Monday, October 19, 2009

Time Out @ St*rb*cks

This last Sunday morning, I got up early to go get some coffee. Yes, I usually do this same thing, but this Sunday was different. I went to Starbucks. WHAT?! Yes, I really did. I had taken the family to see the great-grandparents, grandparents, and aunt and uncles over the weekend. Where I'm from originally, there is Folgers and Maxwell House to choose from; there may be a Starbucks if you're lucky. So, the circumstances for my trip there are understandable, I think.

My brother-in-law is a Barista for Starbucks in the 6th richest county in the United States, in Overland Park, Kansas. He knows my thoughts on Starbucks, but due to the circumstances I relented and we went to get coffee together before church. What follows is the account from that morning.

We left my parents house at a quarter after 7. The drive to his particular retail store was about 30 minutes, so we chose to go to a closer location, about 15 minutes away. During the drive, we discussed several things, but mostly coffee- a mutual interest, but for me a passion. I schooled him a bit on what a proper Ristretto, or "restricted" shot was like. I told him this would be the first thing I would order when we got there. He assured me that Starbucks knew what this drink was and would make it well for me- I doubted. You see, I have ordered this drink just once before, the first time I visited Starbucks- the "Baristas" there did not even know what I was talking about.

A Ristretto is an espresso shot, the beans are ground a bit finer, the dose is likewise a little higher, and the tamping pressure is greater. All these factors added to the fact that the shot is only pulled for about 20 seconds makes for a very sweet shot, measuring about .75 or 1 ounce, since the more bitter elements are extracted later in a regular shot. Most straight espressos in Italy are Ristrettos. The shot should have a dark rust red crema almost completely covering the surface instead of the usual "Longo" 1.5 ounce shot which just has rust colored speckles.

We did eventually arrive at the Starbucks storefront. I ordered my Ristretto and the Barista behind the counter actually knew what I was talking about! Well, she acted as though she did anyway. I was served my Doppio Ristretto in one eight ounce paper cup: ugh. I took the plastic lid off the cup to view what I was about to drink and saw a perfectly average regular Starbucks espresso shot. These Baristas had no idea what a Ristretto was and even if they did, they had no way of producing it since their espresso machines are pre-programmed for a standard Longo espresso shot for the sugary, dairy-based drinks soccer moms have come to know and love. I was served one regular espresso shot that was highly watery, bitter, and had little crema. When I swirled by cup a bit, the crema disappeared. Just what I expected.

After explaining what the differences were between what should have been served and what was served, even my brother-in-law saw the light. He was so moved by the difference in quality I was explaining between local shops like my Vida Coffee Co and Starbucks, that he actually decided to start looking for a job at a local place (there aren't any around, or else I would have been there).

My brother-in-law redeemed his free pound of Starbucks coffee and gave it to me that morning- thoughtful. I chose an Ethiopia Sidamo. My logic was this: it had the latest "expiration date" (rediculous since all coffee goes stale 10-14 days after roasting- apparently Starbucks thinks 4 months is a good limit) and because Starbucks chars their beans. Ethiopian coffees are usually roasted very lightly since it compliments their natural floral notes. So, my bet was this will be my best shot at a decent cup of Starbucks' coffee. We concluded the trip by going to Target. I bought him a grinder for his coffee- he did not have one and was having it all pre-ground at the store before he took it home: awful.

I suppose if there is a moral to the story it is that Starbucks has its market: those who do not care about the coffee as much as they do the social value of carrying a cup with the mermaid logo will love it. Those few like me who value great coffee had better bring some with them the next time they go visit grandma and grandpa.

Lord, thank you for coffee, even if it isn't always great; the same for relatives. Keep my head deflated and on straight. Here we go.

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