Starbucks makes me crazy. When you make a pot of supermarket coffee and drink it from your finest “You’re #1” mug, two things happen: you spend about a dime, and there’s not a lot of landfill. But it isn’t really just the money or the garbage that I resent about Starbucks, it’s also how their most frequent customers take a transcendent thing like a cup of premium coffee completely for granted.
I grew up when the electric percolator was modern technology. Ours sat on the table or the kitchen counter (really just a wood plank balanced between the stove and the sink), and every day my mother filled it with water, added some measurement of coffee and set it to work. Through the glass dome on the lid I watched the liquid repeatedly appear and reappear a darker color each time, and with with every hue came an increased aroma of brewing coffee. Every day it seemed magical to me that my mom knew the exact moment when it was ready to pour.
One day my mother moved the percolator from the makeshift counter top and put a brand new mixer there. She announced with glee that we were going to make a cake. My job (which I did with intense purpose) was to crack eggs and check measurements and then press “start.” I counted seconds aloud to pass the time since two minutes is an eternity when you’re six, but somewhere around second 45 there began a loud and regular thumping and then a pulsing vibration. The wood plank slipped from its perch and everything on it, including the churning mixer went crashing to the floor. My mother held her arm in front of my body to protect me from flying cake batter and I watched as the power cord sprang from the outlet and whipped through the air like an angry snake, until finally the plug on the end of it hit the floor and everything went silent. I waited for her to speak, to say anything about what I should do but she just stood there.
I studied her face as she surveyed the stripes of cake batter that covered the entire kitchen, ceiling to floor, every wall, the chairs, the table, and the appliances. Her lips were slightly parted when she turned completely around to take in the entirety of the cake batter carnage. Finally she put her hands on my shoulders, looked down at me and said, “Helen, I think we should go out and get a cup of coffee.” She nodded approvingly of her own decision, grabbed her purse and my hand and we walked to the nearby luncheonette.
Soon we were seated at a table for two, on chairs with worn gray vinyl cushions and a laminate tabletop that had speckles of red and silver. A pleasant waitress greeted us and took the order – one cup of coffee for mom and one cup of milk for me, both in white handled cups with saucers please. The waitress smiled as she turned away. Things were improving. Quickly she brought two cups exactly as ordered and placed them in front of us. “Can I get you anything else?” She asked. Mom smiled broadly and said, “No, this is all we need right now thanks.”
I pushed my cup and saucer closer to my mothers so she could transfer some of her coffee into my milk until it turned light beige. Then we raised our cups, took our first sips and finally exhaled. Mom kept one hand around her coffee cup and the other hand moved through the air as she talked. I don’t really remember the exact conversation but I do know that in the next thirty minutes all of that mess in the kitchen changed from one herculean task to something small we’d take care of later, after we had a little time to get the right perspective, and maybe some cake. Occasionally the waitress stopped by and offered us a “warmer”, which my mother happily accepted, and when we left, mom paid with a dollar and I put the change on the table for a tip.
So my point is “Hey there Starbucks enthusiasts, you’re missing the point!” Coffee out should be savored, a side dish to great thinking, conversation, or dessert. It shouldn’t be regarded as overpriced fast food (or beverages). USA today has a handy calculator so we can feel empowered or horrible at the amount we spend on coffee in paper cups. And that doesn’t figure in the cost to eliminate the 2.3 billion paper cups they hand out every single year.
And what about the tip cup at the cash register? We are expected to leave a tip even before we’ve had any product and the only service we get is when over the din of the espresso machine, milk steamer and indie music tracks, a voice calls out the name they wrote on the paper cup so we can get up and fetch it.
But I have to admit, sometimes I do walk in to Starbucks, order a $5.65 Grande Cappuccino with an extra shot vanilla syrup, and I don’t complain about it. It’s my mid week fuel and sometimes my lunch. But then I also hear Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, (1998), every time and I’m reminded that times have changed, and so has the coffee shop…
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self … Nora Ephron
So I ask myself is that enough value right there? Could be. But still, Starbucks makes me crazy.