This is a guest post by Leah Kaminsky. Learn more about how you can guest post for Daily Shot Of Coffee.
I awoke on a bench in the middle of Alhambra in Granada, Spain, craving nothing more than a good old fashioned American muffin. Specifically, one with hulking crystals of sugar dusted across the entirety of its fat top, which I would have ideally caught part-way as it spilled over its chunky bottom. It would of course be accompanied by a mouthful of American coffee to wash it down, laden with a sugar substitute that would be low on glycemic impact, high on cancer-causing potential.
Before you get all judgmental, let’s get a few things straight. I’m not the kind of person who eats at McDonald’s when she travels abroad, or feels the need to tell every backpacker she meets, “See, in ‘Merica, we have these things called baked goods.” In fact, it had only been the night before that I was desperately trying to shove tapas down my inflamed throat, realizing only as I collapsed catatonic on a barstool that I was very, very ill. I had tried so hard to eat local, only to be immediately punished with the worst case of flu that has ever infiltrated my immune system.
That’s when the cravings hit.
You see, something happens to me when I’m sick, be it in New York or across the great wide sea. I crave things — bad things. And that muffin and mouthful of coffee were just about the two worst things I could have craved. Why? Because there was only one place to buy them in that quaint little Spanish town: at a coffee shop we’ll call, Mainstream Coffee, Co., “Where we burn our beans beyond comprehension for your pleasure!” And, ermh, due to a major incident, I was currently personally banned from ever setting foot in any one of Mainstream Coffee, Co.’s (“We scorch our beans, for that extra burning taste!”) many locations worldwide.
The Back Story
It all started several months back when I was finishing up a research assistantship in London before embarking on a worldwide backpacking trip. On a particularly sweaty summer day, I had stopped by Mainstream Coffee, Co. (“We torch ‘em, you drink ‘em!”) and ordered the same drink I did every day: a skim blended iced latte (with Splenda!).
To my surprise, the barista leaned over his machine, looked me up and down, and said, “No madame, I cannot do that. Doing so would degrade the quality of our coffee. If you want a blended drink, I suggest our [sugary, fat-filled proprietary blended drink available at three times the price of your normal drink].”
Degrade the quality of coffee? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was a scam! A travesty! An assault on my civil rights! Naturally, I did what any other entitled yuppie would do. I argued with the barista until the line became obscene, bought my drink at a competing store instead, and contacted corporate customer service with the kind of obnoxious email only someone who is very overeducated and very bored can write.
To my surprise — My shock! My horror! — I soon received this response in my inbox:
Dear Ms. Kaminsky,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Mainstream Coffee, Co., where our motto is, “If it don’t burn, it ain’t coffee!”***
It is company policy to offer [Sugary, fat-filled, expensive proprietary blended drinks available at three times the price] as our only blended beverages as we believe that the quality of other coffee based beverages is adversely affected when blended. This has been a cause of some confusion in the past with some store managers using their discretion and offering this option.
[It Doesn’t Matter. I’m sure she’s a middle manager by now anyway and driving a very nice car].
***No, they didn’t actually say this part.
Again, I responded in the only natural way: by asking the customer service representative what she would have done if I had diabetes and couldn’t have their sugary drink. Should I then be denied the experience of a blended drink? I was going on strike, I declared. I was going to ban myself from the chain for the rest of my life and I was going to get all of my friends and family to join me.
Of course, no one did. But I grew up in the hippie haven of Ithaca, NY, where my parents thought it was amusing when I corralled my younger brother into an anti-dishes labor protest, complete with sudsy signs attached to yardsticks, and if I didn’t back down on dishes, I wasn’t going to back down on coffee. I can make that coffee on my own but better! All I’d need was a good coffee maker from any of a number of stores and a blender.
Oh! If only I had known then that, burn their beans as they may (for our benefit!), Mainstream Coffee, Co. is the only American chain you can find just about anywhere. If only I had known this wouldn’t matter a single bit to me when I was healthy in France and Germany and Italy and Portugal, but that when I was sick in Spain without the utensils to make the coffee on my own, it would be the only thing that mattered at all.
For, later that day, as I peered out from beneath layer upon layer of jackets and hoods into the 70ºF weather, as I stopped one Spanish local after another to ask, “Dov’é la farmacia?” which means “Where is the pharmacy?” in Italian, there was one type of store I passed in my delirium again and again. One store with a window stocked with muffin stumps struggling to rein back their sumptuous sugary tops. One store with its door propped wide open, the smell of burnt beans wafting out over the sunlit square.
A little taste of corporate America. A little taste of failure. A little taste of home. Mainstream Coffee, Co..
But I didn’t give in that day. Instead, I eventually found a pharmacy in a department store, and when I was done grumbling at the pharmacist, who wouldn’t give me flu medication without a prescription (screw you, surprisingly restrictive Spanish medical laws!), I wandered over to the grocery section and knocked every baked good at waist level into a shopping cart before retiring to the hostel to watch the Simpsons dubbed in Spanish and cry myself into a fevered sleep. The mythical sound of lattes aerating the soundtrack to my fever dreams.
No, it was a full year before I gave in for good. I had returned for grad school in Seattle, where the independent coffee shops were plentiful and delicious and better decorated and equipped with free Wi-Fi. But one day, as happens in the Pacific Northwest, I found myself caught in the rain, skinny jeans and ballet flats soaked instantly to the bone. I looked up from the frigid puddle in which I was mired and saw, yes, Mainstream Coffee, Co., (“Your Go To Source for Beans That Forgot Their Sunblock!”) gleaming through the cold. So warm. So inviting. So wrong.
Did Mainstream Coffee, Co. even know about my protest? Did anyone care, or take me seriously? No, I had long since made the whole thing into a self-deprecating joke. It was time to stop punishing myself. It was time to go inside and drink my cup of burning.
Because, say what you will about Mainstream Coffee, Co.. They sure do have a lot of locations.
Besides being a terrible coffee addict, Leah Kaminsky writes blogposts, web copy and white papers for marketing companies and small businesses. She is also the founder and head writing consultant at Just Start Applications, a company that helps college and graduate school applicants tell their unique stories. Her fiction writing and terribly drawn comics are available on her blog.
Photo by Christian Cable.