Friday, April 28, 2006

Seattle stories: How to order coffee

Deanna's comment on my first Seattle post leads naturally to the next Seattle story: how I became an addict, albeit kind of a fake one.

When I started high school in 1989, Starbucks was still a local chain. By the time I was a junior or senior, though, Starbucks was on the march and Seattle was dotted with espresso stands. There was one in our high school cafeteria. Seriously.

So I tried to be all cool and stuff, and had my first latte. My initial reaction: yuck.

Then I discovered mochas, and my world changed! If being cool involved chocolate, then I was sold.

I used to take like half an hour to drink a "short" mocha, i.e. an eight-ounce drink, which I believe Starbucks still offers but no longer lists on their menu. Now I can down a tall in ten minutes. I try to avoid drinking anything larger, because all the milk and chocolate is bad for me. (But the coffee? Coffee's fine!)

I swear Starbucks puts something in their chocolate that's addictive. I vastly prefer their mochas to anyone else's, except for Mudhouse here in C'ville. Usually I take summers off from mochas (I like frappucinos or iced drinks, but I find iced mochas too cloying), so when the weather cools off it's always a special moment when I have my first hot mocha of the season.

All these years later, even though I make coffee at home, I still don't like to drink my coffee black. I will under duress. But I prefer putting stuff in it. I can't imitate Starbucks' mochas at home, so I don't even try anymore, but I need to sweeten up my coffee, which is why I'm not a genuine coffee addict, I don't think. But the genius of Starbucks was to take a substance that is addictive but rather bitter and unpalatable on its own and make it really enjoyable to drink. And cool, of course.

Coffee was one great thing about the '90s. Starbucks expanded nationwide so that I could walk into a shop in New York or Boston and order my beloved mochas. (I still love walking into Starbucks wherever I am in the country; it feels like home.) Coffee was cool, and I was from the place that made it cool. The only thing more suave than holding a cigarette was holding a latte. And thus I never took up smoking. Plus, drinking coffee was actually kind of pleasurable.

People had names for their favorite drinks. A guy I worked with regularly ordered a nonfat no-whip latte from the building's cafe; his signature drink was called an "Arnie why bother?". But that reminds me, you don't need to get too cute when you're ordering coffee. I've noticed that non-Seattleites are still getting the hang of it. Here is how to order coffee:

1. Know what you want when you get to the counter. Starbucks is run like a well-oiled machine. If I don't get my drink within five minutes of walking in, it's because the person ahead of me in line was indecisive.

2. Any drink name longer than four words (unless it's that long on the menu) is too complicated. Don't show off.

WRONG: Tall half-caff caramel latte, no whip
RIGHT: Tall latte

3. It's not "vente," it's "venti."

One last thing: There is apparently a Starbucks card you can only get at the original location at Pike Place Market! I am so going to get one of those next time Justin and I are in town.


Deanna said...

I ordered Alexandra her very first Starbucks drink today - a kid's vanilla milk, with some ice tossed in. $1 plus tax. She felt so cool when I handed it to her in the car - she thanked me for the "coffee". See, I'm starting her early! I will have to blog about this myself. :)

Laurie said...

My favorite new way of justifying the expense of Starbucks is turning all my spare change (and my husband's) into a Starbucks gift card. God bless the Larry's Market Coinstar machine which allows such a thing with no surcharge! (They also allow Amazon and Linens & Things, but I just don't get the same kind of buzz.)

Juliet said...

That is good to know. I have to apologize to the U.S Mint for forcing them to produce pennies at excess cost, because we are hoarding like a gazillion pennies that we could be turning into coffee or books. I wonder if we can do the same thing around here? I'm trying to imagine how we can convey them to Seattle:

Airport Security Person: Ma'am, why are you carrying twenty pounds of pennies in your backpack?

Juliet: Um, to buy coffee?