From middle school through college, I was obsessed with Starbucks. Five-times-a-week obsessed. Then five years ago I realized that I was spending $1,500 a year on coffee, quit cold turkey, and haven’t had a drop since.
Part of me also hated the evil empire it has become. In middle school when the first Starbucks opened in my neighborhood, it was a big cool-kids hangout (and I was trying to be one of them) because of their big, plush seating and seeming encouragement of endless loitering while not requiring payment for anything. To the 12-year-old me, it was, along with Barnes & Noble, the paragon of anti-establishment. Oh, how little I understood.
In college, when Starbucks opened up across the street from a much-beloved proprietary coffee joint, Kiva Han, and nearly put it out of business (and got bricks thrown into its new glass windows because of it), I started to see the light. So when I quit the joe, I resigned from Starbucks, too.
But damn, did I miss those Frappuccinos.
Since going indie, I’ve stopped into the ‘bucks from time to time, for their ample seating and free wi-fi. And I’ve looked longingly at my icy sweetness, yearning for a sip. But alas, I refuse to go back to the caffeine teet. Last summer on a particularly hot day, it occurred to me to ask around for a decaf Frap — and got turned down at five different locations. Then when a Starbucks opened in my apartment building, I happened to get the general manager who, wanting to please, offered to essentially make me one using the base of a Crème Frappuccino (which is caffeine-free) and a shot of decaf espresso for the coffee flavor. His concoction was a masterpiece, and I savored every moment of it through that green straw.
Over the past year I’ve had a handful of really bad days where I felt the only thing that could cheer me up was such a Frappuccino. I’ve hopped into whichever Starbucks was nearby and asked for it not by name, but by recipe. Baristas, well-trained as they are, would look at me cross-eyed, but would oblige. I would walk away with my drink, satisfied but embarrassed by my off-the-menu order.
That all changed today. Though it’s a gray, rainy day in NYC, I was craving a Frap hardcore, so I came into the Starbucks where I’m still sitting right now. Ready to shame myself for the sake of the drug, I looked up at the menu board and saw this:
The *new* Frappuccino however-you-want-it
- Milk: Whole, 2%, Nonfat, Soy
- Coffee: Decaf, Extra Coffee, Add Espresso
- Calories: No Whip, Light–1/3 fewer calories
I took it all in…and then I squealed.
“Is this for real?!” I asked the cashier.
“Yes, darling. What do you want?” he replied.
I went on to recount my entire journey up until this moment, all the way up to the cross-eyed part. Then he said, “I won’t look at you cross-eyed. What do you want?”
And I told him, quite simply, with exultation: “I would like a Nonfat, Decaf, With Whip, Grande Caramel Frappuccino please.”
And he smiled, and said, “Of course.”
And I rejoiced. Triumph.
I will ultimately take the credit for inspiring the However-You-Want-It Frappuccino (officially released May 4 according to Starbucks), but that isn’t why I wrote this post. Instead I felt it was important to commend a company, whose brand I’ve pretty much disdained for years, for taking it upon themselves to take customer feedback (whether direct or observed), and use it to turn one of their flagship products into one that is more inclusive, more flexible, more mindful of the varying needs of its “users”.
And above all else, to transform what was once an embarrassment into an encouraged behavior.
Thank you for your willingness to listen, willingness to change, and willingness to help make me much more comfortable within your walls. Cheers to you.
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