I had been ignoring the whole tempest-in-a-coffee-cup ridiculousness since it first reared its frothy head the other week, and was pretty much convinced that I was not only a happier person for having so assiduously tuned it all out, but also, I have to be honest here, a better person for having done so. Let Presidential hopeful and Mensa National Chairman Donald Trump, I told myself, proclaim how appalled he is over the shameful decision of the folks over at Starbucks to ring in their caffeinated and cloyingly sweet version of the holiday season with cup simply colored festive red instead of festooned with “Merry Christmas” and related seasonal imagery. I had other things to worry about it: As a grown man with three functioning brain cells, it seemed awfully superfluous to dedicate any mental space to the whole made-up issue. Other things seemed so much more important. Like the insane expansion of the reach of ISIS. And the scourge of gun violence in America. And, I don’t know, spending my time working at my job so that I can feed my kids. But then, last Friday morning, I realized just how wrong I had been.
Because with a 6:40am boarding time for a flight back to Philadelphia from St. Louis, and therefore a wake-up alarm at 4:30 that morning, I found myself in the friendly, spacious Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in desperate need of coffee. With few other options at that rather ungodly hour, I found myself at the front of the line at the Starbucks in my terminal, having an out-of-body experience as I watched myself, from somewhere up above, order a slice of banana nut bread and a black coffee, served, perhaps inevitably the week before Thanksgiving, in the Cup in Question. (For the rest of this column, by the way, the Cup In Question will be capitalized. Having taken on a life of its own, I think it’s only fair of me to show the Cup In Question the respect it deserves and afford it all the linguistic rights and privileges of proper-nounitude.)
So I grabbed a seat near my gate, took a sip of coffee, and immediately found myself in the incredible and heretofore inconceivable position of 100% agreeing with The Donald:
I. Was. Appalled.
But not because of the cup. Who really gives a shit about that sort of thing? Honestly, if you have enough time to get all hot and bothered over a massive corporation’s cup-color, you have too much time on your hands. You know who should be worrying about the cup’s color? Former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. Because he has the next 15 years in prison to worry about that sort of thing. Also: Other things too, like the rec yard, and mealtime with his fellow inmates, and generally, you know, spending the next decade-and-a-half in his prison’s general population as a convicted pedophile. But the rest of us non-imprisoned pitchmen for crappy sandwiches? Not so much.
So no, my issues wasn’t with the cup. It was with the coffee inside that cup. Because as far as I could tell, and as far as I had been able to tell every other time I’ve tried in vain to choke down that acrid hell-water, Starbucks isn’t engaged in a war on Christmas; it’s engaged in a war on our tastebuds. Was the guy roasting those poor unsuspecting coffee beans pissed off at them? Did he mean to make the coffee resulting from them taste like the unfortunate lovechild of a mating session between a coffee bean and a lump of hardwood charcoal? Maybe it’s designed that way, to balance out the caramel and pumpkin spice and other cloyingly sweet garbage that people put on it. I don’t know! (Note: If you order aCrème Brûlée Latte, which is, amazingly, an actual thing, just be honest and admit to yourself that you don’t really like coffee; rather, you like dessert, and you want to have it for breakfast. That’s cool if you do. My five-year-old would love dessert for breakfast. But she’s not allowed to. You know why? Because it’s bad for her. According to Starbucks’ own web site, a Grande-sized one of those offers up 440 calories and 54 grams of sugar. For context here, a can of Coke boasts 39 grams.) But adults can do as they please, and they should be able to as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, which clearly a daily (or, okay, a few-a-week) Grande Crème Brûlée latte doesn’t, unless, perhaps, you consider our long national battle against obesity a problem that affects all of us vis-à-vis health-care costs, etc., which maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, who am I to say? I just wish there were some honesty when discussion turns to Starbucks coffee drinks. But there rarely is among the card-carrying coterie of its most passionate devotees and defenders.
However, I digress.
That single sip of my coffee was, I imagine, as bitter as Taylor Swift must have felt when Kanye stole her VMA-speech thunder way back in 2009. As bitter as Bobby Jindal must have felt when he realized, after dropping out of the race for the White House last week, that only his family and a few die-hard constituents even knew he was running in the first place. As bitter as the front-office team of the Philadelphia Eagles must be feeling right now as the realization slowly yet inexorably dawns on them that Chip Kelly is thoroughly unfit to coach an NFL-level franchise.
So in an attempt to neutralize that Jindal-esque acridity just then assaulting my tongue, I took a bite of the slice of banana nut bread, which, for a minute afterward, actually caused me to wonder if you could perhaps catch adult-onset diabetes from a single mouthful of bread. (Good news: You can’t!) It was so sweet that my teeth ached. I was hoping for a spoonful-of-sugar-to-make-the-medicine-go-down sort of thing; what I got instead was a full-frontal sugar assault which, against the coffee, made my head spin and my tastebuds cry out for mercy. (Again, according to Starbucks’ own web site, that slice counted for 420 calories and 31 grams of sugar. The World Health Organization, just for some context here, recommends an adult intake of 25 grams of sugar daily. Had I actually finished that slab of cloying terribleness, I’d have far exceeded that recommended amount before lunchtime…and that doesn’t include the two sugars I added to my coffee to cut through its tongue-on-a-nine-volt-battery flavor.)
Which is all to say that the red cup that so many people are so upset about was absolutely fine. The coffee within it and the foods served alongside? Now that’s the real travesty.