The Starbucks Experiment

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Legally Addictive Stimulants

At the risk of sounding like a bad imitation of Jerry Seinfeld, what's the deal with caffeine? tons of customers at Starbucks ask for "half-cafs" or "half-and-halfs:" either espresso drinks with half decaf shots or a cup of drip coffee that's half decaf and half regular. this alone strikes me as a bit strange. it's like the 2% milk thing. make a decision. either you want caffeine or you don't. but what I really don't understand are people like Mrs. Pregnant, one of our regular customers who looked nine months pregnant three months ago, and is now so big she must be having twins. every morning she orders a "quarter-caf:" three quarters decaf, one quarter regular coffee. i used to tend bar at private parties in New York, and i would occasionally see pregnant women drinking alcohol, but i always figured, hey, you never know, maybe that's the first drink she's had in six months, whatever. but for a pregnant woman to have caffeine every day when they're not even supposed to take an advil seems a little, um, i'll just settle with weird. even weirder however are the people, and there are a few, who ask for decaf coffee with just a "splash" of regular. Have these people actually experimented before finally settling on this combination? did they start out with a half-caf, try the quarter-caf, and then when that still made them too jumpy, did they go decaf all the way and what? fall asleep at their desks? decaf coffee still has caffeine in it! do we really not know this? they can't wash all of it off, and even when they treat it chemically there's still some in there. it's like sprite, or things that are "fat free." so what is that little splash of regular coffee really doing for you that a cup of decaf couldn't?

similarly, i have to wonder if the people who act so incensed at the idea of drinking decaf coffee are really basing that on personal experience. like sometimes people ask for sumatra, because last week that was our bold drip coffee. but this week our bold is kenya and our decaf drip is decaf sumatra. so i'll ask if they want decaf or bold, and they'll stare at me, absolutely aghast: "I can't drink decaf, oh god, never give someone decaf without asking!" yeah, that's why i just asked you idiot. i know someone who shall remain nameless (i.e. danielle) who claims to get a headache if she doesn't have her morning coffee because she goes through caffeine withdrawal (this is despite the fact that when she gets her morning coffee, she nurses it over three hours, so i guess a little goes a long way). if i gave a customer decaf without asking first, would they really notice a physical difference in how they felt that day? if i did that to danielle would she get a headache? even if they felt tired, they would probably connect it to something else, like gee, i don't know, oncoming depression caused by obsessing over one's daily caffeine intake. can anyone really recognize the physical signs of caffeine withdrawal unless they know they haven't had any?

obviously any drug is affected by psychology, but caffeine does have legitimate physical affects, which is why pregnant women aren't supposed to have any. but that brings me to the other, actually more disturbing problem. how is Starbucks getting away with this? an international empire of stores all selling an addictive stimulant, bleeding customers of cash, watching them come in once, twice, even three times a day? we sell to minors, we add sugary syrups and whip cream to attract new potential addicts, we even give free samples! i've heard customers seriously compare their daily drink to crack, and i can't say they're far off.

i can't end my discussion of caffeine without giving a friendly warning. if you want to drink something at sbux that's caffeine free, don't ask for a decaf espresso drink. i can't count the number of times i've given a customer a "decaf" latte even though i know i put in caffeinated espresso shots. and those are only the times i noticed my mistake. it's not a hard thing to mess up; the buttons are right next to each other, so it's basically as easy as making a typo (and you've probably already spotted a few of those on this blog). granted, i think i do that a lot less now that i have more experience, but if you don't recognize the barista behind the bar, (s)he may be a newbie who doesn't know how to type. on the other hand, i've heard that espresso has about half the caffeine, ounce for ounce, of regular coffee, and of course, you drink much less of it. so maybe this discussion is, um, pointless? ha, i had that figured out two paragraphs ago.

5 Comments:

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Karin said...

Another illuminating post, Ms. Wells. I especially enjoyed the part concerning the caffeine content of espresso vs. regular coffee (something I've been wondering/arguing about for a long time). But you lost me temporarily here:

decaf coffee still has caffeine in it! do we really not know this? they can't wash all of it off, and even when they treat it chemically there's still some in there. it's like sprite, or things that are "fat free."

Sprite actually is caffeine free . . . they don't DEcaffeinate it . . . they just don't add it in the first place. Or do you know something I don't???

Anyway, charming rant ;)

 
At 5:20 PM, Blogger Karin said...

Another illuminating post, Ms. Wells. I especially enjoyed the part concerning the caffeine content of espresso vs. regular coffee (something I've been wondering/arguing about for a long time). But you lost me temporarily here:

decaf coffee still has caffeine in it! do we really not know this? they can't wash all of it off, and even when they treat it chemically there's still some in there. it's like sprite, or things that are "fat free."

Sprite actually is caffeine free . . . they don't DEcaffeinate it . . . they just don't add it in the first place. Or do you know something I don't???

Anyway, charming rant ;)

 
At 8:59 AM, Anonymous Danielle said...

The 'nameless' one would like to say a few things:

'Tis true, I need my morning caffeine fix. If you served me decaf without my knowledge, what would happen? Well, I might spit it out 'cause I think decaf tastes foul. I might also not get a headache because of the placebo effect. Or I might not get a headache because, as Karin so rightly pointed out, there's still caffeine in there!

As for nursing it; there's no explanation. It's just the way I drink it. Perhaps it's because I love it so much, I want to prolong the experience. Either way, as my bff you must accept me in all my caffeine-ingesting weirdness.

Whatever. I wouldn't expect a tea-drinker like yourself to understand. ; )

Love the post though... can you pull bartender-esque rank on Mrs. Pregnant and cut her off? She needs to be slapped.

 
At 5:26 AM, Anonymous Buy Starbucks Online said...

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At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your rant...love it!

 

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