Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's That in Your Cup?

"Oh I like coffee / And I like tea / I'd like to be able to enter a final plea" -- John Popper (Blues Traveler), "Run Around"

Tomorrow, I'll walk into my office a bit bleary-eyed with one of two items perched in the curled fingers of my left hand -- a cup of hot beverage from either Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks.

Reactions will work accordingly -- an Extra Large "Great One" cup of Dunkin Donuts will bring smiles and sympathetic looks that say, "Hey, sir, tough morning?" or "Hey, El-Tee, you gettin properly caffeinated for a day of briefings?" Because my Dunkin Donuts cup won't be the only one at the morning meeting, there will be at least one or two instances where at least two of us Dunkin Drinkers will make eye contact and knowingly just tilt our cups toward one another in brotherhood before giving a quick smirk and returning to the sipping and waking up process.

Starbucks, however, is an entirely different story. With a similarly-sized, equally prominent cup of Starbucks in hand, I literally would not be able to make it from my office to the head without being teased or even jeered at least once. An epithet or two might be thrown my way if I were seen sipping from said cup during the aforementioned morning meeting. I could just as easily be met with sarcastic comments to the tune of, "Well, if we'd known that about you, we could've brought you a fluffed pillow and a mint this morning" or something else equally un-funny/un-original.

Okay, okay, so you get the point -- Dunkin Donuts is somehow associated with all things masculine and blue-collar, while Starbucks is associated with all those bad things that people like Spiro Agnew used to get hot and bothered about.

That's certainly not unique to my command, or even to New England. Popular TV commercials for both McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts have sought to make fun of Starbucks in not so many words, what with their silly Italian words for sizes and their ten-syllable drink names.

But let's look at the evidence, shall we?

Price. Let's assume here that frugality is manly and indulgence is for the effete. In this category, Starbucks wins by a country mile. (And for that matter, Brew'd Awakening beats 'em both, but that only works if you happen to be in downtown Lowell). As someone who's done more than his share of "coffee or tea and a bagel with cream cheese" breakfasts, Starbucks charges roughly $1.50 less than Dunkin (notwithstanding a current Dunkin special whereby the bagel and cream cheese can be had for $.99 with drink purchase). In fact, for the same price that I'd pay for just the Extra Large Tea/Coffee and bagel with cream cheese at the 24/7 Dunkin on Central Street, I can get the drink, the food, and the out-of-area New York Times (because hey, if we're pre-Thursday, that crossword is actually doable) at Starbucks off 290 in Worcester and still come out slightly ahead.

All bets are off, of course, if you do order those super-special ten-syllable drinks, but for the standard morning cup, this is certifiably true (and easily verifiable).

Consumer Effort. Let's assume here that "Do-It-Yourself" is manly and being waited on is for the effete. Again, advantage Starbucks. At nearly every Dunkin Donuts that I know, the sugar, cream, milk, etc. are kept behind the service counter. Not so at Starbucks. Whether you're into Splenda, Sugar in the Raw, honey, or none of the above, at Starbucks you're the doer. They just leave it out and trust you with it -- that's hard to argue with.

Caffeination. Let's assume here that heavy caffeination makes you a badass (hey, I've seen enough Mountain Dew and Red Bull commericals to know that!) and health concerns are for the effete. Yup, you guessed it, Starbucks takes this one seven days a week, and twice on Sunday. As you can easily check with one or two Google searches, Starbucks coffee is essentially "spiked" with surplus caffeine. Per unit volume, it's roughly twice as strong as the brew that Dunkin serves. If it's tea that suits your fancy, the Tazo Awake tea is definitely stronger than the generic Dunkin bag of Earl Grey, too.

So, no, I'm not a die-hard Starbucks partisan, or even a shareholder. I did become a huge fan of theirs when I lived in Virginia Beach, though, as I noticed that they were sort of like a library for me, except with way better hours, better amenities, and no "shushing" after my cell phone rang.

But I make the point just as a way of turning a piece of conventional "wisdom" on its head.

What could be more fun than that?


C R Krieger said...


You protest, but it is all about the image. Too many Starbucks and you could pick up some new, weird, tactical callsign. Something like "Star Struck" or "ELS" (for Elite Liberal Snob). Good luck with that.

Regards -- Cliff

PS I joined the Air Force since I don't drink coffee. Those Coca Cola machines were important to me.

Nick said...

Happy New Year,

I can't speak for your office, but in general there are less and less ways that men can allowably express machismo. For better or worse, men can no longer tell dirty jokes, objectify women, or "act up". This makes some guys mock other guys for drinking Starbucks coffee, however irrational and banal.

As a species, I hope we can evolve past this.

It's so lame, but this sort of office/social teasing session can reveal a lot about people. It's easy to notice who follows along, who doesn't engage, and who's got your back.

All the best,

The New Englander said...

Nick and Cliff,

Loved the points...Yes, going from a badass-sounding "12-Gauge" down to one of the suggested Starbucks-related signs would be hard to live down! But the ironic part is that I saw more people unabashedly carrying around Starbucks cups at my last command than I do now, and that was among a presumably FAR more badass community of warriors.

Moral of the story? Anyone who's that worried about where someone else bought a cup of coffee needs to check their own insecurities at the door.

My solution? *Loudly* carry a Starbucks cup everywhere, even if it's just filled with water..

happy new year,