Ah, Starbucks, Seattle's temperamental teenager, long outgrown her training bra. Founded here, headquartered here, fawned-over and cossetted, as closely watched as a pubescent-adolescent celebrity, as exasperating a child as ever captured our fancy.
On the daughter we blame the sins of the elders (when Uncle Howard sold the Sonics, for example). On the daughter we shower unconditional praise (how cute that upturned nose, how lovely those golden curls). Her room is the aftermath of a tornado, a candy store strewn with designer castoffs and thrift-store knockoffs as product after product gets its turn in the spotlight (some "green," some "reasonably healthy," some ordinary), only to be dumped when the wind shifts and the mood swings.
In the past few weeks alone, at least five new outfits, five new shades of lipstick, five new personalities.
First, a pledge to stop using all that lipstick and makeup in an attempt to disguise herself. No more stealth Starbucks stores masquerading as independent neighborhood coffee shops. The new Starbucks is going to be honest and pure and open, just like an idealistic 14-year-old. Oh, wait: Uncle Howard has plans to pimp her out with beer and wine. Never mind, sweetie.
Second, a new upscale accessory, Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee. Won't you buy this for me, please? Look, it's Limited Edition, Single Origin! Only $40 for a half pound of beans, and I know that sounds like a lot of money, but it's sooooo good, you won't regret it, I promise. Would you like to taste a cup? We'll make it for you over here, in this amazing machine called a Clover. Six ounces for $5, you won't regret it, I promise. (Why should this even raise an eyebrow? An unhappy Bud Lite costs $5 and doesn't give you half the bang for your starry bucks.)
You want free? That's item number three on the list. WiFi everywhere, free, free, free! The promise of no-cost internet, as public a utility as one can imagine in the 21st century but still beyond the will or capacity of any metropolitan government, has become a reality in our little girl's room. Come in, come in, don't mind the mess! Our parental heart beats proudly, doesn't it?
Instant gratification, that's VIA. The bizarre little package has to be torn open like a take-out pack ketchup or soy sauce; you're never quite sure you've shaken out all the coffee dust. It actually tastes good enough to inspire a counter-campaign by NescafÃ© (claiming to have claimed instant coffee's virginity 50 years earlier). Popularized by social media tweets, VIA has become a phenomenal, word-of-mouse success story over the past six months. This week, a new wrinkle: iced instant VIA. The official word came from Annie Young-Scrivner, Starbucks global chief marketing officer. Imagine, our little girl has her very own global chief marketing officer!
Well, a friend said to me the other day, at least Starbucks never did flavored coffee. "But what about Frappuccino?" I shot back. "Oh my god, so good," came the reply. And indeed the Frappuccino-Your-Way campaign, which flashed across our consciousness earlier this year like a bolt of summer lightning, seems to have taken hold, except that the latest version is no longer gluten-free. Our girl's defense actually makes sense ("I never said the original was gluten-free, so I don't have to say the new version now includes gluten"). Still, we're reminded of that other adventure she had with the guy from Vivanno, the really smooth-looking boy with the whey protein. He's still in town, we see him hanging around the store, but our little girl has moved on. Gluten, whey, fiber, there's so much out there to keep track of.
Back to the lack of flavored coffee. Lo, in the inbox today comes a note from a PR firm describing something called Starbucks Natural Fusions. "Even if you're not typically a fan of the flavored coffees currently on the market (we wouldn't blame you), I encourage you to try the new line, as it's the first of its kind naturally flavored with real ingredients ground right in to make three coffee-forward flavors - caramel, vanilla and cinnamon." Coffee-forward, indeed. Our last illusion, shattered.
Starbucks remains the world's most popular brand, with close to 50 million customer visits a month. She's trying so hard, our mercurial, petulant sexpot! The world loves her, but the family that raised her, and still has her under its roof, knows her all too well. Is she really sneaking out of the house and coming on to strangers? It's too late for summer camp but we don't know if we should send her to reform school or to Hollywood.