A Coffee Interlude

We don’t even really try to find good coffee in my hometown.  Rockford – at least the side of town where I grew up – is made for Starbucks.  There’s no hipster scene in NE Rockford – just suburbanites with Kate Gosselin highlights and families in their SUVs flocking to the latest chain restaurant.

Which is to say that we found ourselves at Starbucks Saturday morning, in desperate need of caffeine and bearing a list of orders for the similarly addicted.  We were greeted by the overly enthusiastic barista (OEB) in tight pants.

E: Good morning.  I need three tall coffees with room, a tall iced green tea, light ice, unsweetened, and whatever he’s having (gestures to Shane).

Shane: Can you make a cappuccino that is, you know, less than 12 ounces?  Like 7 ounces?

OEB: You have no idea how long we’ve waited for someone to ask precisely that.  Didja hear that? He wants a real cappuccino!

Impressively-Bearded Barista (IBB): (excitement)

Shane: No, you know, I’ll just have a tall coffee as well.

OEB: No, no, we can do it!  We don’t have a whole lot of control over the espresso, but we can definitely make you a smaller drink.

IBB: I can make you any size you want!

Shane: Are you sure?

OEB: Yes! And you know what, we’ll give it to you for free.

E: Thanks!

OEB: (Repeats the order back, forgetting the iced tea)

Girl Barista: Did you want medium or bold?

E: Medium

OEB: Wait, was his coffee a medium?

E: No, no, we just wanted the medium roast.

OEB: Oh, right, sorry!  (Finishes transaction)

We step to the side to wait.  I add half and half to my coffee, then ask for skim milk for Mark and Jenn’s.  Shane is presented with a medium cappuccino (16 ounces).  They forget the iced tea, which I ask for again.  We leave with five drinks, wondering what exactly just happened.

So maybe there is hope for good coffee in Rockford.  There are baristas out there that want people to drink real cappuccinos.  They just aren’t sure how to make it happen.



So last night I was talking to a few former barista coworker friends, and the subject of Starbucks came up – I believe in the context of discussing the neglectful management of our former place of employment. If you know me even moderately well, you know that I’ve maintained a long-standing ban on Starbucks. I worked at an independent coffeeshop for two years, and have many friends who work and/or manage independents. With Starbucks planning to open 250 more Chicagoland locations (to add to the 330 existing ones), you can understand my vehemence. By the numbers, independent coffee shops have lost 11% of the market in the last four years. For those of us who rely on our indie for income, variety, and good coffee, that’s alarming.

One of the most touted things about Starbucks (notably more touted than the quality of their drinks) is their treatment of employees, who are eligible for health insurance, stock options, and a 401K – as well as advancement possibilities simply not available in your average mom-and-pop shop. A Starbucks employee union exists, though it seems that it has a contentious relationship with Starbucks itself. Starbucks has also, in the last few years, agreed to sell Fair Trade coffees, though it sounds like that decision only happened under some protest.

Last night, my coffeestore friends slightly revised our ban. We’re OK with people working for Starbucks – like our former manager, who routinely works 40+ hour weeks for no vacation, no benefits, and no chance of ever having any real authority due to the ongoing mismanagement by the owners – we’re just not OK with people buying coffee there.