12 November 2008

The Shame of Starbucks

Everyone has that dark secret, the one you're ashamed to ever utter out loud.

Years and years and years ago, after going dancing in Boston with my sister and two friends, we spotted a hitchhiker on the way back. He was standing at a stoplight on Comm Ave., apparently left by his friends after a Red Sox game, holding a filthy towel scribbled with NORTH SHORE. I was driving The Boat, the family station wagon of such proportions as you can't even fathom in today's gas-conscious world (which also leads me to the dark secret of who put the solely-leopard-print-Speedo-clad sticker of Frank Zappa on the front bumper, much to my father's rage- but that's my sister's story to tell).

Four girls, none of us a day over 18, with a giant car: Of course, we rolled down the window and asked if he wanted a ride.

Of course, he said yes, even after we balked a bit as to our destination. "Sure, we're going to a shore." We were in fact headed home to the South Shore, which is the opposite direction from the North Shore. But beggars can't be chosers.

Nearing home a half-hour later, we were giving each other glances in the rearview mirror as the guy would just not shut up- about the great seats he and his buddies had at the game, how fantastic of a dancer he was, how his Ferrari was in the shop again. I couldn't stand listening for another minute, so I pulled into a state park where our friends were often fishing on summer nights. I parked the car, we all got out and with one look, the four of us bolted into the woods along the shoreline, knowing that the terrain was too dark and unfamiliar for him to follow us. We hid out for an hour, rolling on the ground trying to stifle our laughter, then snuck back to the car. Our passenger was nowhere in sight.

Yes, we abandoned him. (Keep in mind, this was in the blissful era before cell phones, and also before public transportation came to the suburbs- especially at 3 a.m. So he really was screwed.)

Why? He was drunk, he was not attractive, and above all, he was tediously boring. And I was 16.

That was my deepest, darkest secret until today, when I decided to try tea at Starbucks (no address; you know where one is).

I made my order sotto voce, half expecting all the coffee drinkers to jump up with shouts of "Unclean! Unclean!"- until I remembered they'd probably been sitting there for at least nine hours, so why would they get up now?

My choice was the green tea latte ($3.50). And while I hate giving away the ending, the cup found its way to the nearest trashcan as soon as I stepped outside.

It was syrupy sweet, with an artificially fruity and from-concentrate green-tea flavor. Is it just me, or is the Tazo brand of tea not necessary something a menu should tout? Its teas try to make up for poor quality by concocting bizarrely flavored blends branding themselves as desirable states of being, like calm, awake, refresh or (shudder) om.

The weirdest part of the tea, though, were the bitter edges that crept up behind all that sweet. And it was bitter like chemicals, not overbrewed tea. I had to freebase the ricolas I found at the bottom of my bag just to get the flavor out of my mouth.

Clearly, Starbucks is trying to make green tea palatable to an unfamiliar audience. But tea really doesn't- and shouldn't- taste like this. No wonder people think it's bitter the first time they taste it without sugar.

I realize going to a coffee chain store to taste tea is bit like critiquing the rolls at a steak house. But this is where the vast majority of this country gets its hot drinks, so what Starbucks is pushing as tea affects the mass perception of it. Maybe consumers are finally starting to develop taste buds, however, if the company's fourth-quarter performance is any indication; maybe, just maybe, this means tea will ultimately be appreciated by Americans as something beyond fast food.


Mrs.French said...

I concur...hate it...icky, syrupy sweet swill...I have to admit however, that this whole post tickled me. I laughed so hard...you are my kind of gal sweet ana..xo t

Music A Fe Rob said...

This was a great early morning read.

Dave's Blog said...

Holy Crud Ana,

I thought you were smarter than that. (not the car story.. That's a classic) But Starbleeps?!!! The absolute worst coffee shop will no-doubt serve the absolute worst tea.

christine said...

"- until I remembered they'd probably been sitting there for at least nine hours, so why would they get up now?"

Best... blog line... ever!!

Teep said...

I was so NOT drunk!

Camille said...

Your "confession" is just hysterical and although I've never picked up a hitchhiker, I've got a few less than flattering secrets of my own from that age...maybe someday I'll tell one or two...

I'm so picky about my tea that I rarely order out. I don't know much about tea, but I know what I like and it isn't Starbucks. (I'd go for the ricola, too!)

nadia said...

I do find things way to sweet. I remember a friend of mine so excited abot th green tea frapacino's she offered to buy me on- after tasting it i could barely keep a straight face..way to sweet. but what craks me up is the people that drink it saying "this is healthy alternative" to what i ask? you can dink maple syrup that is a healthier alternative!!

it did crack me up aswell. i have been guilty of throwing things in the trash-such as this not to mention the money that goes along with it!

but i must confess, i do go to starbucks for there mocha-i do.

Anonymous said...

Finally I find out who caused my demise so many years ago. Unfortunately things did not turn out so well for me from that point on because I am dead now and have been since that night. Much to my chagrin I was set upon by those satinist cult fellows who lived in those old munitions bunkers and they tortured, mutilated and killed me. If you have some free time over the holidays maybe you could go back and find my finger and toe bone remnants and send them to me. It's easy; just grind them into a fine mist and fling them upward; they will get to me. Kind of like typing web addresses on Apple, they just know where to go. You learn some pretty cool stuff up here. I found a dog here, I think his name is Motto, Blotto,Potto something like that, well he says he knows you guys and you all are really ok, all things considered. Yep, animals can speak up here, pretty cool. Well, to make an infinite story short I forgive you guys,you all were utes then doing uteie things. Have a good Thanksgiving and Xmas.
Oh yeah, I really did have a Ferrari.----------------
Just kidding!

BDancersblog said...

They put wayyyyyyyyyyyyy to much sugar in those green tea Lattes.

I usually ask them to hold the sugar syrup or slenda. They usually just look at me like i've just insulted their mother.