Coffee: Empires, Tazo, and the Grateful Dead
Grounds for an Empire
The Czar is not a coffee drinker. By absolutely no means: he doesnt even like the taste of the stuff, since it tastes like some mild acid-based solvent that somebody left the top off of for about three weeks, and is now so stale that you would expect an elderly neighbor to offer you in hardened candy form. But we really dont care for that analogy. Plus, the Czar is not sure why someone would offer you stale, solvent-based candy. Its best we move on.
Anyway, we really dont like it. But we are not repulsed by it either: in fact, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee is a Very Good Thing. If you try to imagine the smell of it right now, chances are pretty good you can indeed almost taste it. As far as the caffeine piece of it, we obtain other sources. Notably soda. The Czar can easily down a couple of cans in no time flat. Of course, we dont mean the sodas flat… merely the time. We digress yet again.
So this little Seattle-based company decided that coffee must be The Next Big Thing, and began appearing every place where they could find three square feet of space… Body Snatchers-like. And lo, the Starbucks empire became reality.
Boy, were they right. Within seconds of opening any Starbucks, hordes of khaki-wearing minions start loitering nervously in front, mobbing the tables, reading pulp novels and sipping weird bean blends out of these tall white canisters so large that, we swear, if they had a dome-shaped top, people would be throwing trash into them.
Its so bad that when a construction company starts doing the exterior of a future Starbucks… or any retail place shaped vaguely like one… the coffee army shows up and starts camping out. Its like some Grateful Dead caravan, with its own microeconomy and subculture. And there they are, with their sweater-vests, designer sunglasses, and cell phones all milling about wondering when they can get a Bahamanian Jerk Bean blend and a gargantuan muffin with sugar crystals on it the size of dice. Does it matter that its months before opening? Not really: even if it dawns on them that they arent likely to get served, they just walk seven more feet to the left and find another Starbucks.
Why Youre Wrong
You cant order anything in Starbucks without being wrong. Its true: whatever you order, they correct you. Its like the counterpeople simply like to counter people. Just remember, they are informed, the customer is always wrong.
Id like the double decaf mocha twist frapaspresso lattacino, please.
At once, she rolls her eyes, shifts her weight to her other foot in disgust and says, Do you mean the double mocha decaf twist frapaspresso lattacino? with her voice lilting mockingly on the last syllable.
Um… yes, you say, having lost total control over the exchange, although youre darn sure she told you the opposite yesterday.
A grande? she asks, much in the same way a parent talks to a child who just mailed all of the rent money through the slots on a sewer cover outside.
Yes, you meekly reply, having no idea what size that really is, although you suspect its bigger than you can physically ingest.
The Sale, Wherein the Czar Slits His Own Throat
Let us share with you a true story. The Czar is standing, literally, in the center of Lambert International Airport in Saint Louis, waiting to meet up with a someone arriving later. Like nearly every day in the Gateway City, its hot and muggy. Wed spring for a beer, thank you, but by FAA regulation, all alcohol in an airport must cost over ten bucks.
So the Czar looks for an alternative, and discover theres a Starbucks behind us. We realize that theyre not too likely to jack up their prices any more than they already do, and walk over. Plus, theres no line. This actually shocks us.
The Czar looks up at the overhead board to get an idea of what we might want. Toward the bottom, theres a section titled Iced Tea, and below that a goofy name like Tazo.
May I help you? she asks cheerfully, eagerly awaiting to see how she can trip us up.
Yeah, Id like an iced tea.
We dont have that.
We glance up at the board, half-expecting to see that menu choice dematerialize before our eyes. Okay… we say very slowly.
She grins, knowing her triumph. We do have Tazo. Its an infused brewed tea blend, with select spices, served chilled.
The Czar stares directly at her. That is an iced tea.
But its different, she says, gleefully pointing her finger at the Czar, as though he was some Renaissance Pope arguing with Galileo.
Okay, the Czar sighs in defeat, Ill have that, and pull out a couple of dollars.
What size? she asks, realizing her immense fortune at being able to potentially humiliate us twice in one transaction.
What sizes do you have? we ask, realizing perhaps we could minimize the ridicule she must surely be documenting to her manager as a step toward promotion.
Tall, Grande, and Veinte, she sighs, realizing that victory is not so easily won with this one. Blast, she thinks. She was just forced to hand us the answers.
Whats the smallest one you have? we ask.
Your small is a tall? we ask, incredulous.
Yes. The next largest is a grande. It occurs to the Czar their medium is grande, which of course means large.
Well, I guess a tall then.
There! We wanted a small iced tea, but was denied. Instead, the Czar was forced to buy a tall tazo… and in turn, she hands us a small iced tea. We pay for it, and return to the gate where were waiting.
The Czar is pleased to report, it was a darn good cup of iced tea.
At this point, though, the Czar is pretty much forced to speculate as to what goes on in the mornings at a Starbucks. Immediately before opening, the manager has the staff rearrange the signboard, just to confuse the regulars. I want that split shot skinny replaced with a skinny shot split, the manager hollers, as staff furiously scramble to scramble the signboard.
The bags are ripped open, and the marble fudge cinnamon biscotti and marshmallow pecan muffins and the host of other confections designed by computer spill out. Theyre neatly arranged to be as scary as possible, and the doors are opened.
Lo, and they begin filing in. There they all are: the guy who sits there, staring zombie-like over the top of his low-fat latte, wondering what on earth happened to his free time as he plans to spend the next three hours here. And there she is… that woman that just clenches her teeth and nods grimly as her friend complains incessantly about how morale is so low at work ever since they insisted on staff showing up regularly. There he is… the guy in his 30s trying to look much younger and much more wealthy, sitting in his J. Crew ensemble wondering why nobody has noticed him looking at his expensive watch every couple of minutes. Oh, and heres the woman that always insists on coming in wearing the clothes she slept in, dragging behind her some recalcitrant dalmatian whos wondering why they just couldnt sleep in some Saturday.
And they all sit there, sitting, reading or talking, and spending a lot of time staring. And they glance at their watches and pagers, their left leg bouncing incessantly up and down like a sewing machine.
We cant help but think, as we bit into a pastry thats as soft and tooth-crackingly moist as particle board, that if we just slammed our mighty foot onto the floor, these people would all snap.
Look at them! Theyre one loud noise away from screaming, tearing their hair out, and diving through any convenient plate glass. These are people who honestly, and perhaps pathologically, believe theyre relaxing right now. In reality, if they were any more tense, you could strum them.
So we shake our head, and turn to the register just in time to see the counter person sniff and ask someone, Do you mean the half-shot double steamed mocha?
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.