By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.” Those of you who enjoy a good comedy will recognize that line from the 1991 movie, L.A. Story. The line was uttered by Steve Martin’s character, Harris, with the deadpan delivery that only Martin can pull off. At the time that coffee ordering scene was meant to depict how pretentious coffee drinking had become. We laughed and laughed at how ridiculous people could be about coffee. Oh how innocent we were then. Last week The Telegraph reported that Starbucks boasts that they now offer 87,000 different drink combinations. Thanks to the “secret menu” underground, people have come up with all sorts of ways to bugger up a good cup of coffee. I know this because I spent most of the summer standing in line behind the person who was trying to come up with drink #87,001.
As you regular readers know, we travel a lot during the summer months and I am embarrassed to admit that we often schedule our departure times based on when the local Starbucks opens. “Opens at 5 a.m.,” my husband will report. Which means that I set the alarm for o’dark thirty and we are cruising through the drive-through window at exactly 5. The advantage really does go to the early bird in these cases because most people who are crazy enough to be up at that hour just want a plain, strong cup of coffee. If Starbucks offered to mainline caffeine at that hour I think they get blockbuster results. The problem with Starbucks occurs later in the day when the Steve Martins of the world arise. If we venture into a Starbucks between 8-10 a.m. we are invariably met with a long line of people who are seemingly stumped by all of their choices. The photo (right) was taken in Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago. I was the 9th person in line at 9 a.m. By the looks and age of the people in front of me I assumed I was in the company of fellow “plain drip” drinkers. That’s what I get by categorizing people by age. Unfortunately I was behind people ordering the new maple drink, which was doubly troublesome because the baristas weren’t quite sure how to make it. So I stood in line for more than 15 minutes just to get two cups of dark roast drip. I was ready to leap over the counter and pour the darn stuff myself.
Each time I find myself in this situation I harken back to my working days in San Francisco. In the 1990’s Starbucks opened a location in the basement of the Bank of America tower. Directly across the hallway was a Max’s Diner, which featured delectable baked goods and a self-serve coffee station. The beauty of getting coffee there was you could pour your own coffee and throw the required payment into a jar and walk out. They operated totally on the honor system. The managers at Starbucks soon realized that they would lose the plain coffee drinkers like me who just wanted a fast cup of coffee. Their solution was to establish two lines for coffee: one for just a plain cuppa joe and the other for people who order foo foo drinks. It was a perfect system. Unfortunately I have not seen this replicated in any other location. And with 87,000 drinks available the lines are often filled with confused people who, to my caffeine-addicted self, seem decidedly clueless to the notion that real coffee does not include whipped cream, soy, caramel sauce, coconut water or any of the hundreds of other additives available. So while I was waiting in that line at Sun Valley I came up with a great idea – why not have a high-end coffee machine that could be self-serve? One could use either a credit card or the Starbucks app to access it. It could grind fresh coffee (maybe two choices of blend) and then dispense it into a cup. I’m sure Starbucks could pay a vending machine company to come up with something appropriately fancy looking so that even Steve Martin would be proud to obtain his coffee from it. It would save time, labor and money.
Mr. Starbucks: you are welcome to use my idea any time. Just consider it my contribution to the “drips” of the world.