Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hey Barista! Give Me A Starbucks Grande, Quad, Ristretto, Nonfat, Dry Cappuccino, Please!

David usually makes me a gigantic container of iced tea and I drink it everyday while I’m working. We do this because Starbucks is right down stairs and there is a big temptation to go there everyday and order a tea and have the friendly staff in the clean, brand new store hand me the freshly brewed tea, which is fine until you calculate the cost of making iced tea at home and compare it to the cost of buying iced tea at Starbucks. Pennies versus dollars, and even though it feels like handing over two bucks is a small thing, it adds up over a period of months and years. So we try to keep our tea in the family.

I used to avoid Starbucks like I avoid Rubella. Not the company itself mind you - which seems like an excellent, well-run company that treats employees well and understands their customers - but the way they ask you a million questions whenever you want a cup of coffee. You know what I’m talking about - it goes like this:

Kim: I’d like an iced tea, please.

Friendly, Well-Intended, Barista Person : What size?

Kim: Medium would be great.

FWIBP: Tall, grande or venti?

Kim: What? (Looking confused, mouth gaping open. The annoyed clerk points to the board and angry customers behind me shuffle their feet)

Kim: Oh, grande, I guess

FWIBP: What kind of tea would you like?

Kim: You know, regular tea…

FWIBP: We have black, green or passion tea.

Kim: I’d like the kind of tea you get when you order an iced tea in a diner. (FWIBP figets uncomfortably and shrugs unknowingly. Main in suit behind me looks at his watch. Someone from way in the back sighs loudly.)

Kim: Um…black

FWIBP: Lemonade?

Kim: Uh…No I want tea.

FWIBP: No, in your tea….Do you want lemonade IN your tea?

Kim: Lemonade In my tea?

FWIBP: Yes. That’s what I said…(FWIBP is looking a little tense now. She tries to keep the half smile on her face, but it's fading)

Kim: I don’t think so.

FWIBP: How about sugar?

Kim: No sugar, but lemon would be nice.

FWIBP: We don’t have lemon.

Kim: Really?...That’s odd because if you sell iced tea, I would expect a little lemon and…

FWIBP: We don’t have any. (FWIBP suspects the line behind me might mutiny. She tries to save me by moving it along)…Anything else?

Kim: No, I’m tired now.

And I feel a little foolish. A wisp of a college co-ed sidles up next to me in her cellulite-free legs and cute shorts and smartly gives her order to the FWIBP.

”I’d like an iced, decaf, triple grande cinnamon non-fat no-whip mochachino,” she says. The FWIBP nods to her warmly and says, as if they are long-lost birth sisters and kindred spirits, “That’s my favorite, too”.

This was why it took me so long to warm up to Starbucks – I felt like an outsider whenever I was there. Everyone seemed to speak a language I had never heard before and deftly maneuvered through a culture (while maniacally clutching their to-go cups) that seemed odd and foreign to me. I mean, the store offers a little manual on how to order your syrups for heavens sake! Is this really such a rich and sophisticated experience that I need a manual to do it?

Anyway, this all used to annoy me and I used to steer clear of Starbucks, but now that we have one right downstairs, I have to come to be more patient with them. I don’t mind when David gets busy and forgets to brew my tea for the week on Sunday evening. Lucy likes to go there and sit in the big chairs and have Passion Tea and Rainbow Cookies – an activity that makes her feel very grown-up. And the staff acknowledges her and Edie by name, like it is a small tea shop and not the sprawling, metastisizing mega-corp we know it is. I’ve come to know and really like Fernando, Roxie and Vanessa and they know me. They cheerfully shout at me when I walk in the store, the way the gang from Cheers shouted at Norm when he came in.

It feels like a neighborhood, like we and they all belong here together. Roxie, God bless her, knows how I like my tea so I don’t have to ask for my drink in some complicated monologue. I just stand there, make chit chat and wait for my gigantic iced teas – black, no lemonade, no sugar - to appear in front of me, perfectly made without any interrogation or oration.

xxxooo Kim


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