Starbucks: Five Easy Pieces

Caffeine, Heal Thyself, Heal Thy Planet

1. A woman stood in front of me in line at Starbucks, a bit of a fish out of water, and is perplexed by all of the options. To her credit, festooned in gypsy-like garb, she clearly was not a policy wonk nor law school student, nor Senator or local. She quizzes the Barrista on all the possible combinations of chocolate that she can get into a coffee. She first orders a white chocolate mocha.

She then asks “Do you just have plain mocha?”

“Okay, I’ll just have hot water for tea.”

“No wait, I’ll have a double-chocolate chip Frappuccino”

“Does that come in extra-large?”

“Oh, can you make it with half-and-half and extra chocolate?”

So, to review, she ended up ordering a Trienta (30 oz) double chocolate, double chocolate chip mocha frappuccino made with half-and-half. It is important to note that most transactions at an urban Starbucks are instantaneous–people know what they want, or they get the same damn thing every day.

This episode (annotated) took about five minutes. An eternity for the wonk in need of an afternoon perk. The Barrista, upon the final draft, did a double take and nearly laughed out loud. I swallowed my own laughter too. The woman paid with a free drink postcard, the sort that Starbucks offers up to get a new drone hooked on the nectar (because this HAD to be the most expensive single order I have ever seen, you know, get your free money’s worth!).

Lesson: I am pretty sure a .32 caliber would make for a more humane suicide.

2. Reprise….A gruff chap, perhaps fresh in from the mountainside given his beard length, tried to order a “white milk shake.” Perplexed, the Barrista asked him if he meant a smoothie, and proceeded to ring him up. He insisted it wasn’t a smoothie, but a cappuccino. He saw an ad for it, he said. The Barrista explained that the cappuccino is of course, foam and espresso. At this point, the senior Barrista-in-charge stepped in. He backed up, asking if our mountaineer would like a “Blended Beverage.” This was lost in translation from the original Starbuckeese. There was a bit of a pause, long enough to palpitate the inability of our vagabond to speak to the natives. Then, from the line, an increasingly impatient customer offered up “Frappachino!”

Lesson: At Starbucks, it is un-PC to say “white milk shake.” “Blended beverage,” please.

3. I have seen ten year old princesses of the yuppie kingdom speak such fluent Starbuck-prose, that Yeats or Byron would weep upon a hearing. Certainly their parents claim their children to be bilingual! The addiction seems to start with frappaccino fueled by a parent’s wallet. Admittedly, that is how it happened for me, except in those days, Starbucks could only be found in major urban centers and not at Target. Buckys wa a treat, not a need.

By the time the young whippersnapper gets his first job, it is on to more potent caffeine. I marvel at the cost of this daily habit. People used to try to discourage cigarette smokers by showing the cost per year for a pack-a-day person (what is that nowadays, $3650?). Starbucks, at $3 a pop gets into quadruple digits–a plane trip to Europe perhaps.

Lesson: Maxwell House can get you both a morning coffee AND a trip to Europe.

4. A friend of mine, engaging in hyperbole, “checked in” at a Starbucks on that Orwellian app, “Foursquare.” His comment?

“A gallon, please.”

I took up the challenge–how might your order a gallon? Granted, you could get the office kit of a gallon with a nifty carrying handle, but I envisioned the “Big Gulp” of Starbucks. “I’ll have a Cento-venti-otto, please.” Certainly if one wanted death by Starbucks, this is the way to go. Coked out like a 80’s Hair-banger, not smothered under caramel syrup.

Lesson: If you say it in Italian, it doesn’t seem like excess.

5. Another acquaintance, perhaps longing for his halcyon college years of dropping shots of whiskey in his beer, opts for a shot of espresso dumped into a venti (large) bold (dark) coffee.No cream, no sugar. “An act of terrorism,” he calls such additions. The beverage is not on the menu, but is part of the secret lexicon. One shot is a red eye. Two is a black eye. Three is a green eye. Four is an overdose.

Lesson: If you want that much caffeine, take it in pill form.

Personally, I have had better coffee. Starbucks is the McDonald’s of coffee (that is not fair to McDonalds, as their coffee has always been okay.) Uniform and ubiquitous, and reliably found in every travel destination, Starbucks is every bit a Kraken or Cthulhu, rather than a mermaid. Perhaps the better analogy is a Siren that lured the seafarers into the rocks.

I have since kicked my daily habit, opting for better brews and a little more lead time at home (whilst blogging!). But it is hard to imagine an America, 30 years on, without the Green mermaid.

Photo: Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter / CC BY-NC