Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's like a gift card for crack.

You know it well: red cup season. Hello, Holidays. Hello, pumpkin spice latte. Hello, rack of adorable mugs I really don't need to buy. Tea tins? Hello. Bonjour, ill-fated time when I went on blind faith and purchased that gingerbread latte. Hola, cinnamon in my hot chocolate. I'm a sucker for the red cups. Yeah I said it. I own it, at least. They say that when you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, it costs more because you're paying for the atmosphere--and I'm BUYIN'.

Yes indeedy do, I'm buyin' those red cups, those gentle little snowflakes, a sprinkle of cinnamon, the lacquered wood tables, the muted wall tones, the deceptively chic but comfy (and I'm sure, easily wiped-down) chairs. I'm buyin' indie rock, singer/songwriters and a dash of Miles Davis. Original? No. Cookie-cutter ambiance? Yes. Do I care? Heck naw, son.

What else is there in this town? Taco Bell? Give me my faux-chic cup o' joe. Faux-chic's better than no chic.

There's a definite annual cycle when it comes to Starbucks. Spring ices lattes blooming with espresso; summertime chills black tea over ice. By fall I'm jonesin' for a cup full o' Thanksgiving; by Christmas it all goes to hell in a hand basket. I blame none other than my wonderful, caring mother in law.

You see, every Christmas (for the last--oh, let's say, five, years at least--excepting that one time I separated from her son and missed out on Christmas with the other half of my family--wait--I'm pretty sure she gave me one in the Christmas presents she gave me that year too) there's been a $30 Starbucks gift card in my stocking. And generally by December 25 my personal assets and my ability to swing through the local Starbucks have all but dried up. By Christmas I've usually made up my mind to quit coffee or some absurd thing because it costs too much money and I don't need the sugar or the fat (yeah, I love me a real latte) or the calories or the caffeine or whatever it is that particular year. And every year I end up with a gift card that's all, "Go ahead. Go inside the Starbucks. All this can be yours. Do it."

I love that little card. That little grey stripe and clear section and some woodland creature? Le sigh... It's one of my favorite presents (I know, I say everything is my favorite present) because it keeps giving even after all of the other gifts aren't new. That little card, so full of hope. So full of money that I can't spend at Winco, money only to be spent on one of life's greatest luxuries: a warm cup of happy.

One year I think I had close to $80 with all the gift cards I got from students and relatives combined. Hi-yo! Do you know what that kind of power can do to a girl? I do. In just three short weeks she'll have blasted through an entire bank of scone/tea/coffee cake/espresso goodness. Just like any junkie, she'll burn through her stash too quickly. She'll drive by the local haunt and salivate, longing for that which she could easily score only moments ago.

I start to believe in this habit, to trust my false Starbucks financial security. I start to crave the smell of steamed milk and the sound of grinding espresso over the chatter of delicately tattooed Samoan baristas. I find myself helplessly, mercilessly, pathetically addicted... again.

And then said Samoan barista hands me the card out the drive-thru window and says "that'll do it, but you still owe me $1.15."



  1. Starbucks coffee tastes like my ass hairs caught fire. Sorry.

    I hear ya on the singer/songwriter faux ambiance though. Don't they sell CDs at the counter –– Starbuck Unplugged or whatever?

    PS. Samoan barista? Really?
    PPS. The word barista is right up there with the word NANNY. Am I right? Or just surly?

  2. Hello! Just recently found your blog from... where was it from? Facebook? Running? I don't know.

    Anyway, this is hilarious! But only because it's just so true. I can't handle drip coffee from Starbuck's, but really... who goes to Starbuck's for drip coffee? We go for the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Mmmmm... I wait all year for the Pumpkin Spice.

  3. I found myself really wanting to identify, but I can't. I'm not much of a coffee person, however the red cups still get me a tad excited for one of my favorite seasons. In fact, I remember a Facebook update last year that read something like "The red cups are here! Yay!" So even a non-coffee lover rejoices in them, even if for different reasons.. although, you can give me a maple nut scone anyway...

  4. love it! so funny!! this was the first year i tryed ALL the holiday flavors and let me tell you, i have been missing out all these coffee years! i'm sad! i even broke down and bought my own red mug. so now in the mornings when a starbucks run isn't in the budget i still get a little smile on my face. p.s. if your a fan of the carmel frap, you'll be a fan of mcdonalds carmal ice coffee. super yummy and way less. :)

  5. I'm with you all the way. Isn't it odd how a Pumpkin Spice Latte or a Eggnog Chai latte can get one so excited and give you the warm fuzzies all at the same time? For a while, I was loading money myself onto SBUX gift cards as a way to sort of ration my intake - crazy but true. And what is it about those darn red cups? It's marketing and consumerism at its finest and I'm hooked.

    Btw, "barista" is a valid term. I used to work for a local coffee shop and that's what our positions were called. It sounds a whole lot better than "the chick behind the espresso machine".

  6. 'Faux-chic's better than no chic.'

    I love this! (I may just use it once in awhile.)

    The way you write is crazy cool, authentic, hilarious and inspiring.

    Please keep doing what you is a very good thing.

  7. Heather,
    How do you know me so well??? Heeheehee..... I actually had to give up Starbucks because they burn their coffee and it gives me the heartburn somethin' fierce! So if I'm needing my fix I'll go in, but not like I used to. I used to be a iced quad venti caramel macchiatto with one pump less of vanilla. I used to do that TWO TIMES EVERY DAY!!!! That is a very expensive addiction!!!

    Anyway, if you ever get the chance to come here I will take you to Austin for some ballet class at Ballet Austin and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf!!! Best coffee in the whole entire world!!!!!!

    Love ya! Sarah

  8. I know Heidi's right--I worked for a local coffee roaster in college. I know Starbucks COFFEE isn't that good, but due to its proximity to my house and the whole ambiance thing... AND the fact that it's convenient (and I really DO love the way they make a pumpkin spice latte), it's an addiction. There aren't really many "real" coffehouses nearby anymore. The best coffee in town is at Peet's, but no drive thru. So...

    I'm glad some of you feel me though. I think I need help.

  9. The day red cups come out is one of the happiest days of the year! My closest friend Lisa and I have a tradition of calling each other the minute we get our first red cup peppermint mocha! Its the official start to the Christmas season for us!!

  10. Samoan barista? You must go to the Starbucks on Bond and EG Florin....I know him well. Wait, not like that. It's cuz I'm always there, getting my venti black unsweetened no water iced tea. :-)

  11. Yes, Samoan. I think.

    And yes, Katie--that's the one. :) What the feez is a "no water" iced tea? Just a lump of tea leaves on some ice? Gross.

  12. Yes, Samoan. I think.

    And yes, Katie--that's the one. :) What the feez is a "no water" iced tea? Just a lump of tea leaves on some ice? Gross.

  13. No, it's not a clump of tea leaves in a cup! :-) (PS - I'm laughing at the image of that). When they brew the tea, they brew it at full strength, and when someone orders it, they dilute it, so it's like 1/3 tea and 2/3 water. I like strong tea, so I order it full strength.

    Oh, and my mom gave me this tip last week - if you're still hankering for a pumpkin spice latte, the Starbucks on EG Blvd and Waterman still has 2 bottles of the pumpkin syrup.....everyone else is out. :-)

  14. I'm more of a Peet's kind of gal. I actually trade Starbucks cards for favors.