11 November 2008

The Starbucks Apology

Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the evening. coffee in Space. I love it, in all its forms and flavored products from ice cream to chocolate covered coffee beans. We even have some coffee soap in the house. The rich aroma and texture of the humble coffee bean is testament to the rich flavor and health benefits it provides us all. And Starbucks brought coffee to the forefront of the American Food Agenda. It made all the players step up their game. Even McDonald's, my teenage employment from a time B-id-C (Before I drank Coffee) where the stuff burned away in pots of foul acidic brew, provides us all with drinkable drip and is unleashing a line of 'coffee beverages' (lattes &c).
I came to coffee about when I came to smoking cigarettes, in college. Unlike the cool, cool (and deadly) habit of smoking, coffee was a necessary evil to keep me awake to study, or from sometimes falling asleep in someone's food when at work. Spaghetti makes for a messy pillow. In time the two intertwined into one habit, coffee and a smoke. I'd sometimes drink coffee without a smoke, or have a smoke sans cafe, but they went together like Rice and Roni. The bulk of my first novel was fueled by black coffee and cheap cigarettes. I eventually gave up the cigarettes for all the reasons you might think, but coffee and I were inseparable.
When I found myself in a coffee house I'd order a big cappuccino, and it was okay. I stayed the hell out of Starbucks, though. They were evil, a den for hipsters and other assorted douches, everything I did not want to be. There was nothing getting me into a Starbucks; and then I met Francesca.
Before she was my lovely wife she was my girlfriend, and my girlfriend enjoyed her Starbucks. Early in the relationship she insisted that we visit, because she wanted her drink. I went, yet reluctantly. I resisted with body language and commentary on our first few visits to this strange new world that I had so assiduously avoided, yet felt strangely drawn to even upon entering. My confusion took shape as righteousness: I would be he who stood up to the stereotype. No mocha-java-frapa-rapa-al-pacino for me! (thank you Denis). No. coffee.
"You mean drip?" the barrista asked me.
And the sizes: venti tall what?

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!

There was a process here that was in no small way fueled by my desire to spend time with my future mrs. I eventually relented, and found joy in the Peppermint mocha, the beverage meant for the Christmas season but in my eyes perfect all the year 'round. Until I began to count the calories of the powder, syrup, milk, whipped cream. I backed off to cappuccino, then dry cappuccino. Milk and I eventually began to disagree on a chemical level on how it would be digested. I no longer worried about the sizing, the options, the culture. I'd got over it; I'd got over myself. Starbucks is not evil, no more so than any other business out to make a buck (or bucks, as the case may be). Sure, I patronize the local guys (Higher Ground on the Dual Highway in Hagerstown in the Always building - you'll love it!) whenever possible, but much like a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries are comfortingly similar anywhere in these United States, so too can one find a Starbucks to deliver a deliciously consistent espresso whether you're in NYC or Abilene (I've never been to Abilene).
I now grind and steam my own espresso most mornings. I no longer make cappuccino, the vagaries of time and lactose have led me to the purity of the Americano. I trace my desire to do this to the pile of dollars I've handed over to Starbucks, the gallons of steamed coffee that I have poured down my throat. There have been others, and there will be others, but the green mermaid and her siren song of espresso will always call me back. I make no apologies for Starbucks.
I offer my apologies to the barristas who were making a living, hopefully working at something they love, and so patiently guided me with a smile to my coffee. Consistently delicious, always fresh, and hey, who's new song is that? It sounds pretty hip.

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