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Hello Starbucks My Old Friend

December 7, 2015

Birthdays can be good for the value seeker. There are plenty of freebies to be had around town. The famous ones in the Capital Region have to do with large vessels of alcoholic libations. Bomber’s has a gigantic cocktail glass that’s filled with something resembling a margarita, The Olde English has the enormous teacup filled with hard cider, and Wolff’s Biergarten has the huge boot-shaped glass filled with beer.

I’ve never tackled any of those. And I’ve never really been all that tempted to try. This is what happens when you get old. Even the free wings at the Rusty Nail, one for each year you’ve managed to reach, don’t have much appeal to me.

It’s not that I’m opposed to gluttony. I love it. It’s that the sitting down to eat or drink one of the same thing for a long period of time just isn’t my scene. There was one birthday freebie that I couldn’t resist yesterday, though, and that was a free coffee from Starbucks.

Let’s just say that the experience was an eye-opener.

Some people would say that I do Starbucks wrong. Mostly, I go for brewed coffee. It used to be just the place I would go when I was in a rush, needed caffeine, and could simply hit up the drive-through. That was until McDonald’s upped its coffee offerings.

Starbucks then launched a cold brew program this summer, and that offered a compelling reason to get back to the Bux. Also I picked up the Starbucks app for the iPhone, which has turned buying coffee into a game. That, combined with their convenient locations and free WiFi, has made this chain a place I’ll now occasionally visit to get some work done in between shuttling children around after-school activities.

When I had earned a free drink in the past, instead of getting one of their phantasmagorical fat, sugar, and flavoring bombs, I opted for something from the Clover machine. The Jamaican Blue Mountain was definitely a treat.

Pretty much the only things I order at Starbucks are the chain’s brewed coffees. Even then, I only get the light roast, or lighter roasts brewed to order. And as it turns out, doing this makes Starbucks a cheaper, and better, alternative to Dunkin Donuts which still makes the most astringent and unpleasant coffee I’ve found for sale anywhere at any price.

Rants aside, for my free birthday coffee, I thought I’d try my hand at drinking what most people order when they visit Starbucks.

I couldn’t bring myself to order the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I did want to give the drink a fighting chance at being enjoyable. It was my birthday, after all. So I went for the Caramel Brulée Latte. I figured caramel wouldn’t be so bad, with its burnt sugar complementing the roastiness of the espresso. And I was clever enough to realize the drink would be quite sweet, so I made sure to order a couple extra espresso shots thrown in for good measure. Since the drink was free, and I had a bit of work to do, I went for the gusto and asked for a Venti.

Oh dear.

First, had I paid for that drink it would have cost over $7 and that’s just bat shit crazy. Although when you realize that it’s really more of a meal in a cup, it sounds a bit more reasonable. That’s 540 calories when made with two percent milk.

Oh crap.

I totally forgot that the default milk in their espresso drinks is two percent. Maybe that’s because if you had the same drink with whole milk, the saturated fat content would creep to 60% of your recommended daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Yikes. But the thing is that 2% milk makes for a lousy latte. It’s just thin and watery.

Thankfully, I was able to correct mine with a hefty splash of half and half, and brought it back up to the decadent treat I had originally desired.

At that point, it wasn’t half bad. Although I was perplexed at how people who drink these through the plastic lids can appreciate the texture of the whipped cream and the crunchy caramel brulée topping. Do they suck them through the hole? Could that be a choking risk?

Now I can totally see why Starbucks gets slammed for being super expensive. Much like our new fangled FroYo parlors, it’s easy to do a lot of damage there. Both to your body and your wallet.

But the kicker is that the standard drinks just aren’t really all that good. It kills me to think of all these people ordering their over-sweetened, plus-sized lattes with defatted milk, and slurping them through cheap plastic lids.

The antidote is going to a place like Stacks on Lark Street where their house espresso roast is robust enough to shine through a reasonable amount of full-fat high-quality local dairy. The natural sugars of the milk are just sweet enough to balance the coffee, which as opposed to crappy espresso isn’t bracingly bitter. The whole thing is a silky, steamy, rich, and roasty treat for the senses.

Or if you feel like something flavored, try getting over to Superior Merchandise Co and scoring one of their rotating seasonal lattes. Right now I hear they are doing a walnut-rosemary one, which quite frankly, sounds amazing. So much so that I was inspired to make a brown sugar and walnut syrup at home this weekend.

At one point, I felt like Starbucks was a net positive force. But now I’m starting to wonder if it’s doing more harm than good.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2015 10:53 am

    I worked at Starbucks in the late 90s. When I started working there frappucinos were just getting big and you could sort of see the silly stuff we have now coming over the horizon. Also, back then you actually tamped espresso and pulled the shots. I was just inside a Starbucks the other day for the first time in a while and it looks like they have push button dealies. Also, microwaves.

  2. boya3706 permalink
    December 7, 2015 11:34 am

    I have a tempting desire to try the Holiday Flat White. The Flat white is a fabulous concoction in Europe and the starbucks version isn’t that far off. A holiday version has creeped that up to desirable for me. But you’re right, with skim milk it doesn’t taste right. Although only one size, which keeps the calories to a minimum.

  3. RogerK permalink
    December 7, 2015 12:51 pm

    I had a sip of my wife’s Eggnog Latte the other day and that was quite nice.

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