Grande This, Coffee Boy!

My very first cup of coffee was in the West Virginia University Mountainlair, where I had a cup of General Foods International "Coffee." I think it was vanilla-flavored.

I became a real coffee drinker shortly after that, when we moved to Boston. It was always a Coffee of the Day for me at Coffee Connection, double-sweet (4 sugars) with lots of cream. Coffee Connection has since been eaten alive by the omni-present Starbucks, and ever since, every time that Avery and I take a trip to Boston, we have to take a moment to shake our metaphoric fists at Starbucks and mourn the demise of Coffee Connection.

I have a special fondness for Coffee Connection. It was a small chain, yes, but it didn't seem sterile and unwelcoming like Starbucks does. I mean, Starbucks doesn't want you to stay and drink coffee in their stores, am I right? Do they really expect you to perch on those high wooden chairs and stare out the window at passersby? And that lighting! How long can you read a newspaper under those fooled-you-it-really-is-fluorescent light art deco-y hanging lamps until you start wanting to poke your eyes out with a stirrer? Some Starbucks have velvety couches and colorful throw rugs you say? Sure, but I think being surrounded by racks and racks of coffee accessories really kills the bohemian living room mood.

It's true, Coffee Connection also had shelves full of merchandise and rather fluorescent-y lighting. However, they also allowed a great deal of space in their stores for lots of tables and chairs, not just a couple of stools by the window, and customers also had a choice of getting their coffee - any type of coffee bean that they had in stock, mind you, not just the "Coffee of the Day" - in a personal-size French Press. Since the French Press method of coffee brewing mandates that one sit and stay a while, Coffee Connection was a real gathering place. Though it was far from a ragtag, broken-in couch/mismatched coffee cups/San Francisco-type coffee house, a lot of people seemed to meet and hang out there.

So. The Coffee of the Day at Coffee Connection. The Coffee of the Day really did change practically daily back then (unlike at Starbucks, where I've been consuming Breakfast Blend for six months now), and it came in small, medium or large. Nobody asked me if I preferred a dark roasted blend or light roasted blend, no one requested that I say tall, grande or venti. The people at Starbucks, excuse me, the baristas at Starbucks, will indeed show symptoms of a mild heart attack if you should ask for a "medium" or a "large" espresso beverage (another Starbucks phrase). You will say "medium coffee" and they will ask "A GRANDE?" while waving around a grande-sized cup, and then they will ask "Dark or mild?" and then you will have to make another decision, and I think they're assuming that the next time around you will have learned the proper lingo and will NOT ask for a "medium." People don't want to say those words. They will inevitably pronounce it as "gran-dee" with a short "a" and a long "e" and then get all self-conscious and ask for a medium the next time anyway, like they do when they go to Dunkin' Donuts.

Come to think of it, no one ever harassed me about getting a pastry with my coffee at Coffee Connection either, unlike at Starbucks, where even though I've never, ever purchased a pastry, the same baristas (la-dee-da) ask me every day, "would you like a pastry with that?" or "Is that all?" Starbucks is the only coffee shop I've ever been to that I think actually tries to make it seem as if you haven't done enough, even though you've just dropped almost $2.00 on a cup of inconsistent coffee. It's always "Is that all?" or "Do you want any pastries with that?" day after day after day until one day you walk out of there feeling as if maybe you should buy just one little muffin, until you realize that they sell not ordinary muffins, but concoctions with names like "Cranberry Bliss."

After you've turned down their pastries, you hand the guy behind the counter $1.60 let's say, because a cup of coffee comes to a crazy, awkward, penny-laden $1.59, and you wait for your penny back (well I do, anyway) and anticipate the great sigh of disappointment I will hear when I don't tell him to keep the change. They don't just hand you your penny and tell you to have a nice day; first they assume that they can keep it, then they take great pains to hand it back to you when they realize that you're not leaving the counter, and then they may or may not take a two-second longing glance at the tip jar depending on the dramatics level of the person, but they never just give you your penny. I want my penny. It's my way of saying that $1.59 for a cup of ordinary coffee -- yes! Sometimes burnt tasting! Yes! Often with grounds in the bottom of the cup! (and let me tell you, there's nothing worse than taking that last swig of coffee and coming up with a mouthful of mud) -- is just a little pricey, considering I paid only $1.35 in San Francisco, the epicenter of expensive living.

They make me so tense with this whole tip jar thing. I know a lot of people like to tip, have money to tip, love to clean their pockets of loose change, and would generally like to buy the world a Coke, but I have issues which I won't get into with the act of tipping in general, so let's just leave it at this: for CHRIST'S SAKE! You're just turning around and putting a CUP under a SPIGOT and trying not to burn yourself. In case you haven't noticed, that's the entire JOB DESCRIPTION.

There was one day a few weeks ago when the line was rather short and I was nervous that I wouldn't have enough time to take out my pile of change and count out 59 cents, and when I got to the counter I added up the coins in my hand one last time and handed them to the barista (la-dee-da) who looked at the change and looked at me, and I looked at the change and I looked at him, and he kept looking at me and I thought for a panicked second that I had lost the ability to do simple math and looked at him, very confused until he said "and the dollar?" Oh yeah. The dollar.

And he proceeded to scold me in a very Starbucksian way, with lots of fake authority and self-importance, by reminding me twice in the time it took me to get my coffee and leave the counter that I never handed him the dollar, and that I was looking at him like he was crazy when in fact he was just waiting for me to hand him said dollar. Prick. Just ask for the fucking dollar next time and stop putting the screws to me about buying the Cranberry Bliss, 'kay?