Thursday, January 15, 2015


This is ice cream disguising itself as Coffee.

One of the trends of the 1990's and 2000's was the rise of the coffee culture, and with it, Starbucks. Why did our generation start to obsess about coffee in a way our parents did not?

For our parents, Maxwell House was considered the epitome of good coffee, and for most folks, a spoonful of "instant" coffee was what they wanted in the morning - no fuss, no mess, no grounds to clean up.

Why was this? I think their generation saw science and its marvels as wondrous improvements over a messy and often dangerous life of the past. Science would cure diseases. Vaccines would wipe out Polio. Pasteurization of milk would destroy the bacteria that caused tuberculosis.

And hand-in-hand with this march of science was the rise of big industry. Large corporate conglomerates were built up in the early part of the 20th century, offering stability to many workers who saw the ideal of the "company man" replacing the independent spirit of the century before.

So small companies were pushed out. In no time at all, American had only a dozen or so major breweries. Only a few companies made various foodstuffs, including coffee. Brand name, not source, marked the product. And refinement through technology meant, to most people, modernity and continual improvement. Pre-sliced factory-made white bread, fortified with "vitamins" was obviously superior to some brown ethnic round loaf from some questionable local bakery.   Everything would be bleached, from rice to flour, made white, made standard, made bland and made uniform.

The 1960's generation, I think, broke with this trend through drug use. Marijuana came from a variety of sources, from Mexico, to Colombia, to Thailand, to Hawaii, oddly enough, many of the same countries where coffee was grown. And these pot-smokers indulged in a number of elaborate and complicated paraphernalia, from simple pipes and roach clips, to elaborate traditional water pipes, to modern glass bongs.

Fast-forward 20 years and the "Re-Hab" generation is looking for something new to obsess about. Coffee being the only thing they can now consume, they take their energies from drug use and apply them here. Suddenly, elaborate coffee-making contraptions become popular, perhaps replacing the bong and hash pipe of 20 years earlier. The merits of various types of coffees, growing techniques, and countries of origin, as well as roasting techniques and the like are now of critical importance - much as marijuana cultivation was in years past.

Starbucks was in the right place at the right time. Just as McDonald's caught the first wave of America's craze for doing everything in automobiles, particularly eating, Starbucks caught the first wave of American's need for elaborate coffee rituals.

And part of that ritual was to be humiliated and degraded by the coffee clerk, now known as a barista, and to also pay Japan-like prices for simple cup of coffee. That would have been fine if it had ended there.  But as the craze started to taper off, Starbucks and their ilk, had to find new ways to draw in their customers and keep them coming back, again and again.

Sugar and fat became the keys.  While the original coffee pioneers were looking for the perfect cup of coffee, today, Starbucks sells food and beverages that are more like candy and ice cream than anything else.

In the past, an elaborate coffee drink might be a Latte, where frothed milk was placed on the top (with a cutesy leaf shape made in it).   For the rest of the world, such a Cafe Au Lait was no big deal, and viewed mostly as a breakfast drink.  But in America, it became an all-day beverage, and what was selling the drink was the milk fat.

Sugary drinks quickly followed suit.  Caramel and chocolate syrups were added to coffee. Whipped cream was floated on top.  Caramel and chocolate were added to the whipped cream.  The drinks crept from hot coffee to cold milkshake almost imperceptibly.  You wake up one day realizing that you aren't drinking coffee at Starbucks anymore, but something called a "Frappachino" or "Mocha Frappe". (A Frappe is what people in Massachusetts call a milkshake).

These milk-shake-like beverages are not cheap, and they can be calorie and fat nightmares. You can gain a lot of weight and lighten your wallet very quickly, particularly if you foolish enough to spend $8 on a vente-mocha-frappe-caramel-machiono-yuppie-latte-fuck-me drink at Starbucks and feel privileged to be sneered at by some 20-something with facial piercings.   People are idiots.

On dietary grounds alone, the rise of the "coffee drink"is concerning. These are not coffee per se, but candy-like drinks laced with ice cream, caramel, sugar, chocolate, or whatever else they can think of this month to throw in there. The calorie count on these monsters is horrific. A vente "Java Chip Frappichino" (excuse me, people eat this shit? It looks like a loose stool!) is an astonishing 600 calories. You read that right, 600 calories -  or more than my entire dinner tonight. Ouch!

Even some of the more "reasonable" drinks have 300 calories or more.   Even basic drinks have 130 to 190 calories, or about the amount in a glass of Coca-Cola.   Even their "light" Frappachino can run 180 to 270 calories, depending on size. Is that a lot? Well, considering that coffee, by itself, has FIVE (5) calories, yea, that is a lot. And as I have noted again and again, we gain weight not by going 1000 calories over our limit, but by merely having a 100 calorie a day surplus.

100 extra calories a day = 1 pound a month = 12 pounds a year = 120 pounds a decade

Those candy drinks are not real Coffee. People like to delude themselves into thinking such things are "coffee" when they are little more than candy ice-cream. About the only positive thing you can say about Starbucks is that they finally dumped HFCS in 2009 (wow, what took so long?).  People delude themselves into thinking they are coffee sophisticates, when in fact they are just milkshake junkies.

Once you get into the habit of becoming a Starbucks junkie - and many folks do just that - you will likely balloon to giant proportions if you drink these high-calorie drinks. And many people, thinking they are "coffee", don't think of them as a huge source of calories or a major problem in their diet.

The inclusion of HFCS in Starbucks beverages, until very recently, is also troubling. Some studies suggest that HFCS literally is addictive. Since your body processes it differently, it does not satisfy your sugar craving. So you end up eating more and more of it, in a fruitless effort to get your brain to shut off the "need sugar" light on your emotional dashboard.

With HFCS, you are the junkie, and Starbucks is your connection - or at least it was, until 2009.

Now some folks may respond by saying "Well, I'll just drink the "light" version instead." Sorry, no go, still 180 to 270 calories as noted above. "Well, what about Chai Tea?" 320 calories in the tall, for a Apple Chai infusion. Here's an example where an Apple a day doesn't keep the doctor away!

The more you play with the Starbucks Nutrition Information Calculator, the more you realize that they are really selling little more than a heart attack in a cup. These are very high calorie drinks!

And yet, I see parents who would never give their children soft drinks, buy them these candy frappichinos at Starbucks. Yuppies - go figure.

So, is there an answer? Can you go to Starbucks and still eat responsibly? Well, I think the answer is "No" and let me explain why.

To begin with, you need to break the sweet/fat craving habit that is the hallmark of immature taste buds. If you crave frappichinos and think they "taste good", the only thing I can say to you is GROW UP FOR CHRISSAKES!   You are not a 6-year-old anymore.  Stop eating ice cream and pretending it is coffee.

Only by re-training your brain to adult eating habits can you break the cycle of overeating and obesity. If you are loading up on carbs and sugar, you will get fat, period. Trying to fool your brain with substitutes is not the answer.  Allowing your tastes to mature is. Once you stop wolfing down sugar, you will find it repulsive later on.

But what about the basic coffee? Yes, believe it or not, you can still buy a regular coffee at Starbucks - a paper cup with just coffee in it.   And like coffee everywhere else, it is about 5 calories a cup. But the problem is, there is always the temptation to buy that huge, bready, and tasteless scone (there, I said it) or some other high-carb candy treat to go with it. The big-as-your-head blueberry scone is a staggering 460 calories, or about what you should be eating as an evening meal.

(By the way, want to piss off your local barista? Ask for a "small" 8-ounce coffee. Usually, the price isn't even on the menu, as they want you to buy the "tall" 12-ounce cup. And yea, they will try to "correct" your use of the English language by getting you to call it a "short". Don't let them! Say "I want a small coffee" and let the line back up out the door until the "Barista" finally breaks down and makes it. Fuck Starbucks!)

Why does Starbucks piss me off so much? Well, let me tell you. Holier-than-thou Yuppies will watch a movie like Supersize Me and then run down McDonald's - all while sipping a frappichino and wolfing down a head-scone (and about 1,000 calories in the process, all carbs!). They decry one bad food over another, based on status alone.

Both McDonald's and Starbucks sell junk food. But people will run one down and not the other, based solely on status. And that's just wrong!

So yes, theoretically, you can go in there and just order a small coffee. But in reality, you will be tempted to buy much more. You are better off to plan your meals for the day than to impulse purchase food at expensive retail outlets like Starbucks. Coffee, in small quantities, is not necessarily harmful to a great extent. But if you are feeling "tired" in the middle of the afternoon, chances are, what you need isn't a Coffee and a danish, but just to bring your blood sugar up with a pre-planned mid-afternoon snack.

And you see, the Starbucks habit does just the opposite - loading you up with carbs through frappachino drinks and pasty scones, so your blood sugar soars. You feel "high" right afterwords, wound up on coffee and blood sugar. But then you plummet - hard and fast. You get cranky and nervous. I suspect more than one divorce was instigated by a Starbucks emotional crash-and-burn in the afternoon on the ride home.

Here are some better ideas than wasting money and calories at Starbucks:
1. Drink hot water. No really, Grandma was right. Half the coffee experience is the ritual of drinking hot water. One morning while fasting for a blood test, I had a cup of hot water. And for a moment, I thought I was drinking coffee. The mind is weird like that. What you may actually like about coffee is the temperature. Too drastic? Try tea. Carry teabags with you, preferably no-caffeine herbal teas.

2. Pack snacks - get in the HABIT. Don't rely on local food stores for your snacks, as their choices are often bad, and when your blood sugar is low, you often make bad choices. If you pre-pack a mid-afternoon snack, you'll feel better and more awake and will eat less at dinner.

3. Going with a friend? Yes, friends from work like to go to such places, and you can't always shut yourself out of the social order by declining such invites. But make them occasional, special treats, not everyday occurrences. Order a small coffee (see above) or plain tea. Look around for healthier options for snacks. Starbucks does have a fruit and cheese plate, but you have to look for it, and it isn't at all locations. If you must have a scone, split it four ways (that will still be over 100 calories apiece!).
But for the most part, I would say to avoid Starbucks at all costs. They have been selling scandalously high-calorie food for over a decade now - and getting away with it by flying under the radar, so to speak. No one thinks of Starbucks as junk food, but junk it is! And the use of HFCS until recently is really inexcusable for a company that touts its health and eco- awareness.

Get a cup of Joe at your local diner. You'll likely be better off and have change for your $5 bill....