While on a recent business trip, I made some coffee in my hotel using the coffee maker next to the television.
The Starbucks packets seemed designed especially for the hotel brewer. On check out, I braced myself, expecting to be charged something outrageous.
I got my bill and scanned it. “There’s no charge for the coffee on here,” I told the hotel clerk.
“Oh, no charge for that,” he said.
“Wait, so, the coffee is free?” I asked. “But you charge for drinking the bottled water in the fridge?”
My goodness, I thought, in our society, coffee is considered more necessary than water.
The first time that I met Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, I didn’t know the difference between an espresso and a brew.
And I didn’t even know enough about coffee to know that it was something I should have known.
Maybe it was fitting that as a business reporter, I wasn’t already a fan of the company or its main product. That was more than two years ago. That was before I traded in my daily Diet Cokes for daily coffees.
It occurred to me early on in my career that caffeine was more necessity than luxury if I wanted to make something of myself in modern society. In fact, coffee and tea surged in popularity at the advance of the industrial revolution. (One of the best articles I’ve read on humanity’s dependence upon caffeine is by National Geographic. Check it out here.)
By the time I was a full-time college student, spending long nights writing up physics experiment reports and spending my days working for FDIC in Arlington, Va., I was consuming 32 ounces of regular Coca-Cola per day.
One day, my boss’s boss saw me at my desk with one: My mouth connected to a giant red and white cup via straw. “Do you know how much sugar is in that?” he said. “You’re going to get so fat if you keep drinking that. Switch to diet.”
And, so, I switched to diet. It was difficult at first, because I didn’t like the taste. But then, addiction set in. Diet Coke became “liquid goodness.”
I developed a Pavlovian response to the sight of that cold silver can, the feel of its weight in my hands, the cracking sound of the tab — oh, addicts, do you feel me? I would tuck a Diet Coke can behind my feet under my church pew. You’d never find me without a can in my hand. I bonded with news sources over this shared addiction.
Coffee, meanwhile, seemed gross. Who knows what they put in that?
Starbucks taught me exactly what.
Because Starbucks is a brand that must maintain a positive public image, it employs a powerful team of public relations staff. The team struck me as particularly competent at what it did — the staff works hard to educate reporters about the company, and more importantly, about coffee.
I grew up in in a working class New Jersey household. Morning joe meant pouring boiling water over a scoop of Maxwell House instant. My parents kept Sweet’N Low packets in a dish on the table, next to the salt and pepper shakers. And my mother kept a white cannister of saccharin tablets next to her purse, for her morning tea. (As a child, I thought that men drank coffee and women drank tea.)
On a day-long immersion tour of Starbucks, I learned the difference between low-quality robusta and high-quality arabica beans, I saw the labs where the company’s scientists determined which temperatures brought out the best flavors, and I learned about distribution and marketing and product sourcing. (Did you know that the Japanese are the largest consumers of instant coffee? They sell it in machines over there like they do soda here.)
Before that day, I’d thought that coffee beans came brown. I learned that they are plucked off of the trees green and then roasted brown.
For some reason, I’d always thought that coffee was engineered from man-made chemicals. I realized that coffee is as natural as salad. It’s water run through roasted beans. It fit into my decision to make simpler and healthy lifestyle choices.
In October 2009, I officially made the switch to coffee as my main source of caffeine.
I use a French press in the morning. How about you?