I HAVE A FRIEND in Brooklyn who is a complete coffee snob. (You know who you are.) She grinds her own beans each morning – I say life’s too short for that – and disdains Starbucks. It’s not just that she says their coffee tastes ‘burnt.’ It’s too corporate, too military-industrial complex for her. So she buys her French roast at old-school mom and pop stores like Caputo’s and D’Amico’s, and when it’s a sit-down situation, there are any number of quirky, individualistic places to go.
But that’s in Brooklyn. Since leaving the Big Town for the Hamptons, three hours due east, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for Starbucks. When you’re on the road a lot, as I have been, coffee, wi-fi, and a bathroom all in one place (wi-fi in the bathroom!) are major draws. And when you know you can get a Greek yogurt with honey, and vanilla powder to sprinkle in that coffee, and a comfy chair and somebody’s leftover copy of the New York Times, well, that’s utter heaven.
The first time I ceased to take Starbucks for granted was in London a few years ago. I had just emerged from the Underground (subway) on my way to the public baths (swimming pool) on Ironmonger Row, with no clue where I was. I was standing at the edge of a busy roundabout (traffic circle), badly in need of a place to sit down and consult my map. Also, since I was staying with an English friend who started each day with a bracing cup of tea, I was badly in need of some good strong coffee. As the traffic hurtled by, and I stood there dazedly looking in all the wrong directions, my eye caught sight of the familiar green logo, shining like a beacon. Never was I so glad to overpay for a cup of coffee.
More recently, I’ve become a regular at the Starbucks location off Exit 70 of the Long Island Expressway. It’s exactly an hour from my new home to points west, just when I’m in need of a pit stop.
And, charmless and ’80s-ish though the universal Starbucks decor is, and annoying as the middle-of-the-road music they’re constantly pushing may be (at least they keep it low), in my otherwise sophisticated village of East Hampton, there’s – believe it or not – no other comfortable coffee shop for women of a certain age to congregate after the gym. So Starbucks it was the other morning for me and my friend Roz, especially as she’d heard they were giving a free cup of coffee in exchange for taste-testing their new Via brand of instant. (Full disclosure, per the FTC’s new guidelines for bloggers: Starbucks is NOT giving me any free coffee to write this laudatory post.)
We were chatting over our decaf, getting to know each other, when I mentioned (too loudly) the name of another new local acquaintance, prompting a third woman, who was wearing big dangly earrings, to glance up and join the conversation (I later found out she’s a well-known artist). A fourth woman, seated nearby, looked on smiling. She was waiting for a friend, and when that friend arrived, she turned out to be someone Roz knew. They hugged, and soon the five of us were introducing ourselves and having a communal chat about art, books, families, real estate, and what a pity it is that there’s no more atmospheric place to gather for a cup of coffee, and how we ought to organize some kind of get-together somewhere so we can all meet up through the winter on a regular basis.
I don’t know if that will ever come to pass, but if it does, it will probably be at Starbucks.