Thursday, June 2, 2011

Changing Coffee Shops

I’ve decided to switch coffee shops. For anyone that has a regular coffee shop and knows the bond formed between barista and customer, this is a big step – one that involved many days of too bitter coffee.

My previous coffee shop is owned by a Korean family and located squarely across from the entrance to the building where I work. They all know my name, even if it is pronounced with a distinctive Korean accent that involves turning the L into a W. They are nice people. I eat lunch there as well sometimes.

One day, I came to the sudden realization that their coffee is actually quite terrible. For one, there is no barista (I use the female owner as the equivalent to a barista); there are only three big coffee machines in the corner brewing huge vats of coffee. The coffee comes out of giant unmarked bags, something like Folger’s brand.

I know about Folger’s. It’s what my dad used to drink way back when, before the coffee revolution took place and everyone started demanding organic, free trade Arabica at every sip. What my dad didn’t know at the time, and no one knew, Colombia is not a producer of quality coffee. It’s basically the Anheuser-Busch of coffee.

That’s right, Juan Valdez has been pushing a lot of crappy coffee all these years. Plenty of quantity…not a lot of quality. I learned this living in the bush of Costa Rica, listening to the farmers talk derisively of Colombian coffee, and then going home and listening to Shakira tunes on the radio. Colombian pop culture, good. Colombian coffee, bad.

So one fine spring day I stepped out of the coffee shop, found everything to be right in the world, and then took a long, slow sip of the mysterious brown substance many of us eventually become slave to. It was at that moment that I realized everything was fine in the world…except my coffee. A change needed to be made.

The next day, I got off the metro and instead of exiting out onto McPherson square, marched across the platform to the 14th St. exit on the opposite end. I had made the first big step. It felt odd, but comforting at the same time.

I walked out of the station, crossed the street, and made a bee line for…you guessed it – Starbucks. It was time to find out what had all these people lining up in droves in the morning. If there was a different option, I probably would have taken it, but there are only Starbucks off near my building – three of them – all on the same square.

It took me about five minutes to get to the front of the line to place my order. Advantage = Eye Street Grill. I didn’t quite understand the sizes at first but figure it out soon enough. Unfortunately, anything preceded with grande makes my mind switch to Spanish, and so my order came out grande café, which was met with an odd look. I quickly recovered, “grande coffee”, I countered.

The barista smiled at that and turned to fill my order. At that, another attendant took my credit card, swiped it, and then immediately handed it back to me. Apparently no receipt would be needed. This was fine by me, as I always threw it away anyway. I always hated the decorum that made people give you a receipt. I generally trust people to charge me the right amount. If not, I can raise hell after the fact. Advantage = Starbucks.

Finally, I took a sip of coffee. Advantage = Starbucks. It beats the heck out of the Folger’s-esque blend from Eye Street Grill. The Starbucks coffee is a strong, chocolaty blend that is forceful yet not overpowering.

The bill was $2.15, a full 57 cents more per glass. Advantage = Eye Street Grill. I still think it’s worth it though. I mean, why pay $1.58 for something that you don’t even like.

I have to say I like the fact that Eye Street Grill doesn’t try to sell me a bunch of random mugs and stuff. At Starbucks you may have noticed a book about the history of the company written by the founder. I find it slightly ridiculous that someone is trying to sell me a book while I’m in a line waiting to get some of his product, a book that will probably explain exactly how I came to be addicted to that same stuff. Isn’t it enough that you’ve got us all here standing in line at 7:30am in the morning? I don’t need to know the play-by-play on how that came to pass. Still…I’m sure the book is plenty good. Advantage = Eye Street Grill.

Despite all of these apparent advantages of Eye Street Grill, I’ve made the switch to Starbucks. The coffee is simply far superior. Yes, it’s been a little awkward at times with my friends at the Eye Street Grill. I remember a morning not long after I made the switch, buying a sandwich at Eye Street Grill for lunch I was asked, “Bwake…we’ll see you tomorrow morning, wight?” I could tell she knew something was up, and even though I answered in the affirmative, we both knew the truth.

My life has changed quite a bit. I now get on the Metro train at the opposite end of the platform. This is a big deal. I see completely different people each morning, walk slightly less after entering the station, check out different girls. It’s taken some getting used to.

Still, I think it’s been worth it.

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