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.