THU) – Hefei Institute of Public Safety Research


    What was the name of the coffee shop where you got that latte with a "many-feathered swan" floating on top? I want to go there and get one myself!

  4. Tom S. said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 11:43 am

    "Kannste knicken" along the lines of triage, stopping the growth of a particular plant, by breaking ("knicken") the stem or stalk

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 11:50 am

    Heifei was featured in this recent post:

    "Pinyin vs. English" (10/20/23)

  6. Jason M said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 1:02 pm

    Haha. I should have emoticonned my post because I was facetiousing about Hefei being rural. I found Hefei sophisticated, esp compared to the more industrial and rural northeast where I have spent more time. And, though indeed a metropolis, Hefei has a bit of a college town feel about it. And I was there for an impressive UTSC-hosted conference with speakers from around the world.

    I tried to Google map where the latte would have been. It was close to the Crowne Plaza where we stayed,. I remember we walked there, and the coffeehouse was in an outdoor mall and pedestrian zone with streetfood stalls. FWIW Google maps did show there also seems to be a Starbucks near the Crowne Plaza!

  7. Paul Frank said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 1:22 pm

    What do you make of this translation? Look mom, no (human) hands:

    "Traveling nine hours by train from the bustling city of Beijing, followed by a lengthy drive through the valleys, you find yourself famished. The local restaurant doesn't offer a menu; instead, you order from what's available in the fridge: a few carrots, two potatoes, and a flattened squid. Your meal is promptly prepared.

    Just around the corner, surprisingly, there's a café. Outside, the rural Chinese landscape unfolds with its rice fields and coal trucks. Inside, the hum of an espresso machine fills the air. You eagerly anticipate your first sip of coffee, only to discover it's ice-cold.

    You cautiously inquire if hot coffee is available. The barista's initial reaction is one of disbelief, which quickly turns into hearty laughter. "Those foreigners!" he exclaims, drawing the attention of everyone present. "Listen to this. They want to drink their coffee like it's tea!" His comment amuses the locals, who apparently haven't heard anything quite so entertaining in a while."

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 2:01 pm

    @Paul Frank:

    If there were no human hands, what did it?

  9. Paul Frank said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 2:12 pm

    @Victor Mair: Why not play a game? Give me a paragraph in German, French, Spanish, or Chinese. Something reasonable: don't try to find something that will prove that machines are useless. Machines are not useless. Post the text here and add an explanatory header so I know what the text is about and who its (your) target audience is. I will spend a couple of minutes telling a couple of machines to translate the text, with a carefully worded instruction (prompt) on how to translate it, but I will not post-edit the target text. I will then post the translated paragraph here. You can then tell us what you think. We might learn something.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 5:26 pm

    @Paul Frank:

    That's the game I thought you were playing.

  11. Paul Frank said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 11:40 pm

    It's possible to significantly improve the output of a neural machine translation tool such as DeepL or Google Translate by prompting a large language model such as GPT-4 to improve on that output. The key lies in the careful formulation of that prompt. And it's possible, I find, to improve even further on the machines' output by using a tool, such as Perplextity, that mitigates the problem of hallucination while accessing an LLM like GPT-4. And it's possible to improve on that output even further by getting different tools to compare each other's output and check it against the source text. All this can be done without human post-editing, and done rather quickly. Machine translations produced in this way can be even further improved by getting machines to take account of specific style guides and terminology databases. It goes without saying that none of this produces better results than an experienced human translator can, either by working from scratch or by post-editing output produced following any of the progressive steps described above.  

  12. Victor Mair said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 12:01 am

    From Don Keyser:

    A colloquial expression … "You can fageddabouddit!" … "No way!" … "That just goes to show" … and no doubt other situation-dependent renderings.

  13. Rosemary Kuwahata said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 2:19 am

    This is quite interesting, but the term"ein platt gedrückter Tintenfisch" = flattened squid intrigues me. Why in an admittedly large city (population of 10 million citizens) 9 hours South-west of Beijing (? far from the ocean) a restaraunt would have a not much more than a flattened squid in the fridge. I am wondering if it is possibly a dried flattened squid. If the fridge was really that bare, surely the squid would be dessicated? Flattened and dried squid when heated gently over a flame and torn into thin strips is a chewy but delicious, snack.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 6:40 am

    [To the moderators] — Rosemary’s comment immediately above appears to be in the wrong thread.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 7:25 am

    How so, Philip Taylor? The expression "flattened squid in the fridge" occurs in the o.p.

  16. Taylor, Philip said,

    November 26, 2023 @ 5:43 pm

    Presumably the result of what the vulgar might refer to as a "brain fart". Mea culpa, mea culpe, mea maxima culpa.

  17. Lasius said,

    November 27, 2023 @ 8:51 am

    Interesting that "Tintenfisch" was translated as "squid", when it normally refers to cuttlefish instead. Squid would be "Kalmar".

  18. stephen said,

    November 27, 2023 @ 9:42 pm

    I hope this is sufficiently on-topic. But speaking of hot German beverages…long ago, traveling in Europe with my parents, we visited Vienna…I know, that's Austria. We had dinner at a nice restaurant, and I ordered milk. And they served it to me. Hot. I wondered why? And how common is it to drink milk hot? I suppose I had to specify cold milk.

  19. Lasius said,

    November 28, 2023 @ 3:06 am


    When I was a kid on vacation in Venice, for breakfast in the hotel I wanted to get cold milk, so my parents ordered "latte caldo" since "caldo" must obviously mean "kalt" or cold. We still laugh about this today.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    November 28, 2023 @ 6:00 am


    All Chinese I know, if they drink milk at all, drink it hot.

    Most Indians and Nepalis too.

  21. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    November 29, 2023 @ 3:40 am

    A Florentine friend was made fun of when we were in a cafe in Rome by the waiter when he realized where he was from. “Un Hafe Haldo Haldo!” he said smiling while making his coffee…

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