Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whole latte love

Thanks to the, um, character-building feedback I received on my undeniably questionable choice to buy Crocs, I've decided to stick with a confessional theme this week. We can call it "Shame Week." It will be like "Shark Week," only much, much scarier.

So, I've been a regular coffee drinker for probably 10 years. (I have, however, led an almost-exclusively decaffeinated lifestyle for the past five years. I'll save that story for another post). I was never a frou-frou coffee drinker. In fact, I was baffled that people would pay upwards of $3 for a cup of coffee (especially as we were all complaining that a gallon of gas cost that much). I was born and raised in West Virginia, and designer coffee just seems incredibly indulgent to someone with a blue-collar background.

I would occasionally go to Starbucks, but usually just once or twice around the holidays. I was a sucker for the gingerbread latte, and those red holiday cups are just so festive. But I still found the whole thing sort of intimidating and elitist. A small is a tall? Grande sounds big, but that's only the medium. Skinny? Extra hot? No foam? WTF? I need a coffee house dictionary.

When my son started going to daycare just over two years ago, I began stopping at Sunoco on my way home for a cup of coffee. Yes, I was buying my coffee at a gas station (and this isn't even the confessional part). It was actually quite tasty, and if you brought your own mug, you got a discount! I even purchased my travel coffee mug from the Sunoco. I'd march in there every morning with my silver mug in hand, happy to know that I wasn't adding a paper cup to a landfill that day.

But just over a year ago, I walked in and saw a new guy making the coffee. I poured my cup of decaf as usual, and then went to the counter to pay. New Sunoco worker came over to ring me up, and I froze in horror as he stopped in front of me. The man had dandruff the size of tumbleweeds all over his blue Sunoco smock. I fought my gag reflex long enough to pay the poor man, and hightailed it out of there. The coffee went directly into my kitchen sink, and I haven't been back since.

Coincidentally, right around the time of the Sunoco incident, a new Starbucks had just opened less than a mile from my house. I decided to check it out. At first, I would just order a decaf coffee, but frankly, I think Starbucks' regular coffee bites. I could attempt to chronicle in some detail my rapid decline into Starbucks hell, but suffice to say, I went from ordering "a small decaf coffee" to an "iced venti decaf skinny vanilla latte, light ice" in a matter of days.

Yes, I’m one of those people now.

Not only do I have an annoying order, but I have to have it every day. I think about it every night before I go to bed. And it gets worse. After a month or so of having a consistently regular order, the Starbucks workers (I am refraining from calling them baristas, to maintain some level of dignity) started to know my order as soon as I walked in. Part of me thought, “This is cool. I am like Norm on Cheers. And if there is a long line, my drink is ready as soon as I pay, because they’ve already started it for me.” Another part of me thought, “This is scary. I am obviously here way too much. I have been sucked into the evil corporate machine. Fight the man and run the other way!”

But I didn’t. I’m still there every day. I own a Starbucks Gold Card (which paid for itself quickly, no doubt). I’ve actually had assorted friends and relatives pick up a drink there for me, AND THE STARBUCKS PEOPLE KNOW IT’S FOR ME EVEN WHEN I’M NOT THERE. Creepy. My habit costs me more than $100 a month.

I made an attempt to patronize a local, independently owned coffee shop recently, because that really feels like more my style. But you know what? It was more expensive, and it didn’t even taste as good.

I’m a slave to Starbucks, and I’ve grown to accept it. I don’t drink alcohol (as anyone who has seen me after one cocktail can attest to), and I don’t have any expensive hobbies. So Starbucks is my hobby. It could be worse.


  1. I'm currently fighting an addiction to cappuccino's from a local gas station. I have never been a fan of Starbucks, but I did have a scare over the holidays. On our way to the WVU bowl game, we stopped to get gas at the Tamarack south of Charleston and there was no 'generic' cappuccino machine at the gas station. I opted for the Starbucks out of desperation and it turned out to be really good. Fortunately for my wallet, I tried Starbucks again a week later and it wasn’t as pleasant to my taste buds so I’m back on the generic.

  2. Well Lauren, let us review what we know about you. You do not consider yourself "one of those people" yet you have succumbed to the siren call of Starbucks. You are the proud owner of Crocs and are some sort of fashionista... Admit it, you are one of those people! Funny, it is the people that think they are too cool to follow trends that are in the center of the zeitgeist of the time.

    Great post!

  3. Maybe you should get an Illy coffee machine. Take the next step.

  4. I personally prefer Saeco, but I would recommend with your habit that you buy a super automatic espresso machine:

  5. For the record, I am an ashamed purchaser of Crocs. I haven't even received them yet! :-)

  6. I shouldn't even be commenting, because I can't stand the taste of coffee.

    Oh well.

    I hated Starbucks. I wouldn't go into one if someone promised me an orange scone thingy just to sit with them. I sniffed at the air around the joint (because while I detest the taste of coffee, I do heart the aroma), saw the uppity business folks and blind-daters enjoying their brew, and laughed as I walked past it to H&M.


    For Christmas of '07, someone gave me a $25 gift card to Starbucks. Yeah, seriously. I forgot I had it in my purse for months, until sometime in summer of '08 I found myself desperate for some chocolate in the Ohio Valley Mall but finding nothing but craft stores and Kmart. So, I used the card at the 'Bucks and got myself some kind of cookie and a hot chocolate. They asked if I wanted all kinds of frou-frou things shot into the drink, and I felt completely retarded saying, "Um... no... can I just have plain old hot chocolate?" They looked at me funny, but they gave it to me.

    It's taken a year, but I'm down to about $2 on that Starbucks card now. I suppose I don't hate the damn place like I did, but I don't get the allure, either. Then again, I don't like coffee.

    Where was I going with this? I don't know.

    But Lauren, I'm glad you at least tried to give the independent coffeeshops a fair shake. Their workers often are knowledgeable and friendly, and I love when they get their products from local or sustainable sources. :)

  7. I think Starbucks could be improved by giving their coffee drinks a number. Then you could just say I'll have a number 15. The ordering part intimidates me! So I just order the coffee of the day. How many numbers would it take to cover all of the various flavors? And what's wrong with saying "large"?I do love the coffee. But really, give the drinks a number and business will improve.