commentary · food

A cup of ‘Joe’ please?

Why coffee bars scare me!

Back in the good ole’ days when people ordered coffee it was black; uncomplicated and pure. Then some daring soul got the brilliant idea to add the flavorful duo ‘cream and sugar’ to the formidable black liquid. But, the real changes came mid-20th century with the advent of processed foods. No longer would we settle for a teaspoon of sugar and splash of cream; convenience and choice reigned supreme in kitchens across the globe. The average coffee drinker was now inundated with a plethora of delightful flavor enhancing choices to beef up their simple ‘cup of joe’.

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Real sugar, fake sugar, sugars extracted from leaves; milks and creams offered with flavor enhancements beyond our wildest dreams – it reads like poetic song, and that’s all available in the comfort of your own kitchen.  But, it’s what lurks outside our homes that is really scary; the onslaught of coffee shops, or should I say ‘coffee bars’, where the lines are long and the menus even longer. Ordering in some of these establishments can be downright intimidating for the ‘average joe’.

Let’s focus on the kingpin of coffee bars – Starbucks. In a recent post, I joked about ordering a coffee at Starbucks, siting an example that was about eight words long for one drink; no exaggeration. Choice has truly gotten out of hand.  Nevertheless, they, like many other establishments, are truly buying into our demand for choice. But we have to ask ourselves, how much is too much?

Starbucks originated in 1971 in Seattle, Washington. A small storefront with a name inspired by the novel Moby Dick, because it “evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.” (1) Their hope was to share great coffee with friends and help make the world a little better. Then Starbucks grew; after a trip to Italy where coffee bars were abundant, the CEO became enamored with the romance of the coffee experience and brought it back to the states.

FullSizeRender (22)It’s a romance story in itself; a simple idea catapulted into big business by romantic dreams for celebrating a coffee experience rich in tradition and providing a place where a community of coffee drinkers felt a connection.

It’s a nice story, but I’m still intimidated by the menu.  I love choice, but I’m the type of person who can stand in a grocery store aisle and get mad because I am looking for regular cottage cheese but can’t find it amidst all of the other offerings. At least there I don’t feel rushed; no one is breathing down my neck to get to the low-fat pineapple cottage cheese.

Admittedly, I drink decaf coffee for medical reasons, and I shy away from added sugars and creams and foams and syrups and on and on, because basically I’m health conscious, and I don’t need a slew of extra calories, fats and sugars added to my coffee. So, I am the person you want in line, in front of you at Starbucks because I am the one who will get a decaf with skim milk, step to the side, and put my own sugar in.

Romance, community, connection, friends and coffee on steroids; it’s all good for those who are skilled ordering connoisseurs. And for those who are not, at least there are comfy chairs to meld into after a possibly exhausting and stressful coffee ordering ordeal.

On a positive note, if I ever do find myself meeting a friend at Starbucks, at least I know I can prep online beforehand if I want to at least look like I have a clue. For some reason there are a multitude of sites like, ‘Starbucks for Dummies’, meeting the needs of the confused masses around the globe. Just knowing that makes me feel better; looks like I’m not the only dummy out there.  Now if there’s a ‘grocery store aisle guide for dummies’, I’ll be set. 

(1) http://www.starbucks.com/about-us/company-information

 

 

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