The politics of the office coffee pot
August 4th, 2011
08:45 AM ET
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Yaaaawn. Strrreeetch. You've been clacking away at your TPS report, manning the register or stuck on a conference call for what seems like an eternity, and it's time for a little java jolt.

You trudge to the communal break room for a cup of whatever brownish liquid they're passing off as coffee and...oh shoot! The darned thing is leaking everywhere.

How about if the kitchen is clean as a whistle, but there's only one cup left in the pot?

The marketplace has seen a substantial rise in the quantity and variety of single-serve coffee pods and pouches in recent years. While certainly some of that can be attributed to convenience and increasingly affordable and sophisticated technology, there are almost certainly some complex interpersonal dynamics at play on the part of workplace administrators.

To paraphrase a popular scold, your mother doesn't work here - and if she did, she'd probably tell you to get off your lazy butt and do your part to keep the office neat and properly caffeinated.

It's a scene that plays out in break rooms and office kitchens across the country every day. Perfectly sane, rational adults who are thoroughly competent at their jobs, who serve the public with a smile, possess multiple advanced degrees and form the very backbone of the American workforce are seemingly unable to grasp the intricacies of coffee maker operation or the location of a suitable container for the disposal of Splenda packets.

The other half writes notes about it. Elaborate, lavishly illustrated coffee pot flowcharts and etiquette guides, shame-inspiring posters and plain ol' cranky printouts and hand-lettered admonishments abound in offices around the country.

We're giving you a chance to vent. In the comments below, share your best story of an office coffee offender you've encountered, or post a link to your own blog or picture of the most outrageous or passive-aggressive note you've ever seen on or near a coffeemaker. We'll highlight our favorite ones ones in an upcoming post.

After we've had our coffee.

(Wait, what do you mean we're out of skim milk?!? Someone put back an EMPTY container? Where's the Sharpie?...)

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Filed under: Coffee • Culture • Office • Sip

soundoff (201 Responses)
  1. Roxanne Jones

    K-cups are amazing. They are an awesome way to show employees they are appreciated. A link I found helpful was this..

    June 4, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  2. Jean

    The blog and even the reader comments on this article are fantastic! So true and easy to relate to! I highly recommend everyone begging their employer to purchase a single-serve coffee machine like Keurig if you don't already have one! No coffee pot to clean, no filters to change, no gross, leftover coffee! We picked up a KCup Vending Machine in our office, and what a difference! People love the office coffee again! From a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense as well! We are able to control costs with the KCup Vendor in a way that just wasn't possible before!

    November 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Sadie

    I always made the coffee when I arrived early in the morning. Get my cup and go back to my desk. I am also the person who cleanes the scummy microwave and the utensils left in the sink. One day a few weeks ago, I made the coffee as usual, and became involved with a project at my desk. I was not able to get to the coffee maker until a few minutes after my boss arrived to the office. When I was finally able to go for coffee, said boss had filled his two (2) travel mugs and left dregs in the pot. I have not made coffee since. I bring my own from home. Not one of my coworkers nor my boss had said a word about it, and now the boss is making snarky comments about the issue, but not to my face.... I still bring my own coffee from home and I still have not made communal coffee.

    October 19, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. Torry

    I'll make another pot, then I'll google a bunch of flyers and/or make them myself, that serve as a passive-aggresive form of telling my office mates their selfish A-Holes for not filling it with one or less cups remaining!

    August 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. Tendofreak

    I'll clean up and make big deal. Used to have a "stoner" in the bldg and he would always set his dirty coffee cup in there unwashed..well I would wash it but then "line it" with a fresh film of soap. Guy was always so stoned...he never even noticed! LOL

    August 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  6. Real Estate Agents are the WORST offenders

    I can't believe there wasn't one extra choice on the "last pot of coffee" question: take what's left (or else leave a thin layer of liquid at the bottom so you can pretend there's "a little bit left"), put the pot back on the burner, and walk away from the coffee pot that is now left on for the rest of the day. I used to work in an office within smelling distance of the break room and the stench of that sludge or residue that burned for hours was nauseating. So I'd be the one who'd turn it off and put the pot in to soak even though the coffee was horrible and I always brought mine from home.

    Fortunately I work at a university and my building is right next to the student center, which has a branch of our best local coffee chain inside. No more "office coffee!"

    August 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  7. coffee lover

    Starbucks Via! The best, just add hot water.

    August 7, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  8. coffeeman

    two things –
    one business I worked at had a home office and branch office. the home office had all of the different types of coffee that any one could want. the branch office was allotted a plastic bin of Folgers per month. when it ran out the branch was out of coffee for the month. sick of this, I simply threw the Folgers away after hours given any opportunity. New bin? Into the made their economizing really really expensive, while I simply started bringing in my own coffee.
    another business made the mistake of having a non-coffee drinker assigned to making it. the first and last time she made it, she was instructed to clean it, so she put the cleaner in the filter and dumped in the pre-measured coffee on top of it and set it to brew....

    August 6, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  9. GG

    ALL YOU NITTIEPIXIES – IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE IS ABOUT THE COFFE POTTIE, - I just wanted to take the opp to say how much I dislike all you nitpicker jerks - fox sake - it's a coffe break. Only assholes analyze it - brain dead!!!!!!!! Any, just wanted to take the opp to say how much I HATE working with fusspot jerkers ANY : ) LOL LOL Get a life or WHAT?? LOL LOL : )

    August 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  10. Jowl

    Stopped drinking the coffee when our company 'went green' last year and stopped providing cups for employees.

    August 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Throw_it_all_away

    I don’t drink coffee so I don’t clean up after anyone else’s coffee mess. When it comes to the refrigerator I rarely use it but I was sick of it being filled with crap every time I did use it. I made up a nice note that said “All items not clearly labeled with today’s date will be disposed of at the close of business today” and permanently attached it to the refrigerator. After a couple of days on a Friday I hung around work until most people had gone home then I tossed everything that was not labeled (which was everything) into the trash. I got rid of coolers, lunch boxes, Tupperware, dishes, everything. Then over the weekend the cleaning staff emptied the trash so nothing could be recovered. Come Monday you should have heard all these ass-hats bitching about how all there stuff got tossed and I must admit that the satisfaction I got from seeing other’s pain was well worth the effort. Over time I have noticed that other have taken up the cause of tossing crap in the trash, I guess I am not the only one that enjoys throwing away other people’s things.

    August 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  12. Jimmy-James

    Why always a poll, eatocracy? It makes me want to punt gnomes.

    August 6, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Peggy Hill

      I'll kick your azz from here to Mexico if you mess with my gnomes !!

      August 6, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. Joe DiMaggio

    Anybody have a coffee filter? After this AAA downgrade the shite will roll downhill and I don't know if I can drink it.

    August 6, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  14. innersixx

    Just drink soda instead, no one has to worry about filling up a soda pot.

    August 5, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  15. slacker scientists

    The worst offenders at our office – those with advanced degrees. Apparently, they believe that they are 1) too busy to make a fresh pot and 2) are too good to make a fresh pot. They have no problem drinking the swill, but will not do anything for the next person or even clean up. They posses Masters and Doctorates, but somewhere along the line, common sense and courtesy were removed from the curriculum.
    We won't mention the state of the microwave ...

    August 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • PKP

      We must work at the same place.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • toobusy

      we are too busy, it's up to you lazy peons that procrastinate 89% of the day to make us the coffee.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  16. Fred Evil

    Coffee is AWFUL, I'd clean up, but I won't drink that crap...

    August 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  17. awkward

    On my first day of work, I took the last cup of coffee without thinking about it. An administrative assistant sent an angry email to the ENTIRE company ranting about it. Everyone knew it was me. I stepped forward in shame and talked to the woman who sent the email and said I just didn't know. She was nice about it, but then put a somewhat passive aggressive note explaining how to make coffee in the kitchen.

    Great way to start a new job!

    August 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Opinionated

    My officemates have the WORST coffee etiquette anywhere. They all but wee in the pot, I swear. I have to clean up after them no less than three times a day. To answer the second question, if it's early in the AM, I'll brew the next pot but if it's late, I'll wash the pot and filter holder and turn the machine off and proceed to clean the coffee station hopefully for the last time that day.

    August 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Opinionated Officemate

      Actually.....we do wee in the pot.

      August 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  19. Happily

    I am just glad I have a job, and that my job can afford to buy all of its employees coffee, no matter the crazy that goes along with it.

    August 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • I Heart Evil Grin

      @Happily, yeah yeah we all know your internet usage is monitered, no need to suck up here as I am sure you do enough of that to your boss' face, now get off your knees and go make me a pot of coffee!

      August 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
      • Happily


        August 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
      • I Heart Evil Grin

        I am impressed Happily that you have a sense of humor- or you think I am your boss who just so happens to post on CNN and you are continuing sucking up. HA! will not work! everyone knows your boss is on Farmville not CNN!!!! Nice try!

        August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  20. Ed

    As a chemist, it really urked me when I saw somebody sticking their own personal cup to collect the first of the caffeinated goodness and then swtiching back to the pot, leaving the following caffeine junkees with something close to decaf.

    August 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Mast Terbater@Ed

      As a chemist you should know what a load of BS that is. You're just pi$$y because you didn't get the first cup.

      Now stomp your feet and have a seat in the stfu deli. Someone will be with you so soon that you could hold your breath while you wait.

      August 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  21. The Freaking Froggit

    What's all this talk about coffee pots? Everyone knows that a french press makes supperior coffee. Because it's FRENCH! Sacre Bleu! And you lazy americans can each have one at your tiny little cubicles while you are surfing the internet looking at cute kitten videos on youtube instead of doing your work, you lazy amercians!

    August 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  22. MATTY

    I bring my own coffee (Yuban), and french vanilla creamer to work. I nuke the water, and use a french press. problem solved.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  23. MJ

    I just can't drink normal coffee that offices tend to buy – it really is like dirt. To avoid all the conflict about who makes the coffee and who cleans up, I bought a small one-cup Mellitta cone filter – put it over the cup, put in the filter, add the coffee & hot water, and enjoy. (Alas, I am addicted to 100% Kona coffee... ) No mess, no aggravation, and a perfect cup of joe.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  24. Thesmartone

    1st day I started at my new job they told me I had to make the coffee for EVERYBODY! I said noway, I don't make coffee for anybody but myself. They said fine, your fired. I couldn't believe it, just casue I refused to make coffee for everyone else........Of course I was working at starbux.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Matt

      LM AO! Too funny!

      August 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • MATTY

      I chucklecringed on that.

      August 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  25. Mike

    I brew a pot at home. It's enough to fill my travel mug, my wife's travel mug, and my thermos. This way I avoid the whole issue; I have my coffee the way I like it, and everyone else gets to have the arguments over who cleans the coffee pot, what kind of coffee to make, etc.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jerv

      That's what I'm talking bout, Mike. Skip all that fraking drama and office politics.

      August 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  26. KobraKai7474

    For my entire working life, I've avoided the whole issue. I buy one large cup of coffee at a convenience store on my way into the office and that's it. On those very rare occasions when I want or need a second cup, I either get one while out of the office on my lunchbreak or make an excuse for an afternoon "coffeebreak" and buy one at another nearby convenience store. I do not even know how to make a pot of coffee let alone any of the ettiquette associated with it.... and that is all by choice.

    August 5, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • KobraKai7474

      ...and I should add that the reason I do this is because, undoubtedly, I would be one of those jack####s who would get a cup and leave a few drops in the bottom of the pot so I could rationalize that "it's not actually empty" and never make nor clean up a pot of coffee. In my own way, I keep my hands and conscience clean.

      August 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  27. S.B. Stein E.B.

    Thank G-d that I don't drink coffee! If I want something warm, I drink tea.

    August 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  28. Meredith

    Just 2 issues here:
    The uncaring slob who leaves 1/2 sip in the bottom yet doesn't turn off the burner thereby ensuring we all get to smell scorched coffee. Oh, and scrub out the mess.
    The uncaring jerk who decides he needs the double-strength brew even though the sign says "one pack per pot". So it either overflows or chokes everyone while he blithely pours 1/2 cup of mud and 1/2 cup of tiny creamer packs into a mug and saunters away.

    August 5, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  29. innersixx

    If I see a mess I take my coffee and leave the mess. If I take the last cup of coffee I dont make a new one. I'm greedy, and rude.

    August 5, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  30. Mike

    I have my own small coffee pot in my office. I skip the communal coffee pot, fridge, etc. I don't want to be a part of the politics of cleaning up messes I didn't make, paying for others to drink coffee or cleaning out the fridge of items II didn't leave in there. People spend way too much time farting around with that stuff and not working.

    August 5, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Jerv

      Hahaha! Spot on dude!

      August 5, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  31. MNinGA

    I'm a sr. manager in an IT department. There are several of us at work that drink coffee heavily all day, we have courtesy for each other and clean up our messes. One even roasts his own coffee beans and brings them in for us to sample. Since we always have a fresh pot, people from other departments will sneak in for some of ours to avoid the sludge in their own office. They then leave empty pots on burners to scorch, spray sugar and creamer all over the counter, and have even gone so far as to stop by my desk on their way out to say "You need to make more coffee! he he he" Unfortunately the really rude ones are VPs (not all VPs, just a few of them) so I can't do anything about it. :-/

    August 5, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  32. MedicMax

    The Army in their wisdom decided to deploy me to Africa, and boy do I miss the coffee! Nothing quite as good as having Buna in Ethiopia, or even getting to be the special guest at a coffee ceremony.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  33. AQ

    My love of coffee kicks in and I really do anything to help a coffee maker – the same, however, cannot be said for co-workers :).

    August 5, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  34. Claudia

    Other....whether I would brew a new pot or not depends on time of day. After 3 pm, I would not brew a new pot, before 3 pm, I would.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  35. Bob

    That's why offices have women. They cluck around the coffee pot for an hour (seriously it takes an hour for them to make a pot of coffee as a group). Then I swoop in and take the leftovers.

    I would probably help with the ordeal of brewing a pot of coffee...but then I would have to talk to them.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • MalaDee@Bob

      Aren't you that guy, Bob Uppandown? Yeah, I thought so.

      August 5, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  36. goneballistic

    The 5 top rules for work. Follow them, you will avoid many common problems.

    Rule #1- Never share or use a common refrigerator.
    Rule #2- Never join a coffee pool.
    Rule #3- If you see a candy bowl on a desk, look away and forget about it.
    Rule #4- Guys, Never touch a female coworker, except to shake her hand.
    Rule #5- Guys, Never say anything to a female coworker that you would not say if you wife or mother was present.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
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