Monday, April 30, 2007

The worst thing about Washington is ....

There's no Tim Horton's.

Everybody drinks Starbucks coffee. I don't like Starbucks and even if I did I have no idea how to order one. They seem to speak a different language. Whatever happened to "small," "medium,"and "large?"

Incidentally, the price of coffee is like the price of hotel rooms. It's outrageous but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from buying.


  1. The caption for the photo should be "baaaaaah" (or however you like to spell the sound that sheep make.

    We have "Java Jives" here in NC, and while they are still expensive, AT LEAST all of their coffee is fair trade and organic, AND they (hold onto your hats) hire people from all different age groups (*gasp* old people can make coffee, who knew?!)! Oh, and their trucks run on biodeisal. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Starbucks!

  2. I don't know why so many people have such a hate-on for Starbucks. I quite like the taste of their coffee, but of course they also have some odd and some unpleasant features. Yes, the prices are high. Yes, they're a large corporation (with which some people assume 100% correlation with Evil).

    As for the names - don't worry about it. The bored, brainwashed unemployed actor behind the counter will understand regulation English just fine - ask for a "medium coffee" and she'll ask "dark or mild?". Flip a coin if you can't decide, the two varieties are really not very different. Then you have to add your own sugar / cream / whatever, unlike the Tim Horton's system of telling them how much of what you want.

    To avoid confusion, just ignore the masses of people willing to pay $4.50 for steamed milk and diluted espresso produced using a $4500 machine. They do speak an odd dialect, but they're generally harmless.

    Such is the wisdom imparted by 5 years living in Vancouver.

  3. "As for the names - don't worry about it. The bored, brainwashed unemployed actor behind the counter will understand regulation English just fine"

    Not so. My wife has twice (once with me) walked out of a Starbucks after attempting to order in English and being jumped through their idiot hoop. They really would not accept small, medium, or large as an order.

  4. Starbucks = death of all coffee culture.

    Mike (a proud Austrian coffee house enthusiast)

  5. I spent a lot of time in Canada (mostly Edmonton, a bit in Calgary and Toronto) in the early '90s. Rough equivalent of Tim Horton's is Dunkin' Donuts - not so much for the donuts, but folks are crazy about their coffee. You might want to check whether there's one nearby to satisfy your caffeine cravings.

  6. I can't really remember - does Starbucks serve coffee or the american watered down variant that makes your gut do a 360?

    I do remember that in US I have to drag along a can with espresso (!) powder to get most servings of coffee up to "drinkable, with reluctance".

    (For some reason you can't save the lousy stuff with freeze dried coffee granulates. If it is better to start with hot water, it means they do some serious harm to that liquid...)

  7. It's Tim Hortons that serves a mild version of coffee. Starbucks coffee is actually closer to the disgusting stuff you find in Europe. You'd probably like it.

  8. Torbjorn,

    No, Starbucks actually has real coffee (i.e., espresso). C'mon, Larry, what disgusting stuff are you talking about? Is coffee that's thicker than water really that awful? ;)

  9. "They really would not accept small, medium, or large as an order."

    That's odd. I've never had that problem. Maybe it's because the Starbucks I went to is in the Student Union?

    Anyway, I've found it rather amusing that "tall" is what they call "small."

  10. Incidentally, the price of coffee is like the price of hotel rooms. It's outrageous but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from buying.

    Starbucks doesn't sell coffee, it sells ego. People pay Starbucks prices because walking around with a Starbucks cup in your hand says "I'm a smug self-absorbed yuppy with money to burn."

    Apparently there are people who like to give that impression. But don't ask me why.

  11. "Anyway, I've found it rather amusing that "tall" is what they call "small."

    As you probably have heard, condoms come in three sizes: Large, Extra Large, and Oh My God!

    As for our experiences, one of the offending Starbucks was on the Ohio Toll Road, and the other in a heavily student dominated area in Ann Arbor.

    My favorite, now defunct, coffee place served a six-shot wakeup drink, costing about 4 bucks at the time. I was in Royal Oak after a last-minute 24-hour push to deliver a theater set, and stopped by a Starbucks. I described what I was after to the counter guy, who entered it into his register, and came up with a price of over 10 dollars.

  12. "the disgusting stuff you find in Europe"

    It is an acquired taste for sure - and the best is to never acquire taste for coffee at all.

    Btw, I hear people drink whiskey over there - I can't imagine why. Cognac is more aromatic and perfectly well balanced. :-)

  13. Larry,

    Just say the words "grande (gran-day) mild"

    It's the closest thing to a large tim's you're gonna get.

  14. I prefer tea to coffee most of the time, but it's difficult to get a good cup of tea in America. You can get a cup of hot water and a teabag, but the teas are often herbal teas, not good, black tea.

    There's a local chain here that makes chai tea by actually brewing the tea, rather than using a powder or liquid mix out of a box. I'll drive across town for a good chai tea.

    Of course, depending on the barista, it can still end up weak and I end up disappointed.

  15. I don't know if it has happened in Canada or the U.S. yet, but there is going to be a new competitor for Starbucks in France, McCafé.

    Yes, McDonalds is opening a chain of coffee shops.

    tea said and torbjorn are quite right about real coffee. Who can drink the dirty water that is called "coffee" in America and apparently Canada?

    When I stay with people in America, I have to buy real coffee and make a separate pot for it to be consumable. Fortunately they are understanding.

  16. "Anyway, I've found it rather amusing that "tall" is what they call "small."

    There actually is a 'short'... which once was the small... still is, I guess, insofar as it's their smallest cup outside their espresso cups. It's just not much mentioned.

    And re Starbucks' coffee: honestly, I'm not a hater--even carry one of their little card thingies I occasionally top up, do buy coffee there, now and then (among other places, including Timmy's)... They do have the advantage of availability (including, as Larry notes, in DC, where I lived a few years), and there's one in my neighbourhood I frequent enough they know my order...

    But, that said, Starbucks' coffee isn't, to my judgement, really so great. They really do overroast their regular coffees ('light' roast there is still pretty smokey, dark is three quarters of the way to charcoal), and their lattes/capuccinos are extremely milky compared against just about anyone else's unless you ask them to add an extra demitasse (or two) of espresso... And as to their espresso, it's actually quite good in some places, but really uneven between outlets... Some do quite consistently decent stuff, some regularly wreck it in this particular way... it gets this rancid taste which I suspect might have something to do with their not cleaning their machines much or well. There was a place in Pentagon City (DC burbs, just over the Potomac on the VA side) I remember as being really, *really* bad that way... Couldn't walk past it without wrinkling my nose, smell of something rotten near the espresso machines.

    Good alternative in Ottawa is Bridgehead: their espresso's got a lot more bite, it's even a bit much in a latte, they way they mix them, but nice on its own. And they're fair trade.

  17. I often run in to a Bucks--convenience--for a large Verona, black, to go. I always say "large." The cashier--er, barista--never flinches. Of course, here in New England, their competition is Dunkin Donuts.

  18. Drinking Starbucks is like drinking any other dark roast- akin to drinking from an ashtray. And now Safeway has installed Starbucks in all their locations. Bleah. Why roast all that good caffeine out of the beans? I always thought that was the point of a coffee buzz...

    For those that have not had the pleasure of enjoying a Tim Horton's coffee (i.e., those that are mostly likely to not know the meaning of the term 'double-double'), my heart bleeds for you.

  19. Everyone here has commented on taste, price, communication, etc but only a few of you have talked about what I think is the most important consideration about buying coffee; is it ethical? Coffee farmers are the worst treated labourers in the world. Wouldn't we all enjoy our coffee a lot more if we knew that the people who grew the coffee beans were treated and paid fairly for their work?