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something in the coffee
bean there, done that
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

There's something in the coffee, I think.

Specifically the high-octane espresso they're serving at Starbucks. A lot of things changed for me when I started drinking that bitter brew, and I'm starting to think there's a connection between my morning libation rituals and the course of my life.

I've been drinking the bean for a long time, so I know it's not all coffees or coffee products - it's the Venti Capuccino©, the Grande Iced Americano©, and the Doppio Espresso© I've been inhaling in unhealthy quantities. But this column isn't really about my habit - It's about a fantasy I had this morning as I walked the single block between Starbucks and my office on Newbury Street in Boston.

I have a vivid imagination. Most of the time this results in brief mental flutters, like rock star daydreams and my idea for opening a chain of Big Jefe's Pizza Burger resturants. I don't generally lean toward violent thoughts or conspiracy theories, but today as I happily slurped away at my Frapuccino©, I found myself wondering: Are we consuming...something unnatural? Is it possible that the Starbucks Corporation has teamed up with the US Government and Big Business to drug us into submission?

Are we the victims of an unholy conspiracy to keep white-collar workers coming back for just one more slice of the decaying American Dream, day after day after stinking commuting day?

This could have been all worked out years in advance. Fat, gray-haired men in dark blue suits clapping each other on their broad backs, laughing syrupy, viscous-sounding laughs as they smoked cigars and signed the deal that would remain forever secret - the deal that would ensure that none of us would turn our backs on Corporate Capitalism.

Remember those Coffee Generation commercials you'd see in the early 80's? That was just foreshadowing. Have you ever seen a Starbucks commercial on TV? I haven't, and it makes me even more suspicious. The fact that these people don't even feel the need to advertise, well, that just smacks of an over-confidence that scares me. They've got us all on a short leash, man - we're a people enslaved! Addicted! Seduced! Bamboozled into efficient Duracells, just like in The Matrix!

The fantasy, like my double shot morning buzz, came and went in an instant. I stood before the quadruple glass doors leading into the "incubator" office space where I work, feeling like I'm Part of The Problem. Just another coffee-sucking capitalist worker-bee, taking my morning meds before clocking in for the day.

Now, I realize that there's no great plot against us, and that the episode I've just described is really just a manifestation of my own feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Obviously I feel like a sellout, a rocker trapped in a professional's body. By imagining that there's an intrusive agent working within me, rushing through my bloodstream, I'm simply reaching for some way to externalize the blame for my predicament.

It's really all about taking charge of my life. Yet, when I reach for the bean, am I not seeking control? Am I not striving for high-energy productivity while operating on a maximum of five hours of sleep per night? I don't know about you, but when I go for that afternoon blast of caffeine I'm usually thinking: Now I'll really get cooking!

It's sick, I know.

By allowing myself this vice; the Ultimate Legal High for so many of us, I'm buying into the idea that a little more energy will yield a little more productivity, and that will yield...what? A bigger paycheck? probably not. A double helping of Attaboys from senior management? Big Deal. A feeling of accomplishment that will somehow supplement the complete lack of restful relaxation? I don't think so.

So maybe there's nothing in the beans, and it's all in my head. Either way, I think I'm going to cut back a bit. Just stick to the morning fix, and lay off the afternoon pick-me-up.

Unless I have to work late. Then it's okay, right?


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


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topic: pop culture
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topic: pop culture
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jael mchenry
6.19.01 @ 9:14a

I'm furious with Starbucks for discontinuing two addictive beverages, the Rhumba Frappuccino and the Mango Citrus Tiazzi. Yet perhaps they did me a favor?

mike julianelle
6.19.01 @ 9:23a

I hate Starbucks. Dunkin Donuts, all the way. Boston blue-collar. Gotta love it.

adam kraemer
6.19.01 @ 11:07a

I've never been much of a coffee achiever, but I do drink Diet Coke like it's going out of style. The thing everyone seems to conveniently forget is that while a coffee may taste good or bad, unless it's decaf, it's going to be addictive. While breaking the caffeine habit is easier than, say, quitting methodone, it's not exactly as simple as choosing not to wear blue socks anymore. The taste is not all that keeps you coming back for more.

mike julianelle
6.19.01 @ 11:16a

I think Diet Coke, and most diet sodas for that matter but especiallyDiet Coke, tastes like liquid plastic.

adam kraemer
6.19.01 @ 11:18a

I've never had the pleasure of trying liquid plastic. I think that Diet Coke is an aquired taste that only those of us who don't find water bland enough can truly appreciate.

jeff miller
6.19.01 @ 11:56a

Whatever your poison may be, it's your daily rituals that the food/beverage industry are counting on you to stick with. Sure, caffeine is addictive, but like many other vices (say, cigarettes) there's a psychological component that's way more powerful - and can be exploited for profit.

I think Starbucks has brilliant marketing - what we're really shelling out the extra dough for with them is the perceived quality of their merchandise: expensive, stylized plastic cups with two-color printing. Soothing corporate interiors and holiday CD collections. All wrapped up in a corporate ID that's designed to make you feel like your receiving specialized energy drinks from the Earth Mother Goddess.

jael mchenry
6.19.01 @ 12:25p

We're also shelling out for the standardization. If I get a chai at Starbucks, anywhere in the country, I know exactly what it tastes like and what it costs. Maybe that's erasing the individuality of something-or-other, but some days it's a good thing.

lee anne ramsey
6.19.01 @ 5:16p

I have to share my friends' theory: he believes that JCrew, the GAP corporation (Banana, GAp, Old Navy), Abercrombie & Fitch are all in cahoots with the government with the end goal being that we will start wearing uniforms a la star trek or any other futuristic movie. Dress alike/ eat alike/ drink alike (starbucks)/ think alike. It's all an insidious manner of mind control, as far as he's concerned.

jeff miller
6.20.01 @ 9:57a

It would not surprise me in the least if, in the next Trek flick, we find Picard sporting a co-branded Starfleet/Old Navy vest, sipping a Frappucino as he reads whatever crappy lines Johnathan Frakes has cooked up for him.

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