Dispatch / On Starbucks As “Home”

 
I can’t drink milk in my coffee. In recent months, when the weather has called for a hot drink, I have embraced soy cappuccinos. But never real milk. I am not vegan – I love cheese. Instead, I wholeheartedly believe that I overdosed on milky coffees in high school.

Every day, after classes, tennis practice, and newspaper edits were over, my Mum and I would meet at Starbucks to catch up on our days. During this period, we both had a lot going on (to say the least). Sometimes my sister would join, sometimes my friends, but my Mum and I would always be there. (We were so close with the baristas that one year they all attended a surprise birthday party for my Mum!) For at least an hour, we would sit sipping our grande skinny lattes and be talking — me about my classes, my life plans, my college applications; her about her business, her divorce, her life plans. It was such an indispensable part of our daily routines that we both credit Starbucks for helping us to cultivate our very-close relationship.

Since I graduated from high school in 2011, Starbucks has continued to play an integral role in our lives. Without fail, when she picks me up from the airport, we will go to Starbucks before going home. Every day that I am in Cleveland, we will “grab” a Starbucks – which never ends up being “grabbing” because she likes to sit and consume hers. Before we set off on our cross-country road-trip, we first stopped at Starbucks. 

We both also have our own personal relationships with the coffee giant. In Cleveland, every barista knows my Mum and her order. Without fail, when my sister and I return, the ladies and gents who make our liquid gold will be thoroughly updated on our latest adventures and endeavors. When she was going through lonely periods after my sister and I both went away to Los Angeles, Starbucks remained for her.

On my part, I drink Starbucks everywhere I go. From the beautiful Starbucks inside Prague Castle to the fake Starbucks in Lukla, in the Himalayas (that I used to walk 3- hours, one-way, to every Saturday), I have drunk my americanos everywhere. In fact, in an earlier dispatch, I wrote in 2014 from Amsterdam, I credit Starbucks for helping me feel better after a lot of things went wrong. But, it isn’t just in times of need that I go to Starbucks. It is at all times. No matter what the city, if there is a Starbucks, that is where I will be procuring my coffee.

Now before you roll your eyes at globalization and commercialism and all that jazz, let me explain.

It is not that I don’t want to support local businesses, in fact, I almost never ever eat in chain restaurants, shop in global stores, or choose “the American” versions of consumable goods while traveling. But Starbucks is different, it is my constant.

I just left Starbucks (I am currently typing a draft of this on my phone while sitting by the River Rhine / now editing it 12 hours later at a Starbucks in Cologne), after spending the majority of my Sunday afternoon there. I had some work to do and so I made myself comfortable at an outside table and got typing. In Germany, on Sundays, Starbucks closes at 6 pm — not ideal when I and the one other guy sitting outside need to keep our workflow going. We asked the baristas and they said we could continue sitting outside, utilizing the wifi, as long as we would stand up for a minute so they could sweep and then lock the chairs together. We had no problem with this.

Sitting in locked together chairs, the two of us typed away at our laptops for the next couple of hours. At some point, we started speaking.

“Do you always work on a Sunday,” I said.

“Sometimes, but I try to keep my work Monday – Friday. Do you?”

“Eh, I do some kind of work every day.”

This inevitably led to a conversation about our respective jobs – him a software developer, me a writer of various forms.

“What brings you to Düsseldorf.”

“Oh, I am just traveling around.”

“How do you like the city?”

“It’s beautiful! Although, I haven’t seen too much.” “In fact,” I continued. “For five out of the six days I have been here, my daily schedule has been to walk a leisurely 45 minutes down the Riverbank, from where I am staying into the old city. The weather has been so beautiful and I love being by the water. Then I weave my way to this Starbucks, order the same drink and salad, and sit at the same outside table writing.”

I quickly explained, “I can’t sightsee every day – that would be mundane. So I have used my time in Dusseldorf as a bit of a reset button.”

“So you always go to Starbucks?” he inquired.

“Guilty,” I responded. “In fact, Starbucks is the only constant I need. I have one cold drink I order, one hot drink, and I never ever deviate. No matter where I am – I know that Starbucks is going to give me exactly what I want. Plus, I always know that their wifi is going to be excellent – so I don’t have to worry about that for work. When I get to the counter I have to make no decisions, I know the lingo, I know what I want, I know what I am going to get. As long as I have that, everything else in my day can be completely random and different.”

He was intrigued by the way my brain clung on to this tiny routine.

“What it sounds like,” he started, “is that Starbucks is your current home.”

“Holy shit,” I think I said.

“I mean it is where you feel comfortable and where you know exactly what the space will look like. You know what the coffee will taste like and the speed of the wifi. No matter where you are, it still remains predictable for you.”

Realizing that he was so unbelievably right, I joked. “I should be in a marketing advertisement for Starbucks. A story of the positives of globalization.”

Starbucks does work as my de facto home and office. And I love that consistency. While for most people the downside of places like Starbucks is that it looks the same everywhere in the world, in my situation that is actually the upside. I don’t find myself getting distracted by their unique style of design or by their particular way of brewing coffee. It is just Starbucks and I can be assured, without fail, that it will have the same feeling, taste, and vocab as all the ones that came before.

Just like my outfit choices each morning, not having to make any decisions at Starbucks is fantastic. If a city – such as Bremerhaven – is too small to have a Starbucks, I can survive. But what could happen – à la Bremerhaven – is that their wifi won’t be working and my iced cappuccino will come with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream inside it. When I get to Starbucks I know I have to work. Just as I did in my local Starbucks in high-school, in college, in cities spanning Liverpool to Hong Kong, Stockholm to Perth.

Unless you are my Mum, if we are meeting for a coffee somewhere around the world, please take me to your favorite local place!!!! But when it is me, on my own, laptop strapped to my back – you better believe you will find me repeatedly sitting at the same table, a venti iced Americano branded with the green Siren logo in hand.
 

*Originally published on May 7, 2018*

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