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The Starbucks Syndrome

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I once read in a magazine that there were 20,000 ways of ordering beverages in a Starbucks. And this was in 2006. I didn’t roll my eyes at that, nor did I think that the article was being dishonest. The world does have a lot of weird stuff happening; I just added this to that list. But you know that corner of your mind where the most useless information resides? This factoid found its way there.

Ever since then, each time I visit a Starbucks I somehow keep track of an imaginary number of how many different types of drinks I’ve had there, with the hope that some day I'll be able to verify the validity of the original factoid. (If there was a show on the Travel Channel called The Ultimate Useless Pursuits, I’m sure this would be one.)

Which brings me to the real question of the day: how bad a Starbucks fan do you have to be to get close to that number? Of course, to answer that would be to accept that there does exist a group of people (and some dogs) who like being called the ultimate Starbucks “fan.”

But you see them all over the place.  In fact, they're an easier group to spot than smokers, boy band fans, or Scientologists. In my empirical observations, they usually fall into one of three categories:

  • Tall (includes short people)
  • Grande (no, doesn’t come with a blowhorn)
  • Venti (the people I’d bank on for the magic 20K number)

Let's start with the “tall” ones. Most of them confess to liking the place, but, as they're not overly obsessed with brand loyalty, give them a “Peet’s” and they’ll do just fine. Many in this group would just wander into a Starbucks, know the three types of coffee – usually a Tall Cappucino, Tall Café Latte (not just latte) and a Venti regular coffee with room for cream and sugar (never quite knew the point of this, it's like making your own pizza) – and maybe every once in a while a Chai Latte. (Occasionally they'll order a tea and are left wide-eyed when handed a cup of hot water and a bag.) Take them to Peet’s and they will need sometime to recalibrate to the sizes but usually manage to get the drink of their choice without a lot of fuss. I don’t think I’d bet on them to get anywhere near 20 different types of drinks, forget 20,000.

The “Grande” fans are a little better-versed in the beverages, are more open to experimenting with the sizes of their lattes, and might order a coffee cake once in a while; they will reluctantly enter a “Peet’s” only if they can't find a Starbucks in the mall (really?) A few of them would graduate to the ultimate “Venti” club except that they already spend more on coffee and the like than, say, bread and milk at home. (Usually these are people with no kids, or if they do have kids, they love their coffee more.)

Then we have the ultimate group, the “Ventis”. These brave warriors swear by the brand, like the three 50-year-olds I saw dancing at a Floyd cover concert (that’s a separate discussion) They own paraphernalia of all sorts, from mugs to the grinder, have visited the first Starbucks store in Seattle like it was a holy shrine, have a Starbucks Duetto credit card, and think they belong to an entitled club when they buy free coffee using Starbucks points (only to later realize the APR rates on those cards are twice as high as the rest of the cards and that they could have bought four additional drinks if they had just paid with cash; American dream?) They also have a flavor combination list, their drinks have more than three requirements (skim milk, extra hot, vanilla flavored…) and they would prefer to study, hold business meetings, lunches, dates, and even some weddings at their local Starbucks rather than any other place that might be more appropriate. They know that Tuesdays offer a wonderful free download of “1” song ( that no one has heard of) on Itunes; heck, they even buy water there. Now that’s the group I bank on to get to that magic number.

The problem with this final group (like any other fan club) is that they graduate in search of more authentic coffee places, either because they have to wait in line while the Talls and the Grandes figure out what they want ( they should have a separate line for frequent drinkers), or they go all crazy in the head (maybe from all the caffeine they’ve been drinking) and join the Anti-Corporate America club and start hating anything that’s “Too Big” (Microsoft anyone?)

Supernovas do tend to burn out, but the big question here is, do they burn out after 20,000, or before they get there?

That’s what I’d like to know.

P.S. Isn't that a lot of drinks to consume over a lifetime? Is anyone keeping count of how many café drinks a normal coffee drinker (No Venti/Grande) has over a lifetime? I’d like to read an article about that someday.

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About arunash

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Starbucks isn’t my ‘cup of tea’ but I sure enjoyed your review!

  • arunash

    Hey thanks Fran!

  • http://carolinehagood.typepad.com/ Caroline Hagood

    This is great (said while still laughing and shaking my head).