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Coffee Confession Number Three

March 5, 2018

Good coffee is one of life’s great pleasures.

I am so grateful that we have more and more small coffee shops that focus on bringing some of the best beans from the best roasters to the Capital Region. And I salute the locals who are roasting their own and sourcing directly from small estates around the world.

The baristas of the Capital Region are also getting better and better. It’s easy to see whenever there is a latte art throwdown. I remember judging one of the first ones out here, and the level of improvement and growth in participation is off the charts.

That said, sometimes I go to Starbucks for black coffee when I’m out and about. And more often than not, at home I drink crappy supermarket coffee. But those are just coffee confessions number one and two, respectively.

Coffee confession number three is worse, for it has broader implications to our food culture.

Smart phones have changed the game. Twenty years ago, the thought of waiting in line for the better part of an hour to get an exquisite cup of coffee was unthinkable. It sounds mightily ridiculous even today. Still, people do it.

However, while people are in line, they are no longer wasting time. They are answering emails, catching up on social media, or may even be going through a corporate training phone call. We’ve been untethered from our desks and now can stand in stupid lines for things like cronuts and beer.

One of the things I’ve been resisting on the smart phones have been using apps to order food and drinks for pick up. There is something about that direct person to person connection between myself and the human being who is making something for me to consume that I’m not willing to give up for the sake of convenience.

Starbucks has an app, and as little as I may go there, I still use it. They’ve turned buying coffee into a game. Plus, my father-in-law collects little stickers with codes that I can put into the app for free stuff. And playing along means that all my brewed coffee refills are free.

Here’s the confession part. This weekend, I finally used the app to order something ridiculous.

And I kinda liked it. It’s hard for me to even repeat the order, without sounding foolish, but what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t come clean about your more embarrassing moments.

Somehow, all of these words get strung together in the name of the drink:

Flat white
Quad ristretto
Two pumps mocha
Extra foam

Now, surely there are many much much more ridiculous orders than that one. The retail price of that drink would have been almost $7, but it was one of my freebies for drinking however many small cups of black coffee over the past several months, and putting in all of those codes I received from my father-in-law.

But I literally would not have been able to order that without the app. The app also helped guide me through the panoply of options.

I had a bunch of work to do that day, so I wanted a big coffee. Their regular espresso beans are too dark, so I went for the blonde roast. Flat white at Starbucks apparently sets the default milk and coffee options to whole and ristretto shots. Given the size, I thought four ristretto shots should do the trick. Based on my experience with the quality of the shots, I concluded the complexity of chocolate would help make the drink taste better. And because I really didn’t want that crazy large cup filled with whole milk, I though extra foam would help mitigate the situation.

It wasn’t awful.

What is awful is the Starbucksification of our food culture. Or maybe that’s not awful. Maybe it’s wonderful that everyone can get precisely what they want all the time. But it does end up creating a bunch of confusion in the marketplace. I think about the labeling of eggs, for just one example.

There are words used on labels which imply one thing, but really mean something else entirely, like “Natural” or “Free Range”. And there are so many different options from “vegetarian fed” to “non GMO feed” to “Organic” and “Cage Free”. Sometimes these are exclusive of each other, or combined in tandem.

Maybe what we need is an app for eggs, so everyone can truly get the eggs that they want. I want ones from birds who live outdoors, and receive a diet free of GMO grains and animal byproducts. Plus, I want eggs from birds raised in a healthful environment that eliminates the need to routinely treat all the girls with antibiotics.

While the mobile app ordering may make asserting our crazy preferences a little less embarrassing, it’s also making us less responsible for those embarrassing choices. Plus it’s further distancing the consumer from the people making our food.

It seems like a bad idea. But I’m totally going to do it again.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2018 4:20 pm

    I honestly have no idea what you ordered.

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