Posts Tagged 'Starbucks'

Election 2012

I haven’t been in the US for a Presidential Election in more than eight years. That’s my excuse for failing to realize how busy our polling station would be today.

I brought my three kids along, thinking they would be enriched by the democratic process. Instead, I have probably convinced them that voting is an arduous process requiring an hour and a half of standing in line.

My daughter was a trooper. She played with my phone, she chatted, and she asked politely when it would be time for breakfast (I had promised a trip to Starbucks if she behaved). My two sons left with my husband after five minutes after they made clear they weren’t happy with the wait.

I made the breakfast bribe before I saw the line, snaked through the corridors of our local elementary school. In 2004 and 2008, I mailed my ballot in from London, along with other expat absentee voters.

It didn’t occur to me that voting today would take longer than 20 minutes.

The hour and a half wait was worthwhile, though; my six year old relished touching the screen and casting the electronic ballot. So once she forgets the length of the line, she’ll be a dedicated voter. Like her mom.

Free Speech, plus Starbucks

I’m glad to see that Kevin Spacey kept a coffee in hand while marching in London for journalists’ rights in Belarus…

Fall Comes to Atlanta

It finally feels like fall here in Atlanta: the temperature has dropped to the high 80s, from the near-hundred degree days we’ve all grown accustomed to since May; school is back in session; and Starbucks has brought out its line of pumpkin treats (muffins, scone, bread and of course, my personal favorite, the pumpkin spice latte).

There are also leaves withering and falling from the trees, but that could just be because they’re fried from four months of baking in the sun.

It’s still hotter than most summer days in London ever were, so we still need to slather on sunscreen. This seems unnatural in September, but then, so did wearing long sleeves and scarves in London during August.

A Child’s Choice at Starbucks

In London, when visiting Starbucks with our kids, we always ordered the babyccino — a fancy name for (free!) frothed milk in a mini-coffee cup.

Here in Atlanta, where we’ve been living for a year and a half, we discovered that Starbucks employees have not heard of the free cup of frothed milk for kids. They would gladly pour and froth milk for us, but it would come at a price.

But now, thanks to a friend who is also a mom, and a frequent Starbucks visitor, we have discovered a new drink: water, with a splash of passion fruit tea. The lovely pink color will delight Starbucks fans with daughters.

And sometimes, like the babyccino, it’s free.

The Starbucks Babyccino

Starbucks stores across London offer a free drink that I have yet to come across here in the US: the Babyccino.

If you’re with a baby, or even if you just say you are, the barista will froth up some milk in an espresso-sized cup for you. Then, you can sit down and drink your own coffee without feeling too guilty that you have dragged your son/daughter into a coffee shop that holds no interest for them.

Minutes of fun await at the counter with the sugars and other toppings. Capping the Babyccino with alarming amounts of chocolate powder and cinnamon make the warm foamy milk even more enticing to the toddler set.

When we moved to the US, I got blank stares when I ordered Babyccinos in Starbucks. After I explained what it was, the crews were happy to make it — but less obliging when I told them that in London, it was free (frothed milk comes at a price here).

We even occasionally ordered more than one Babyccino on our London Starbucks visits, since they were, as I mentioned, free. So it’s possible, because of our abuse of the free frothed milk and powdered chocolate policies in the past, that they will start charging for the little warm milks in London Starbucks stores in the future.

It’s also possible that our London neighborhood baristas weren’t heartbroken to hear we were moving to the US.

Coffee Thoughts

One of my local coffee joints in London seems to have fallen on hard times (I can’t help but feel responsible — they seemed to be doing fine before I left the country).

The one I frequented by Oxford Circus has closed. The one is this photo by Chancery Lane was closed at 6 PM on a weekday, which may not mean that it’s gone out of business.

I’ve noticed that coffee shops in London keep business hours, unlike the US. Coffee seems to be a day drink, rather than an evening activity. Pubs are tough competition I suppose.
And yet, Starbucks is still pulling in huge traffic. I stood in this epic line at a store by Chancery Lane at 10:30 AM on a weekday — that’s not even rush hour.

And the two Starbucks stores right by Oxford Circus always seemed to be mobbed. So why did my old favorite Coffee Republic close?

Friends have told me that the staff from the shuttered Coffee Republic have found employment at a nearby coffee store, which I was glad to hear.

Coffee Republic’s slogan, “In Coffee We Trust,” seems to be serving them well.

Storm in a coffee cup

Complicated coffee orderMy Starbucks order has become embarrassingly complicated: Grande extra hot skim Chai tea latte, no water (the Chai taste is more potent without the water, a friendly Starbucks employee explained to me after I sent a drink back for another splash of syrup). If there aren’t any other customers within earshot, I might also ask for an extra shot of Chai.

I would never have ordered this in the UK. Complicated orders don’t go over well there. In London, I would get funny looks if I even asked for an extra hot latte. Starbucks patrons in Europe seem to be less picky than their American counterparts. Maybe that’s why I’ve witnessed tipping at shops here, which I rarely saw in London.

Ironically, as I placed my super-involved order earlier today, I noticed a large sign and huge display table promoting Starbucks’ new Via instant coffee. Yahoo! Finance reported today that instant brews are more popular in the UK than they are here in the US, confirming my theory that simplicity sells abroad.

But here in Atlanta, I am not the only demanding customer vexing Starbucks employees. I apologized today for the length of the order. The barista told me it wasn’t a problem; in fact, there is another patron who orders the exact same drink! I need to meet this person…

To tip, or not to tip….

StarbucksIn Starbucks today, a patron who had just finished paying for his sandwich looked distraught. “I don’t have any change for a tip!” he told me. He decided to wait until I paid for my scone so that the cashier could open the register and give him change.

In all of my many, many trip to Starbucks stores in London, I never encountered anyone with this problem. The art of tipping is not generally on the radar screen of most Brits.

When my (British) husband and I stayed in a Boston Marriott, the maid failed to clean the room. I suggested to my husband that we reduce her tip to five dollars (we had stayed for one night).

He was incredulous. “But she didn’t do anything!” he said. ” We shouldn’t leave anything!”

We compromised on two dollars.

The gentleman in Starbucks today left a dollar tip once the cashier gave him change. Of course, I then had to leave one, too.

I thought I was a generous tipper…but a dollar for someone who handed him a plastic wrapped sandwich takes the cake.

Starbucks Addiction

St. Paul's StarbucksI picked up an addiction to Starbucks Chai Tea Lattes while living in London. On my way to work, I passed three (yes three!) Starbucks shops in the five minute walk between the St. Paul’s tube station and my office.

There was a jarring juxtaposition between St. Paul’s Cathedral, the 300-year-old masterpiece, looming over the thoroughly modern Starbucks stores. Every day, Londoners and tourists would pile into a queue that wound through the store and out the door.

If I had the willpower to pass by that shop, I would be struggling by the second, then would usually cave by the third.

I took years to become a Starbucks fan. When the stores started descending on New York like locusts in the late 1990s, I thought they were overpriced and overrated.

But when my daughter was born in London in the winter of 2006, I needed to get out of the flat on those days when it started to get dark at 2:30 in the afternoon (i.e. almost every day from December to February).

Baby-friendly coffee joints are limited in London. What makes Starbucks unique is that most shops have doorways and aisles that are wide enough to allow strollers — even a double Maclaren. Also, there are usually changing tables in the bathrooms.

And of course, the drink of choice for all of the moms I know — the Chai Tea Latte — is the perfect blend of froth and spice. I’ve tried to order the same drink at other coffee shops, only to find it’s just too sweet.

At one place in Atlanta, the barista leaned on the spout of a syrup dispenser, releasing a gel-like substance that resembled dishwashing liquid. It reminded me of 7-11 slurpees, which included shaved ice and bright red syrup. The drink tasted like hot sugared milk. Which I suppose it was.

I’m under no illusion that Starbucks doesn’t also use syrup – in fact, I had to ask for extra in my order yesterday (perhaps because of the economic downturn, my local has been skimping lately). But it’s a bit less sweet, and a bit more spicey.

After I had resolved to cut my intake to every other day from my current daily fix, I was perplexed to see that they are rolling out the Pumpkin Spice Latte — which will be tougher to resist.

Cooling the Tube

Air conditioning on the Tube! I never thought the day would come. What a pity that it’s scheduled to happen nearly two years after I left.

I will have to regale future generations with tales of the summer heat waves that lasted up to five days. The mercury would rise beyond 32 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit).

Articles would fill British newspapers about the heat on London’s public transport system: it was illegal to transport livestock at the temperature on the Tube.

The locals were outraged. But anyone who had lived or travelled during the summer in the Middle East, or even parts of the US, called the Brits heat wimps. 90 degrees may not be scorching, but it makes you appreciate air conditioning.

I’ll miss those signs outside most Tube station entrances, advising riders to carry a bottle of water to keep cool, putting the onus on the passengers, rather than on the station management.

Heat waves were unusual in London when I was living there, but we really felt them when they hit — nothing, from our flat to our local Starbucks, was air-conditioned. (Our closest cinema was, but not every theatre within it. That governed our movie choices).

So a temperature controlled Tube will open a whole new world of cool. But it will only debut on four lines — so we old-timers will still have somewhere to ride if we want to feel heat.