Where do you get your coffee? Apparently, your answer says a lot about your socio-economic status, your political leanings, and your ideals. And you just thought you were getting a little caffeine.
As the heady, frenzied days of late '90s prosperity passed me and my entry-level job right by, coffee insinuated itself into my surroundings. At the Carlyle Group, the coffee and the Republican group-think were both free, and their consumption encouraged. Each kitchen was stacked with tiny Evian bottles and small, tight green packages with the Starbucks logo, ripped open to be brewed and served to the steady stream of billionaires dropping by. I myself mostly tanked up on coke (a-cola).
It wasn't until graduate school and the last gasp of the '90s that I finally accepted the fact that real coffee, sans ice cream, would be fundamental to my survival strategy if I was to finish four 20-page papers at the end of every semester. It was then that I finally tasted Starbucks coffee, straight-up. And realized it tasted like hot water mixed with a little char. Those of you with a Starbucks habit will immediately start squawking, but that's only because you're used to it after years of mega-dosing. You are in fact addicted to the alarming levels of caffeine particular to the Starbucks brew, levels that keep you buzzed and twitching all day. But people: it doesn't taste good. What's more insidious is that Starbucks coffee is so unabashedly stronger, so recklessly noxious, that once you've developed a taste for it, all other coffee actually tastes bad. Those corporate guys up in Seattle are no dummies.
I needed my coffee though, and I realized Starbucks coffee tastes like shit, and I found myself in Massachusetts. What's a poor, transplanted graduate student to do? It was clear. I joined the church of Dunkin' Donuts, a New England institution on par with Fenway Park, and it was there that I became a true Bostonian. In California, there is one small, sad and grimy Dunkin' Donuts for every three or four suburban cities. People go there to buy (small, sad and slightly stale) donuts. Imagine my bewilderment then, when I encountered gleaming, bustling Dunkin' Donuts on every corner of my new city, five branches at the airport, and lines out the door of every one! (One store for every 7,000 Massachusetts residents, compared to just one Starbucks per 15,000 people in Washington State.) People in New England don't go to Dunkin' Donuts primarily for the pastries, they go for the coffee: soft, comforting varieties such as French Vanilla and Hazelnut that don't make your eyes water as you read the Boston Herald. And they go a lot. Dunkin' Donuts is a way of life, familiar and respected like the blue-collar workers that are as plentiful around here as the chain. Although DD has moved slightly upscale lately, adding cappuccinos and other nonsense to their menu, at heart the franchise says simplicity, speed (the efficiency of the workers is amazing), Red Sox endorsements, and yummy stuff. As a result of this chain's ubiquity and its good-tasting coffee, I developed a legitimate habit. I had my standing order--"medium French Vanilla, skim milk, four sugars"--and I slowly incorporated Dunkin' Donuts' products into my life as a major food group. It was a wonderful relationship.
Unfortunately, the relationship turned bad. Not because things stopped tasting good, but because of the sheer number of ham, egg, and American cheese on-a-bagel sandwiches that I consumed per week along with my extremely sweet coffee. At some point, I added "Coolattas" to the rotation--foamy concoctions made with real cream and lots of sugar. Then they introduced steak bagels. Then I realized how good the Coffee Cake muffin was. Then I feared for my triglycerides. It became time to put an end to the madness. I ended my affair with Dunkin' Donuts at the same time I broke up with my native New Englander boyfriend. Cut all ties.
Now, in a cruel twist of fate, I have come full circle. There is a Starbucks beneath my gym, and that curious green/burning odor peculiar to the chain wafts up into the club at all hours. From my treadmill I have a view of the parking lot and an endless stream of commuter-ants scurrying into the store below, emerging with cups surgically planted into their palms. After my workout, I join them. Sadly, there is no other air-conditioned spot in my entire neighborhood where I can plug in a laptop and eat while working on my dissertation. I also have collected what seems to be hundreds of dollars' worth of Starbucks gift cards from my stepmother over the preceding five Christmases. All of which have put me square in my plushy chair at the local Starbucks, ordering $3 tea and trying to buy the "serenity" the chain is now apparently selling while I pound out a few pages. It rarely works, if only because invariably a gaggle of Boston College sorority girls traipse in to talk loudly about L.L. Bean and boys.
I am sad to have ended up here, among the slacker-chic baristas and the XM music. It feels like a defeat, like a violation of my honorary New Englander status. I am told that I belong more at Starbucks than at Dunkin' Donuts--Starbucksters vote Democrat, have advanced degrees, and read the Boston Globe. Dunkin Donutsters work construction, vote with the red states, and know the box score from last night's game. (Well, I'm with them on that one.) So, I belong here, even though I hate the pseudo-European fakery (I will never order a "venti" anything unless I'm in Rome) and the slick packaging of a product under the guise of "relaxed sophistication." I actually don't drink coffee anymore at all--I gave it up completely two years ago and no longer have crushing headaches in the morning as a result--so maybe this is why I am no longer blinded by the effect of all that green and caffeine. After all, anything you do each day, every day, becomes more than a habit and something nearing an identity: that's bad for both crowds, of the New England or Seattle variety. So I suppose it's best not to pledge allegiance to either side.
But I'm curious to know about everyone else--are you hopelessly addicted to the green bean? Do you have a weakness for the Dunkaccino that I used to love so much? Or have you broken free of the cycle altogether, maybe frequenting one of the nearly extinct local coffee shops in your neighborhood, or forgoing coffee stores altogether for trips to the library, the museum, and your own living room couch (who are we kidding about the library & the museum). Anyway, let me know. Perhaps your answers will inspire me to break free of the Starbucks cycle once and for all, slamming the door on its air-conditioned splendor and grossly expensive coffee forever!... with one more toffee-almond bar for the road.