No Tea or Sympathy

by Holland-Mark | December 15, 2009

Starbucks and I have been having it out since I was a just a teen, driving around recklessly in my SUV sipping and spilling my venti, non-fat, skinny, no-whip, extra-sugar-free-hazelnut-syrup lattes. Back then I was able to drive through my local Starbucks– convenient– but not so much when you realize half-way up the freeway ramp that you’ve gotten someone else’s latte–and it’s not skinny.

I’m no longer a coffee drinker, save the occasional cappuccino served in cup with a saucer; however I do frequent Starbucks multiple times weekly for tea. Like many coffee drinkers, my functionality depends on the tea almost as much as my emotional well-being. I believe that Starbucks, riding the wave of an unbelievably consumptive consumer culture, capitalized on my dependency. It was genius, but it was also a double edged sword. I see Starbucks locations as glorified, humanized vending machines. My expectations around price, quality, and availability are steadfast. Thusly, when I walk into my local Starbucks in the morning I expect that my beverage will be available, my Sugar in the Raw ready, and the little green spill stoppers to be there. Starbucks taught me this behavior. They asked me to trust them to take care of me in the morning. And I did.

Then there was this recession thing.

Suddenly my Starbucks is tinkering with ordering, trying to find the right balance of supply and demand. Unfortunately their efforts have elevated demand with no delivery on supply. In the course of two weeks, I was told that they were out of chai tea six times. Locations are closing, lines are longer, customers are grumpier, and the new wave of Starbucks employees–refugees of more glamorous pursuits–is overqualified on paper, but under qualified as a customer service expert. Until very recently, there was little keeping me interested in taking the additional 5-9 minutes out of my morning to pay $1.55 for tea. A complaint to a store manager resulted in my comforting him about the pressures of managing a store where the employees are terrible, the customers horrible, and the job too hard.

And now there is nothing at all. I was told last week that due to a change in tea blends, Starbucks will not restock tea until January of 2010. What they currently had in house was all that was available. There was no chai. I was able to get by on Joy for a few days, and then it was Awake. And then today the only tea remaining until sometime after this decade was orange. I left. I can’t take that kind of abuse. I suppose I’ll have to go back to trusting myself to provide me with a morning beverage.

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