Learn to drink coffee! Part 1

Aug 29

Believe it or not, this is something that’s come up many times over the past decade and a half. “I want to drink coffee, but I just can’t stand the taste!” “I need caffeine, but coffee tastes gross!” “I don’t like the taste of coffee, what can I drink?”

I’ll let y’all in on a little secret: I didn’t used to like coffee either. Couldn’t stand the taste. My early caffeine fixes were all from soda, because I didn’t like tea either.

What happened? Well for one thing, I got a job at Starbucks. That training gave me a ton of knowledge about coffee roasting, brewing, and drink recipes, and the time to experiment with different combinations.

The first thing I realized was that I’d been doing coffee all wrong. I figured that since I didn’t like coffee, the solution was just to load as much sugar and cream as I could into whatever cheap coffee was handy. Needless to say, the result was less than tasty and didn’t particularly incline me to drink more. If you don’t like something, then buying the cheapest version of it and trying to choke it down is not necessarily going to be productive.

Over the years I’ve developed a method for “teaching” people to drink coffee. I can’t guarantee it will work for everyone, but I’ve had good success with it on friends and family (because I share my addiction far and wide when I can). Here’s what to do:

Start with the most sugary froufrou drink you can stand. These will often be more expensive than less sugary drinks, but if you don’t like the taste of coffee then you’ll need to tone it down with something and sugar is the easiest way.

My usual recommendation is the White Chocolate Mocha. This is one of the sweetest drinks on the menu, hands down. If even this is too coffee-like for you, go even more to the sugary side with a single venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. That’s a single shot of espresso in 20 ounces of sugar and milk.

Don’t like sweet things all that much? Try the Mocha. It’s chocolatey but not super sweet. If you need to tone the coffee down further, ask the barista for two or three pumps of a flavor syrup — hazelnut or vanilla would be good.

Want something cold? The above drinks can be ordered iced, or you can try the Java Chip Frappuccino. Basically a chocolate milkshake with some coffee in it.

Need to watch your sugar intake? Try a Skinny Mocha or a Sugar-free Vanilla Latte. Lactose intolerant? Order your drink made with soy. If you’re getting a mocha or white chocolate mocha, ask the barista whether the syrup has milk in it.

Once you’ve found your drink, then what? Tune in next week for part 2 of Learn to Drink Coffee!
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Pumpkin Spice News

Aug 22

As you may have read on the internet — especially if you’re as coffee-obsessed as I am — the Pumpkin Spice Latte is coming back early this year. Here’s the dates: Official launch is September 2nd. However, through a series of “challenges” on social media, people can “unlock” the PSL at their local Starbucks as early as August 25.

The PSL is traditionally a fall drink, which has some people crying foul at the early release. After all, it’s still August and already we have Halloween candy going on sale, and even some Christmas merch appearing in stores. The tendency in retail is to draw out lucrative seasonal sales as long as possible in the hopes of drawing in more money.

On the flip side, however, drinks that evoke a certain season might reasonably be marketed during a time when people are preparing for that season. Like the first turning of the leaves (if you live in a place where leaves turn, which I don’t), the PSL could be considered as much a sign that fall is coming, as a sign that fall is actually hear. I think that’s the feeling that Starbucks is trying to get in on — a seasonal drink as a sign that the season is coming soon.

Last year, Starbucks realized the social media potential of this drink and pushed it hard on their Twitter account. This year they’re going even further, with a Twitter account specifically for the drink itself (@theRealPSL). The idea is that you follow this Twitter account, complete certain challenges by replying to it — today’s challenge was to find an ingredient on the Starbucks Instagram account — and eventually learn a “passcode” that you give at your local Starbucks to “unlock” the drink, allowing them to start selling it early.

Why go through all this just to sell a drink? Well, “social media engagement” is a big buzzword right now and Starbucks has jumped aboard that train with both feet. It can be an effective and inexpensive way to build buzz about a product, as well as getting immediate feedback on how well the campaign is going. And it’s working: mainstream media outlets are carrying the story. The return of a seasonal drink at a coffee restaurant is now “news”. You can buy billboards and TV ads, but here with a few minutes of typing every day they’ve gotten a crazy amount of publicity.

Of course, it’s a little hypocritical for me to scrutinize their methods. After all, here I am, writing about both the drink and the social media campaign. Just like I wrote with excitement about the coming of the Fizzio sodas and the new shaken teas (all five of those reviews are still among the highest-viewed pages on this site). So if it’s a problem, I’m part of the problem. If it’s a trend, I’m part of the trend. In my defense, I try to be as informational as I can.

Will I be trying to get my Starbucks to sell the Pumpkin Spice Latte early? Probably, I love those things.

For last year’s review of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, click here.
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