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How do you like your coffee?

Can I use the above sentence either on an offering situation that I ask if they like it black or with sugar, or during having situation that I ask if the coffee tastes good?

When the latter is possible, can next both answers be possible?

  1. I like it a lot.
  2. It's good.
  • 3
    Lots of cream, lots of sugar. Usually that statement is especially reserved to ask how you want the coffee prepared. But grammatically it could have the other meaning, just not often in real situations. – stephenbayer Nov 20 '14 at 16:32
  • 5
    Context depends greatly on whether I ask before I give it to you, while I'm offering milk/sugar/etc. or after I give it to you, when I want to confirm it's ok. Whether you want to call that two meanings or two contexts, is up to you... – smci Nov 21 '14 at 0:40
  • In Canada, it does. (It was the tag line for advertisements for Nestle's Coffee Crisp candy bar.) To avoid hearing "crisp" as the answer to the question, it has become customary to ask How do you take your coffee? instead. – Stan Rogers Nov 21 '14 at 14:20
  • Like my women, strong and black. – IQAndreas Nov 23 '14 at 5:17

10 Answers 10

35

You may use this in both situations, and indeed in others; the context will make it clear which meaning is intended:

  • If you ask before you start preparing the coffee, you are asking how your hearer prefers their coffee to be prepared—Do you like it strong or weak (or possibly boiled to a black sludge)?

  • If you ask before or as you serve the coffee, you are asking how your hearer 'takes' their coffee—Do you want cream or sugar with your coffee?

  • If you ask after your hearer has started drinking the coffee, you are asking about the taste of the coffee—Is the coffee OK?

As for your answers, both are possible, as are many more:

  • It's terrific!
  • It's horrible!
  • It's coffee!
  • It's Blue Mountain, apparently from St Thomas Parish; rather underroasted, to my mind, and a coarser grind should be used with that press.
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  • 1
    Wonderful answer, and the last example had me giggling! ;) – michelle Nov 20 '14 at 14:05
8

This phrase does have two meanings in US English, as agreed by other posters.

For the sake of completeness, I feel compelled to add that in British English, this is a phrase that would only be used when offering coffee. Using it as a question to affirm how much someone was enjoying their coffee would probably be understood, but would sound extremely odd. Instead, British people might say:

"Are you enjoying your coffee?"

"Is that coffee OK for you?"

Or something similar.

Divided by a common language and all that.

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  • "How do you like your coffee?" seems a perfectly natural way to ask "Are you enjoying the coffee I just gave you?" in British English to me. – David Richerby Nov 20 '14 at 15:08
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    I agree with @David. I'm not sure it's common per se (I'd drop the "how", as would most people) but deeming the construction "extremely odd" is quite a stretch. It's a massive generalisation, anyway: I estimate only like 20% of the country speaks in anything even closely resembling the dialect in your examples. :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 20 '14 at 15:13
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    I agree that "do you like your coffee?" is much more common in the UK than "how do...", except when the drinker is trying a new coffee or in similar situations where the asker is inviting a more detailed answer than "Yes" or "No". – Nagora Nov 20 '14 at 17:56
  • how do you like your coffee is the common way it is spoken in the United States. Other variations ensue such as how do you take your coffee? how is your coffee? how's the coffee – DoverAudio Nov 20 '14 at 20:28
6

Beyond the answers given by other contributors, I would also add another parse:

If asked at a bar at night, when the other party is clearly not drinking coffee, the individual who asked may be implying that they will be making coffee for the other party the following morning; that is, it could also serve as an implicit pick-up line.

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5

Context depends greatly on whether I ask:

before I give it to you, where it's equivalent to "Would you like milk/sugar/etc.?"

after I give it to you, where I'm asking "Do you like it?"/"Is that coffee ok?"

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3

As the other answers suggest, "How do you like your coffee?" can indeed have either meaning, depending on context.

If you're looking for unambiguous versions, you could instead ask:

How do you take your coffee? Meaning: Milk? Sugar?

Or

How is your coffee? Meaning: Do you like the coffee you're drinking?

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  • I think the ambiguity is more theoretical than actual, since the latter meaning would generally only apply in cases where someone has a partially-consumed cup in front of them (if fully consumed, the question would be "How did you like your coffee) and the former only in cases where someone either not presently have coffee or had affirmatively requested more. About the only time I can see real-world ambiguity would be if someone with a partially-consumed cup of coffee were to preemptively ask for more coffee from a person other than the one who had earlier supplied it, and where... – supercat Nov 21 '14 at 18:37
  • ...the new person would be expected to add any desired cream or sweetening agents. Even there, I would think an inquiry regarding condiments would more likely be "How would you like it?" rather than "How do you like it". – supercat Nov 21 '14 at 18:39
3

Be careful of emphasis

There are 2 ways of emphasizing the question:

  1. How do you like your coffee?
  2. How do you like your coffee?

The first is equivalent to 'how do you take your coffee?', so I would expect it in that context after someone has agreed to or requested some coffee.

The second is equivalent to 'how are you enjoying your coffee?', so I would expect it in the context of someone having tasted some coffee they have received. To this, any answer about the quality or my enjoyment of the coffee is fine, but it is not a yes/no question ('how' requires a full answer).

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3

Good question -- in addition to the answers concerned with the various contexts in which this is asked:

The ambiguity is as much a question of contrastive focus:

  • How do you like your coffee?
  • How do you like your coffee?
  • How do you like your coffee?
  • How do you like your coffee?
  • How do you like your coffee?
  • How do you like your coffee?

Even context-free, emphasis on the words in bold (or any combination of words in this sentence) affects the meaning. See Wikipedia: Focus (linguistics) for a more technical description of contrastive focus.

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1

The sentence looks ambiguous and hence, it can be used for both the situations. And thus...*

If I want to ask about the 'quality' of coffee, I'd use...

How was your coffee? ~ Ah, it was good!

OR

Did you like the coffee? ~ Yeah, I liked it!

If I am asking for a choice, I'd say it this way -

Which coffee would you like to have? Black or with sugar?

Note that I'd prefer using would and not do! I'm offering the guest and coffee hasn't come yet!

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  • Another common phrasing which leaves far less ambiguity is "How do you take your coffee?". It signifies both that the listener has not received it yet and that he/she is being asked to clarify on the preparation. – Drew Lanclos Nov 20 '14 at 16:00
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It's easier to see the meaning if you expand the two sentences to avoid the ambiguity:

How do you like your coffee [to be]?

And the second definition:

How do you like your coffee [in front of you]?


The latter is usually instead said without the "how" (in fact, I have a feeling including the "how" is grammatically incorrect), just as:

Do you like your coffee?

Or even more clear:

How is your coffee?

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1

One other possible interpretation is if it's being said by someone who doesn't like coffee, in an incredulous manner:

How do you like your coffee?? I hate it!

(This is me. :))

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