Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 17: Seinfeldian Moment at Starbucks

I spend a lot of time in Starbucks. Which is odd, because I hate their coffee. But there's a Starbucks right next to my work (what a surprise!) and when I come out of class, it's the only place that's still open. I have to be pretty creative about what I order when I lounge in there. Sometimes it's fruit salad. Sometimes yogurt with granola. Occasionally, I'll gamble on an iced tea, but that's usually bad, too. But you won't see me ordering a muffin or scone at Starbucks. Why, you ask? Because every last item in that case is a mirage. That's right, a mirage. You may buy a crumb-covered slice of coffee cake. But what you actually end up eating tastes like a pile of wood shavings, neatly pressed into cake form.

Don't think I make this claim idly. Oh, I've done my research. I've tried a scone, a muffin, a donut, a slice of cake, an oatmeal raisin cookie. Each time, they end up in the garbage after two bites. Now I can stand in front of that gleaming bakery case without the slightest temptation. It reminds me of when I worked in a donut shop at age 16 and couldn't even SEE the donuts after a while. (Those donuts were actually good, but I ate too many in my first week.)

Let's see, what exactly is wrong with the baked goods at Starbucks, you ask? Let me count the ways they are vile. They are cold, for starters, which makes them hard and stale-ish if not actually stale. They will offer to "warm them up" for you, which means a minute in the microwave, after which the edges will be molten and the center, cold and stale. They are sweet, but not in a good way--in a chugging insulin punch way. They have no distinct flavors--all of them taste like oil and sugar. Each time I take a bite, I can feel the myriad chemicals oozing through my bloodstream, robbing me of vital brain cells. I could always feel the seething chemicals, but recently I obtained proof: I was waiting to order my fruit salad and I happened to get an unsanctioned glance at a lemon pound cake before it was sliced--it was sealed in shrink wrap, and the clear plastic was entirely obscured on one side of the cake by a printed list of ingredients, in a font so micro that I must have counted 76 ingredients before an alarmed barista whisked it away from my prying eyes.

This vileness is not limited to Starbucks snacks, to be fair. The vileness extends to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Peet's cases, too. I'm guessing every franchise coffee operation gets their yummies off the same truck, and that before that they've been chilling in a warehouse for six months. What seems so unfair, though, is that independent coffee houses often have the most delectable baked goods. Apple pie and chocolate tortes and irregularly shaped muffins and scones that are still warm. Twisty things with cinnamon and sugar. Cheesecake, in multiple flavors. When I lived in La Jolla, and later in Hillcrest, I was tempted in coffee shops all the time. It was an extreme occupational hazard, in fact, because as a grad student, I often spent eight or more hours grading papers in a coffee shop, in order to avoid the Siren's lure of my e-mail at home. I would power through two or three different creations before the day was through. Had I been grading at Starbucks, however, I would have had to pack a lunch.

In conclusion, I can never decide if Starbucks is perpetrating extreme cruelty on the coffee-drinking public by not allowing them to have a decent cookie with their espresso, or if they are secretly invested in helping us to watch our daily caloric intake. After hearing about the new law in New York where Starbucks (and indeed all chain restaurants) is required to list the calories under every item in the display case, and learning that the average Starbucks goodie clocks in at 600 calories, maybe it's the latter.


Mary said...

I agree with you about the treats there. The only one I like is the walnut muffin.

I do like the coffee, though.

We used to have a Peet's up here and then they closed. That was my favorite place.



Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I agree with you and Mary and Paul. Starbucks treats are eeeeew. Really, the cannot be called treats. We shall hereinafter refer to them as cheats.

Anonymous said...

Starbucks "food" is ick-orrific! The only exception is in NYC, where the Starbucks serve fresh Krispy Kreme donuts in the mornings. Yum. lix

Unknown said...

We've been in Israel for almost 2 weeks now and I can get the most incredible baked goods FRESH on every corner and in any way I want them. They are so fantastic and small enough to not feel like you are overloading...4-5 good sized bites. Triangular shaped chocolate filled puff pastry that is still warm inside. It's what I miss in the States and after reading this post I will NOT EVER be tempted by the baked goods that really don't qualify!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sam!

You are my San Diego food guru. What independent coffee shops do you recommend? I always forget (and I know you have told me the good ones).

Love, Lisa
(Sending this from Scottsdale, where it is 110 degrees outside!!!)

The Wades said...

Now I really feel bad giving Dan two Starbucks gift cards! Wow. But I bet I'd love their treats in my current condition. (carbless and tortured!) You're such a food snob, oh cultured one! ;)