I am no longer a Starbucks virgin.

About four years ago I got a Starbucks gift card from my brother and his family for Christmas that had $20 on it. I’d never been to a Starbucks before and I think they thought this might motivate me to give it a try as my brother, I believe, is a big fan of their coffee. The card went into my wallet and I forgot about it until this Saturday when I accompanied Anne to the local Meijer’s store so she could buy a few things for the trip down to North Carolina she’s taking this week (I dropped her off at the airport at 6AM this morning). This is part of why I rarely bother with those punch cards restaurants hand out so you can earn a free meal by eating there repeatedly. I don’t eat at any one place regularly enough to remember that I have the damn card in my wallet so it never gets punched and I never get my free sandwiches or whatever the hell the offer is. I’m only marginally better at remembering to pull out my Best Buy Rewards card when I buy stuff from them.

Anyway, my back was bothering me this weekend and it turns out that this particular Meijer’s’ happened to have a small Starbucks inside it and I somehow managed to remember that I had a four-year-old Starbucks gift card in my wallet so adding all of that up meant that I got to sit down and try my first ever Starbucks coffee while Anne went about collecting what she needed for her trip. The people at Starbucks were very nice and very accommodating of the fact that when it comes to coffee I’m about as old fashioned as you can get. I have a drip coffee maker that I put Folgers plain old coffee into which I then add a little milk/half-and-half/cream to, depending on which I have on hand, along with enough sugar to make it sweet to the taste. When I want to get fancy I’ll buy some of those non-dairy International Delight French Vanilla creamers to add a little extra flavor, but that’s about it. I’m just fine with plain old coffee with milk and sugar. Like I said, I’m old fashioned when it comes to coffee.

Needless to say I didn’t have a friggin’ clue what a Latte is and only a vague idea of what an Espresso is. Grande I could figure out, but what the hell is a Venti? It didn’t help that the woman in line in front of me barked out a dozen or so words to the attendant—only some of which (non-fat) I recognized as being English—when she placed her order and the guy behind the counter didn’t look at her like she’d just had an unexpected tourettes outburst, but nodded and set to work. I always thought that was a joke when I saw it in movies. I never suspected that coffee was that complicated or that people actually got that picky about it. So I explained to the nice people behind the counter that I was, apparently, a coffee idiot and that they were going to have to explain to me in simple idiot terms how to order one of their products properly.

I suddenly was reminded of how some folks feel when I try to explain what’s wrong with their computers to them and why I usually resort to: It’s broke. I’ll fix it. Relax.

I ended up letting three other people who showed up during this process place their orders ahead of me so I could continue to ask stupid coffee questions in the hopes of not hating whatever I ended up with seeing as it was going to cost a good $3+ for the drink, which must be the most I’ve ever spent on a cup of coffee before. The Starbucks people were very reassuring and told me that if I hated it to bring it back and they’d help me pick something else, but I still felt some pressure not to screw it up. They started by asking me if I like my coffee sweet. “Yes!” I replied, “Sweet good! Very good!” with the appropriate grunts and hand waving to indicate that my primitive coffee brain had understood the question. Through a succeeding progression of simple questions we managed to settle on my trying their Spiced Pumpkin Latte as it was both sweet and thematically appropriate to the current season. At the end they helpfully explained that Starbucks is basically just a very pretentious coffee house that likes to use big words to help folks feel better about spending $3+ on a cup of coffee, but that they didn’t really take themselves as seriously as it sounds like they do. The fact that some people get absolutely bat-shit insane over their coffee is often as much a surprise to them as it is anyone else.

And, after trying the Spiced Pumpkin Latte, I have to admit that I can better understand why some people get bat-shit insane about Starbucks coffee. It was easily one of the most impressive cups of coffee I’ve ever had in my life and the $3+ I spent on it suddenly didn’t seem like such a huge amount of money after all. It was so good that I ordered a second one to take with me once Anne showed up ready to check out and go home. Both of them were Venti sized, which is Italian for way more coffee than you should probably drink in one sitting if you don’t want to spend the rest of your morning peeing. It was good stuff and, while I’m probably not addicted enough yet to make a trip to a Starbucks a daily ritual like it is for some people, I’ll probably drop in every now and then when one of them just so happens to be in my general vicinity. Like when I’m shopping with Anne.

26 thoughts on “I am no longer a Starbucks virgin.

  1. Yesss… feel the caffeine… you are growing strong in the dark side of the force…

    If you’re ever in Normal, Illinois, stop into The Coffee Hound (they are opening a branch here soon) and have a ‘Mocha Freeze’.  Beats the hell out of a Starbucks Frappucino, which is really saying something.

  2. Five years ago there were no Starbucks in Saskatoon.  Now there are a half dozen, including two within a block and a half of each other, one being in Midtown Plaza, Saskatoon’s large downtown mall, the other on a street corner nearby.  Unfortunately for Starbucks their Saskatoon stores must compete with the juggernaut that is Tim Hortons.  It’s not uncommon to have to wait for several minutes in a Hortons during much of the day, and the drive through at one of their locations often causes traffic to be backed up for half a block.  Hortons has pretty much killed off the competing Robins Donuts chain, which only has three or four stores left here out of what was once a dozen or more.

  3. We’ve had Tim SnortonsHortons here in the Detroit area for a few years now, most commonly paired with a Wendy’s in a weird conjoined-twin sort of way, so I’m familiar with them though I’ve never had their coffee. They seem to be holding their own against the other shops, but not monolithic by any stretch of the imagination.

  4. I tried Starbucks coffee once, thinking it was just a bad day, I tried it again several weeks later, It still taste like someone had taken a piss in the coffee pot. Unfortunately I know what that taste like from experience. It’s something you either really like, or dislike I suppose, Starbucks that is, I don’t know of anyone that likes piss in their coffee. But you never know…

    The Best Coffee I have yet to drink is Instant Nescafe in the round glass jar. Not the Red plastic can. And the sugar has to be Raw Hawaiian, and the Cream has to be Coffee mate ( Vanilla Nut ). However during Christmas it can be touched up with a touch cinnamon or eggnog.

  5. It still taste like someone had taken a piss in the coffee pot.

    How do you know that’s not what happened? wink

    Anyway, just gimmie some good ol’ instant with Hazelnut Coffee Mate and I’m happy. Starbucks is fine once in a while. I used to always get those Mocha Frappucino thingies, but I got tired off all the sugar.

  6. I roast my own beans. Charbucks and others destroy good coffee. Not everything has to be “dark roast” You just taste the roasting process. You enirely miss out on the origin flavors of the beans. Then again, most coffee shops and stores sell beans that are old and stale anyway. Do some research and try roasting your own. You’ll be drinking coffe as it should be drunk.

    An obvious fanatic.

  7. Personally, I can’t stand Starbucks coffee. As far as big chains go, the best coffee I’ve ever had is from Dunkin’ Donuts.

    Paul: The Best Coffee I have yet to drink is Instant Nescafe in the round glass jar.

    That’s pretty damn good, too.

  8. I’m not a big fan of the Starbucks chain, prefering to patronize local coffeeshops instead.  However when I’m at the local Barnes & Nobles*; I occassionally like to have one of their Toffee Nut Lattes.  Yum!

    * Local/small business coffee shops we have in plenty in my area.  Local/small business bookstores are practically non-exsistant.  Though there’s a few used shops with funky hours making it hard to shop at them.  *sigh*

  9. Les: Starbucks is basically just a very pretentious coffee house

    LOL They probably thought you wouldn’t tell anyone.
    I’m not a big coffee drinker; Instant Nescafe is okay by me too – I prefer it black with sugar but can drink it with or without milk or sugar.
    I went into one of those coffeenazi places in Byron Bay a few years ago.
    The people I was with all played the game.
    When it came to my to order I said I wanted a mug with black coffee in it and I’ll add my own sugar.
    It was alright.  smile

  10. Is there a “how to” guide for ordering Starbucks anywhere on the internet? The director of the graduate program I attended a few years ago keeps asking me to give up the cup of Starbucks coffee that I drink every morning so I can send a several hundred dollar donation check to them. It took me over a year to land a job because of that program’s sick joke of a ‘job fair’ (major university in a major metro area that only had 5 or 6 employers show up at their end of the semester career fairs.) Since I only landed a job in spite of their ‘help’ I’d like to start spending my money on the coffee they assume I buy instead of sending them a check. Okay, I’m not really that spiteful but I am curious as to how one actually orders ‘fancy/complex’ coffee. I’m more of a tea person. When I drink coffee it is the cheap plain black coffee that they serve at family owned greasy spoon restaurants so my head would probably explode if I tried to order starbucks without planning ahead.

  11. A very unsophisticated coffee-shop patron, I order frozen coffee concoctions, or a mocha latte, sometimes a “house latte”.  Or, just a plain black coffee, which coffee houses sometimes call an “Americano” or something like that.  Maybe they are laughing at me but I am too obtuse to notice.

    I should note that alumni fundraising operations have lists of insulting questions and ‘accusations’ they hurl at their own alumni to raise funds, and then only half goes to your beloved alma mater, the other to the fundraising company.  When calling, they have scripts they use for every common question.

    So when they call for money, I tell them that I only donate money to halfway houses for people just released from prison after going postal on telemarketers.

  12. Being something of a traditionalist, I usually fill my thermos before work with a pot of black coffee that tastes like its had the horseshoe treatment. Spending a long freezing night on overwatch in a guardtower requires an substantial amount of coffee. Personally, I generally laughed at the idea of the $3+ cup o’ joe thing, but luckily we have those delicious little bottles of cold coffee from starbucks at the store that works wonders in the morning. The jury is still out on this one for me. The cold stuff packs the same caffeine, but there’s something about being out in the cold with a steel thermos that just can’t be beat.

  13. 35 years walking the planet and I’ve still never managed to trip, stumble, sway, or otherwise comprimise my body posture and accidentally have coffee get in my mouth. It’s good to be me. I never have to wait in line for hot rhinocerous urine with moockynutz cream floaties.
        I will dabble in a little hot cocoa every now and then. I’m also a big fan of the rich, chocolatey Ovaltine.

  14. 35 years walking the planet and I’ve still never managed to trip, stumble, sway, or otherwise comprimise my body posture and accidentally have coffee get in my mouth.

    What can I tell you, Mayo, coffee is an acquired taste and a lot of people have acquired it.  Nothing wrong with you for not liking it – who knows why some people like ‘x’ and some people like ‘y’?

    There is a definable moment when I began to like coffee.  My father and I had just driven over Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado back when it was two lanes.  We were in a dune buggy with no roof and as we ascended to the 10,000-foot pass it began to rain. Then sleet.  Then snow.  Then back to sleet, then cold, cold rain.  It was July and we were dressed for summer weather.

    As we pulled up to a little restaurant at the base of the pass, slushy water ran to the front of the floorboards.  We walked inside and sat down.  The waitress brought us coffee.  I’ve been pretty devoted to the stuff ever since.  There is probably a graduate research project in there on neurological tipping points.

  15. If I had to drink it black without sugar I’d probably hate coffee too. I’m not much for bitter foods and plain black coffee is about as bitter as it comes. Fortunately we humans have this endless desire to play with our foods to see what new flavors we can come up with.

    I’ve been a fan of coffee with milk and sugar since my mid-teens. I tend to drink it mostly in the mornings during three of the four seasons and in the winter I tend to drink it all day long. Especially after coming in from being out in cold.

  16. I love my imitation decaf Nescafe coffee. All the taste of normal coffee, I have mine with milk and sugar, and none of the affects. Bleh, I had Starbucks in America once, what a horrible place it was, my hot chocolate tasted like shit, my sandwich tasted like drywall and a pidgin had somehow gotten inside and was pecking at the viewing food, I don’t believe the clerk cared that much.

  17. My grandfather, who was a logger,

    (“I see you are a logger
    and not just a common bum
    For no one but a logger
    stirs his coffee with his thumb…”)

    was instrumental in getting me addicted.  He told me how to test coffee: “If you stand a spoon up in the middle of the cup and let go, and the spoon falls over to the side with a clink, the coffee’s too weak.  If the spoon doesn’t fall over at all, the coffee’s too strong.  But if it slowly leans over to the side, it’s just right.”

    I’ve been to Starbucks a couple of times, and they’re okay.  The good thing about them is that they’ve brought drinkable coffee to the boonies.  But now there’s even a Starbucks (just one so far) in Vienna, which has no shortage of real coffee houses with real coffee.  The Starbucks here might well have a no-smoking section, though, which would be a real attraction; Austria has been called the Last Smoker’s Paradise in Europe, since there are practically no restrictions on where one may contaminate the lungs of others.

    Yes, Bob, roasting your own is the way to go.  But to anyone who wants to try it: make sure you’ve got good ventilation- to fanatics, roasting coffee smells like a promise of heaven, but to mere mortals, it’s considerably less enchanting.

  18. Personally the only coffee I drink has to be in the form of a mocha.  For Les’s benefit, a mocha is coffee+chocolate+cream.  Of the coffee chains my favorite place to get mochas by far is Caribou Coffee.  Starbucks would be one of my least favorite places to get mochas.  Sometimes I’ll splurge and get a shot of cherry in my mocha (that makes it a black forest mocha).  If you want a good cold coffee, my recommendaiton is Dairy Queen’s Mocha Moolatte.

  19. For what amounts to a coffee milkshake, the MooLatte isn’t bad, nutritionally.  It even has 8 grams of protein.  Only trouble is, I could easily put away three of them in a row.

    I love to see words that were once insults, lose their fangs and be shaped to new uses.

  20. I’ll admit I’m probably more of a coffee dork than I should be.  I’m the one who buys whole beans and grinds them at home right before I make a pot (although I rarely pull out the chemistry set or french press…).  I’m not nearly as bad as my other half, who can smell whole beans and tell you which country they are from.  He rags on me from time to time because I do sugar and half&half my coffee – which he swears kills the real flavor (though I don’t care… *laughs*)

    My main preference is Kean Coffee in Newport Beach, CA though.  The owner roasts right there in the shop, usually picks up the beans from down south himself, carries so many wonderful fair trade varities, their lattes have a work on art on top of them, and I have never once had an attitude from the staff.  Coffee Bean and Starbucks come after because sometimes I don’t have time to make it over to Kean (there’s only one).

  21. I started drinking coffee when I started university 2 years ago, now I’m an addict.  I drink a cup a day, often 2 or three.  I’m like you Les, not a complicated coffee drinker, I find Starbucks too damn confusing.  When I buy coffee (as in not make it at home) I usually go to Tim Hortons (honestly, you don’t even know how much a part of Canadian culture that chain is until you come to Canada).  Occasionally I go to a “fancy” coffee shop and get a mocha or something.  This weekend though, I had the best coffee EVAR!11!!  Seriously, it was a Mocha made with Belgian Milk chocolate from a place called Blenz coffee in downtown Vancouver (which I visited for the first time this weekend) and I can’t praise it enough.

    Humerous Anecdote:  As a joke, my dad bought me a one liter ceramic mug from a garage sale.  As it turns out, I find it perfect and use it all the time.  My sister in law commented that the problem with huge mugs was that the coffee got cold before you were done.  I replied that I’d never run into that problem.

  22. I’m a daily Starbucks patron, but mostly because I use the store as a remote office when I don’t want to fight through LA traffic to get to my real office (and when I need to get away from my cats, who firmly believe that they can help me type).  In general, I don’t like their coffee but their espresso drinks are pretty good.  I drink so many mochas that the employees call me ‘Grande Mocha Guy’ smile

    If you don’t like bitter coffees then try some lighter roasts.  My favorites are Kona (any style) and Guatemala Antigua.  I’m also a huge fan of using a French press instead of an auto drip maker- it brings out a lot more flavor, and if you’re spending a lot on your beans (like with Kona), it’s worth it.  The only catch is that you have to gind your beans a lot more coarse than you would for an auto-drip.

    I grew up drinking a lot of coffee but quit when I went to college, since I wanted to get away from caffinee.  That lasted until I was working in Hawaii and had a sip of the Kona out there…  I was drinking at least a pot a day for the next five years.

    There are health risks from drinking too much caffinee through.  I recently went blind in my right eye from something called Central Serous Retinopathy (CSR), which is officially listed as being idiopathic (no known cause) but is definately related to stress and stress-inducing chemicals like caffinee.  I have mostly recovered, but it is extremely distressing to think that I could go blind from getting stressed out and drinking too much coffee.  I’m a computer programmer, so my vision is very important, which is why I’ve cut back to one cup of coffee per day.

  23. Get your hands on episode 2 of The Sopranos (from the first season).  In it is a hilarious scene involving, uh, Starbuck’s — and now I can’t think about Starbuck’s without imagining what they called it in The Sopranos.

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