Because Sometimes You Need a Quickie
I have tasted good coffee - REALLY good coffee - from all over the world. In fact if you were to combine my lifetime of passport stamps, they would look like a reward card from some of the best coffee regions in the world: Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Costa Rica, Mexico. I have enjoyed the best of the best and know what good coffee tastes like. So why do I periodically find myself shouting my name across the counter to a barista who will scrawl it incorrectly onto a paper cup? Why do I sometimes ask for whipped cream on my beverage?? And why, or why, do I occasionally get in line at the drive-thru to give my order to a nameless, faceless speaker??? Just like any relationship, my relationship with coffee is not without its moments of shame. Admit it. We’ve all had them. Not every relationship you’ve ever had was about quality or a memorable, lasting experience. At least once it was just about the convenience and the quick hit. Sometimes it was nameless and that was ok. One time, it was just about the whipped cream… It’s the same with coffee. Sometimes it’s just about the afternoon caffeine jolt or the fact that you’re in a part of town filled with neon signs that drag you in. Or maybe you’re with that one friend who drags you down with them. (We all have that friend. And if you don’t, it’s probably because you ARE that friend.) Most often for me, it’s the fact that it’s the evening or a Sunday when every independently-owned coffee shop that makes truly good coffee is closed so their staff can spend time with their families. I can’t really complain about this since I am one of those staff members and I really appreciate the time off so I can spend quality time with my family --- at Starbucks. Oh, the irony. But just like my one friend who famously climbed out of a bathroom window after a one night stand, I do have shame and regret. You see, to anyone who really understands and values coffee, it’s impossible to ignore the reality. 1) The drinks that are consumed at these chain coffee shops contain obscene amounts of sugar that are used to mask the fact that their coffee flavor and quality is sub-par. 2) No real ‘authentic espresso-style’ drinks will ever be served by a person in a paper hat who pushes a button labeled ‘Café Latte’ after they’ve just asked, “Would you like fries with that?” 3) At a truly good coffee shop, there will never be discussions about whether or not the brew contains trace amounts of MSG or nicotine. 4) An authentic Macchiato is a small cup of milk foam with a shot of espresso poured through it, NOT a 300 calorie caramel vanilla latte topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce. I’m not saying that these fast-coffee chains don’t have their place. I’m sure that they have helped to develop a more sophisticated coffee drinking culture that has helped the independent shops, roasters, and overall coffee industry immensely. And I’m sure you’ll see me darken the door of my local chain at some point. Just know that if you are the one to catch me in line, or see me with a branded to-go cup in my hand, I probably won’t make eye contact.