coffee

Covert Coffee: The CIA Starbucks and More

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

ultra top secret mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Washington Post spilled the beans on National Coffee Day with a profile of a Starbucks that’s secreted away within the CIA’s Langley, Virginia headquarters.
You won’t find it on the coffee company’s store locator and your GPS will come up empty. It’s known simply as Store Number 1, or familiarly as the Stealthy Starbucks.

The Post reports that it looks like every other Starbucks with its framed coffee posters and comfy armchairs. It sells the same lattés and iced lemon poundcake as every other Starbucks, and the same soft rock soundtrack floats in the background. It’s one of the busiest locations in the chain—nobody’s popping in and out of the highly secured facility to pick up something at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Security prevails at Store Number 1.
Noses aren’t buried in Facebook feeds since personal cellphones are a security risk. Rewards cards are also out since the data could be leaked. And even though baristas go through extensive background checks and are sworn to secrecy (they can only say I work for Starbucks in a federal building), they can’t ask for their customers’ names.

Of course it’s unlikely that a barista could really blow a secret agent’s cover.
Starbucks’ name butchery is legendary: the cashier scrawls it on a cup, the barista calls it out, and with figures crossed you go to pick up a beverage that might or might not be yours. It’s as if your name went a few rounds with AutoCorrect: Amanda becomes Tammy, Andrew becomes Stanley, and God help you if your name is Gaelic in origin, has more than two syllables, or rhymes with any part of the female anatomy.

Starbucks also operates a handful of covert cafés in New York City.
While many university campuses, hospitals, and office buildings have Starbucks outlets that aren’t technically open to the public, most won’t exactly refuse a paying customer. There a a few locked-down exceptions like the Starbucks in the New York Stock Exchange and one that serves the regional offices of MI6. CIA-level clearances are fitting for cafés that rub up against national security interests and sensitive global markets. But some of the tightest security and most limited access—even the Washington Post couldn’t talk their way into this one—is found at 1740 Broadway, where the Starbucks serves the New York headquarters of Victoria’s Secret.

 

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Cafés Go From Free WiFi to WiFi-free

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Coffee and conversation. What a concept.
Cafés were among the first to flip the switch on free wifi. Now some pioneering coffeehouses are pulling the plug.

Blame the coffee shop squatters.
For the price of a small coffee they monopolize a café table for hours on end. They commandeer electrical outlets with multiple chargers and tangled trails of power cords, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean, the downloads are fast, and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of a single cup of coffee for the better part of a day.

What once lured customers has become a drain on the bottom line.
The squatters monopolize precious seating space, too often crowding out paying customers. With fewer free tables, turnover rates and food tabs are lower as customers who might linger over a sandwich or a pastry choose to just grab a quick cup of coffee.

The impact is cultural as well as economic.
Customers are put off by the office-like atmosphere with its silent sea of laptop screens and the occasional one-sided cell phone business call. The squatters will look up from their keyboards to glare with open hostility at small children, and have been known to shush energetic conversationalists.

Cafés have struggled to strike a balance.
Some change their network passwords every few hours giving access only with a fresh purchase. Others cover electrical outlets, shut down routers during peak business hours, or shrink the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals. Extreme measures were taken at one Vancouver pop-up that created its own electromagnetic dead zone by wrapping the café in a giant metal cage that channeled a signal-blocking static electrical field. Most coffee shop owners are just wondering when Sony will start selling its newly-developed electrical outlets that can limit access with time-sensitive user authentication.

What’s fair and reasonable? According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free wifi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

Proving it’s not just for Luddites, Eater has a list of 17 wifi-free cafes in tech-loving San Francisco.

 

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Instant Coffee is Still Big Business. Just not here.

 

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[Nescafé ads of the world  l-r:  India, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, Turkey]

Speed and convenience rule the day.
We love one-click online shopping, ATMs, and microwave popcorn. We want our videos to stream, our deliveries shipped overnight, and communications capped at 140 characters. But we’re willing to wait for a cup of coffee, because we know it’s worth it.

Instant coffee is still big business, but most of that business has shifted to traditional tea-drinking nations where they don’t really know from coffee.
Only 7% of Americans regularly drink instant coffee; in France it’s 4%, and in Italy it’s a mere 1%. Contrast that with countries like England, India, and China where the vast majority of coffee- as much as 90% in some areas- is made with powders, concentrates, and freeze-dried crumbles reconstituted in boiling water.

The instant coffee strongholds are concentrated in Africa, Asia, and Britain—places with deeply embedded tea cultures. They all have highly developed aesthetics and intricate social structures associated with tea drinking. Standards are exacting and  brewing technique is perfected over a lifetime.

Instant coffee first appeared in these tea cultures when it traveled the globe in the ration packs of US troops during World War Two. It was fairly nasty stuff—bitter and stale and made from cheap, low quality robusta beans rather than the more desirable arabica variety—but what did they know? It was modern and glamorous and exotic, and all you needed was a kettle and a cup. 

Instant coffee never prevailed in the U.S.
We invented it and we foisted it on the rest of the world, but few of us will touch the stuff. Our coffee traditions are deeply resonant—the grinding, the brewing, the taste, and aroma—and can be every bit as ritualized as tea ceremonies are in other countries. We demand speed and convenience from single-serve coffee makers and a Starbucks on every corner, but our connoisseurship has been rising steadily for decades, moving us further from the quality compromise of instant coffee. In other words, we know better. 

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Everyone Wants to Walk to the Coffee Shop

AbbeyRoad

Abbey Road via Apple (Parlophone)/EMI

Urbanologists call it The Great Inversion.
The last half century was spent fleeing the blight and density of cities. Now we want to go back. The jacuzzi-tubbed four-bedroom suburban spread doesn’t signal the success it once did. These days you’re a nobody if you can’t walk out the front door and get a latté.

It’s a cultural shift built on coffee.
77% of Americans say that walkability is a hugely important factor when they decide where to live. Most say that they would choose a small home with nearby amenities over a larger home where they have to drive everywhere. And the favored amenity isn’t schools, churches, parks, or movie theaters; it’s a café that’s within walking distance.

A premium coffee vendor is no small thing to a neighborhood.
It signals that a neighborhood has 
arrived, that it has economic vitality and cultural momentum that can continue to snowball into something greater. Realtors and civic associations even refer to this type of upswing as the ‘Starbucks Effect.’ And we’re not just talking about fuzzy, quality of life issues; there is usually a real increase in property values when a neighborhood acquires food-related amenities.

Walk Score rates the walkability of any home or business. It calculates a score from 0–100 for any address— 100 is a Walker’s Paradise and 0 is totally Car Dependent. The algorithm assigns points based on the nearby amenities, as well as factors like cul de sacs (not a walk-friendly feature) and block lengths (shorter is better). A car-free lifestyle becomes possible with a score upward of 80. A study conducted by CEOs for Cities uses Walk Scores to quantify the Starbucks Effect: it estimates that each point adds $3,000 to a home’s sales price.

What’s your Walk Score?
If you’ve ever lived in a highly walkable neighborhood, you already know what a beautiful thing it is. Walkable communities are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner, and greener.

See the Walk Scores of some well-known residences:
The Obama’s former Chicago home has a middling Walk Score of 71. The move to the White House got them into a home with the very robust score of 97.
The Brady Bunch ranch house had a Walk Score of 74; very respectable for the San Fernando Valley.
Monica’s lower Manhattan apartment on Friends scores an unbeatable 100 points.

 

 

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Just Because You Can Make It In a K-Cup It Doesn’t Mean You Should

Are you really stumped by soup?

PJ-BU294_OATMEA_DV_20140415113507Campbell-Soup-K-CupFor everyone who’s ever struggled with the complexities of Cup-a-Soup or instant ramen, Keurig®, the inventor/maker of the K-Cup® coffee pod has teamed up with Campbell’s® to bring us Fresh-Brewed Soup™ in pod form. Never has broth and noodles been so easy or had so many superscripts. You can also say goodbye to the onerous task of mixing water into a packet of instant oatmeal with the just-announced Keurig-General Mills partnership that will manufacture an oatmeal K-cup. Pans and stoves? Who are we, the Waltons?

Is is time to consider the possibility that food can be too convenient?
Have you looked around the supermarket lately? The garlic has been peeled, the pineapples have their cores removed, and the onions are already chopped. There are pre-cooked slices of bacon, pre-boiled eggs, and shrink-wrapped potatoes— washed and poked and ready to bake. When you tire of spreading cream cheese on your bagels just pick up some Bagel-fuls, and frozen Uncrustables come to the rescue when you forget the recipe for PB&J.

We’ve all bought our share of pre-washed salad greens and pre-trimmed baby carrots, but some of these packaged, processed shortcut foods boggle the mind. Taste and quality are compromised, they’ve lost nutrients and gained preservatives, and the price has risen exponentially. They take a minimally-packaged, shelf-stable food and transform it into a product that is encased in pouches, packets, and pods. They commit egregious culinary and environmental offenses in the name of ease and convenience.

The siren song of lazy food
One in five adults will drink a pod-brewed beverage today, and it’s not just coffee. Keurig makes K-Cups for tea and cocoa, and cold drinks like Snapple iced teas, lemonade, apple cider, and vitamin waters. And now oatmeal and soup. Where they’ll go next is anyone’s guess.

 

Keurig K-cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

Keurig K-Cup™ 5-Star Meals via Think Geek

 

 

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The Coffee Break- A Vaunted Worker Tradition

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee's Etsy store

coffee cup cozy available at Handmade Coffee’s Etsy store

 

The lunch break has all but disappeared under a mountain of emails, but the coffee break seems inviolable.
It’s a highlight of the workday, the favorite employee benefit even at perk-heavy companies like Google with their ping pong tables and free haircuts. The Department of Labor even gives it special status—lunchtime can be off the books but coffee breaks have to be paid.

Some of us need more coffee than others.
Every year Dunkin’ Donuts teams up with CareerBuilder to survey Americans about their workplace coffee habits. The most recent survey ranked the top 10 heaviest coffee drinking professions:

  1. food prep and food service workers
  2. scientists and lab technicians
  3. sales reps
  4. marketing and PR professionals
  5. nurses
  6. writers and editors
  7. business and finance executives
  8. K-12 teachers
  9. engineers
  10. IT managers and network administrators

Even if your profession didn’t make the top 10 you’re probably drinking coffee on the job. Optimize the habit with these apps for coffee breakers:

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Caffeine Tracker monitors the body’s metabolization of caffeine. Just provide a few body specs and record your consumption and it displays the current level of caffeine in your bloodstream in a color-coded pie chart.

Are you the one making the Starbucks run? Skip the post-its and keep all the no-foams and half-cafs straight with Coffee Order.

Up Coffee correlates your coffee drinking with your sleep patterns. Give it a few days of your habits and it can tell you how long you’ll feel wired from that last cup and when to cut off the caffeine so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break AppIt darkens your computer screen for a pre-determined duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

 

 

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Kids Are Drinking Way More Coffee. So What?!

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A new report published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that 73% of children and young adults in the United States have a regular caffeine habit, and more than ever they’re getting their jolt from coffee. In 2000 just 10% of their caffeine came from coffee; now it’s nearly 25%.

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left? Not soda with all that nasty high fructose corn syrup, and diet soda, we’re now learning, is even worse. Sports drinks and juice boxes are not much better, and there’s too much lactose intolerance going around for milk to make a comeback. 
Coffee it is. And what’s so wrong with that?

It’s not going to stunt anyone’s growth. postum_ad
That old chestnut? Generations of children grew up hearing it but it turns out to be linked to nothing more than early 20th century pseudoscientific ads plugging Postum, a once popular coffee-alternative.
The grain-based, caffeine-free drink—still much-loved in Mormon circles where coffee is banned—achieved early mainstream success with ads touting Postum as a kid-friendly beverage while vilifying coffee with claims that “It robs children of their rosy cheek sand sparkling eyes. It lowers their vitality, lessens their resistance to disease, and hampers proper development and growth.” The message took root in the country’s cultural consciousness and persists to this day.

A few more inches might have been nice, but don’t blame your early coffee habit.
The medical community has found virtually nothing to support a link between coffee and height. The myth makes much of the fact that caffeine has an adverse effect on the body’s absorption of calcium, but that bit of ‘common knowledge’ originated with a single bone mass study of elderly people with osteoporosis whose diets were lacking in calcium. For everyone else, the impact is so negligible that a couple of cups of coffee a day can be offset by a splash of creamer or the foam on top of a cappuccino.

Of course you don’t want to be revving their little engines with caffeine.
Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, and it can cause jitters and sleeplessness in children just like it can in the rest of us. But there is a growing body of evidence that coffee can actually have a calming effect on some kids. If you’re familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you know that it’s typically treated with pharmaceutical stimulants—it seems counterintuitive but they work on the brain’s chemistry to calm and focus an overactive mind. New research suggests that the natural stimulants in coffee have the same effect, and findings indicate that caffeine can also work as an anti-depressant in children.

When it comes to kids and coffee, the real problem isn’t the caffeine.
It’s the vanilla syrup, the caramel drizzle, and the whipped cream. It’s all the sugary, frozen, and blended concoctions that masquerade as coffee, some that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup, and there aren’t many kids who take it black.
And then there’s the cost: at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, unless you want to give a serious bump to your child’s weekly allowance, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate an early coffee habit.

hellokittycoffee

 

 

 

 

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The Coffee Break

image via Visual Photos

image via Visual Photos

 

The coffee break is a highlight of the workday 
The 2013 Workonomix Survey of workplace spending reports that 50 percent of the American workforce has a $20 weekly coffee habit. That’s a $1000 a year on 9 to 5 coffee. Most consider it money well-spent.
Younger workers (ages 18-34) spend almost twice as much on coffee during the workweek as their older colleagues ages 45+: $24.74 vs. $14.15; men outspend women: $25.70 vs. $15.00.

The coffee break is a vaunted worker tradition. Legend has it that the world’s first coffee break took place around 1000 A.D. in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Long before the power and pleasure of the coffee plant had been discovered, a goatherd noticed his goats dancing around after eating its red berries. Following the goats’ lead, herders began indulging in the berries to stay awake during the long, boring stretches of watching the herds.

The coffee break first appeared in the U.S. in Stoughton, Wisconsin (home to the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival held every August) when the wives of 19th century Norwegian immigrants agreed to cover their husbands’ work shifts on the condition that they be allowed morning and afternoon breaks to go home to tend to household chores and brew up coffee. It was formalized as a workplace ritual in 1902 at the Barcolo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, NY (rather appropriately, the manufacturer of Barcalounger recliners). In 1964 the coffee break was etched into U.S. labor history when negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the big three automakers nearly broke down over the practice. Other issues at those historic negotiations included health insurance, retirement benefits, and a 5% raise, but it was the coffee break that nearly brought about a strike. 74,000 workers at Chrysler came within an hour of walking off the job when the company relented and agreed to a 12 minute daily coffee break.

Did you know…
the espresso machine was invented in 1901 by an Italian factory owner as a way of speeding up his employees’ coffee breaks?  The first espresso machine, the Tipo Gigante, used a combination of steam and boiling water forced through coffee grounds to make a cup of coffee quicker than any other method in use.

Take a real break with the Coffee Break App. It darkens your computer screen for the duration, guaranteeing the pleasures of a work-free cup.

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Could This Be The World’s Most Perfect Coffee Mug?

 

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Scientists call it the Goldilocks Principle.
It comes from the children’s story The Three Bears in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by a family of bears. Each bear has its own porridge bowl, chair, and bed. Goldilocks tests out all three examples of the items, always finding that one of them is too extreme in one direction (too hot, too large) or the other (too cold, too small), and the one in the middle is just right.

In science, the Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. Astronomists call Earth a Goldilocks planet because it’s not too near or too far away from the sun, but it’s just right to support life. In medicine the Goldilocks Principle defines the ideal dosage of a drug—too small and it’s ineffective; too large and side effects will harm the patient. And now a chemical engineer and an industrial designer have applied the Goldilocks Principle to coffee cup technology. They’ve created what could be the world’s most perfect travel mug.

The Temperperfect mug makes use of a phase changing material sandwiched between thermal walls. It alternates between a liquid and a solid as it absorbs, stores, and dissipates heat. Dean Verhoeven, one of the mug’s inventors who spent the last 15 years making, testing, and improving prototypes, describes its groundbreaking temperature regulating mechanism:

This project was born of my frustration with not being able to drink my carefully-brewed, but too hot, coffee right after I made it, and it then getting cold before I had time to enjoy it. I wanted it just right.
I thought about this problem and had an inspiration: why not take the excess heat out of the too-hot coffee, store it in the wall of the mug, and then use it later to keep the coffee at a pleasant drinking temperature? I realized that this could be done simply by adding an extra layer of what I call active (“Temperfect”) insulation to a standard mug. This extra insulation layer absorbs the excess heat from your drink, and brings it quickly to a comfortable temperature. Later, it slowly releases that heat back into your drink to keep its temperature just right.

It seems that the world has in fact been waiting for hot—but not too hot—coffee.
The creators found an enthusiastic audience when they turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. They were hoping to raise $23,500 to cover the cost of the production tooling that’s need to manufacture the mugs. Instead, that amount was pledged 10 times over by more than 4,000 backers and it’s allowed them to move straight from tooling to production.

The first Temperperfect mugs are planned to ship next summer. The company’s website can hook you up with a pre-order.

Temperperfect: a prototype

Temperperfect: a prototype

 

 

 

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Standing Out From the Crowd With the $450 Starbucks Metal Card

status mug available at Zazzle.com

status mug available at Zazzle.com

 

The Starbucks card is the most ‘gifted’ item in America.
Last December, 1 in 10 adults received one as a holiday gift. This season, the company expects it will be closer to 1 in 5. And then there’s the Starbucks Metal card. For the second year in a row  Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition gift card just in time for holiday giving. For the low, low price of $450 the card gets you $400 worth of coffee.

That’s not a typo. $450 gets you a card preloaded with $400 in store credit. Oh, and you also get a gold-level Starbucks card membership, a frequent buyer perk that gets you some freebies like drink refills and a birthday frappuccino, but those benefits are already free to regular customers who sign up for the My Starbucks Rewards program. Still, they plan to sell 1,000 of the cards through the luxury goods website Gilt.

Why stop at 1,000? Did they forget that there’s one born every minute?
Starbucks calls it the Metal Card and it really is made of metal. Watching someone pay for coffee with a slab of etched steel is a little like seeing Fred Flintstone buying his brontosaurus burgers with a stone credit card issued by the Bank of Bedrock. Conspicuous? You bet. Isn’t that the point? Last year’s Metal Cards sold out in less than a minute and then immediately popped up on sites like eBay and Craigslist where they were flipped for as much as $1,000. It was a tidy profit for Gilt shoppers while the new buyers ended up with a couple hundred dollars worth of vastly over-priced lattés. Clearly it’s not just about the coffee.

5,000 Metal Cards were sold in 2012, but this year Starbucks plans to limit the offering to a mere 1,000.
While that just about guarantees that the next guy in line won’t have the Metal Card in his wallet too, it’s hard to see how the card confers some kind of insider status. Starbucks lost its aura of exclusivity the minute it opened its first shop outside of the Seattle city limits. You can’t be an insider to something that you can buy on every street corner, turnpike rest stop, and hospital cafeteria.

It might not be exclusive, but the Starbucks Metal card will be scarce. But who really wants a $12 cappuccino anyway?

 

 

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Psychoactive and Highly Addictive: It’s Your Morning Cup of Coffee

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The American Psychiatric Association recently classified caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder.
If you’re scratching your head over this one, you must not be a coffee drinker.

Withdrawal symptoms kick in on the very first morning without coffee.
You’re draggy, achy, and irritable. Your brain feels swampy, but soon the underwater feeling is replaced by a throbbing headache. Nausea and fatigue will have you wondering if maybe you have the flu; but no, it’s your brain and adrenal glands going haywire without their caffeine fix. If you can tough it out with herbal tea for a week or two your body will rediscover its natural, caffeine-less equilibrium. But along the way there will be some seriously rocky days.

A true coffee addict’s brain is physically and chemically different.
When a casual drinker has a cup of coffee, the caffeine crosses the blood–brain barrier and physically enters the brain. It’s not a direct stimulant but instead it blocks the receptors for adenosine, a sleep-producing substance. The brain is alert and energized because it didn’t receive its dose of adenosine, and all the free-floating sleepy adenosine will cue the brain to produce even more of its own natural stimulants like adrenaline and dopamine. The block stays in place for the four to six hours it takes for the body to metabolize the caffeine.

The physical characteristics of the caffeine addict’s brain is altered by the constant tinkering with its chemistry. Over time the brain will try to balance out the routine bouts of over-stimulation by growing more adenosine receptors, and it will shed some of its stimulant receptors. Caffeine addicts constantly need to increase their coffee consumption to feel the buzz. This also means that when their brains are deprived of caffeine, they crash harder than the rest of us.

Nobody would confuse the true caffeine addict’s withdrawal with the morning fog the rest of us experience when we go without coffee.
The headache pain and general misery are extreme enough to be medically categorized as ‘clinically significant distress,’ and brain functions are impaired to the point that work, home life, and socializing are seriously compromised.

About 30% of coffee drinkers are probably addicts, although most don’t know it until they try to go without.
The addiction rate for caffeine is a little higher than it is for heroin users but less than for nicotine. 
The good news is that compared to those other substances, withdrawal is relatively quick. If the coffee junkie can get through a week or two without caffeine, the receptors in the brain will reset to their normal levels and the spell of addiction is broken.

 

Posted in coffee, Health | 2 Comments

Kids Drinking Coffee. Why Not?

[image via the New Yorker]

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left?
Soda is out—high fructose corn syrup, you know. Sports drinks are, as the British press put it, just lolly water. Ditto for juice boxes. Certainly not milk with all that lactose-intolerance going around.
Coffee it is.

And what exactly is so wrong with that?

Coffee doesn’t stunt anyone’s growth. That turned out to be a giant fallacy.
And it has health benefits, reducing the risk for Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones. Not exactly pediatric ailments, but it can’t hurt. More intriguing is growing evidence to support years of anecdotal claims from parents that the caffeine in coffee actually calms down children with ADHD.

Gunning their little engines with caffeine.
Coffee does of course rev kids up, and it can leave them with jittery nerves and insomnia. And children are already getting plenty of caffeine from sources like soda, candy, hot chocolate, ice cream, and even cold medicine.

Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the younger they are, the less coffee they probably should drink. The United States hasn’t developed dietary guidelines for kids and caffeine, but Health Canada recommends no more than 45 mg/day for 4 – 6 year olds;  62.5 mg/day at 7 – 9 years; and 85 mg/day for 10 – 12 year olds— compared with moderate adult intake of around 400 mg. (about 3 coffees’ worth).

The real problem isn’t even the coffee.
It’s the fat and calories of the vanilla syrup and the caramel drizzle, the steamed milk and whipped cream. It’s all the frozen, blended mochafrappacappalattaccinos that masquerade as coffee. There are coffee concoctions that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup. And there aren’t many kids who take it black.

Best is to watch the sugar and keep a tally of caffeine from all sources.
And at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate their kid’s coffee habit.

 

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Starbucks Baristas to Wear Name Tags. Still Can’t Get Your Name Right

StarbucksCup

 

Starbucks has announced that its baristas will be required to wear name tags.
The company has gone back and forth on this for years. The hope is that it humanizes the experience; the fear is that it’s too ‘fast food.’
That’s all well and good, but what about our names?

You know the drill. You order a coffee and they ask for your name so you can be summoned when it’s ready. The cashier scrawls it on a cup, the barista calls it out, and fingers crossed, the name that comes back will be close enough that you’ll recognize it as your own.

Starbucks’ name butchery is legendary. It’s like your name went ten rounds with AutoCorrect: Amanda becomes Tammy, Andrew becomes Stanley, and God help you if your name is Gaelic in origin, has more than two syllables, or rhymes with any part of the female anatomy. Dozens of websites like That’s Not My Name, StarbucksThe Starbucks Name Game, and Starbucks Got My Name Wrong serve as repositories for the most outrageous and egregious of the the cup misspellings.

Meet Minnie
Minnie always orders my coffee. She’s unfailingly polite and an excellent tipper.
Minnie is my coffee name. 
Unlike my real name, Minnie rarely needs to be repeated, enunciated, or spelled out. And it’s a source of mild amusement when Minnie’s Grande is announced.

The Starbucks alter-ego is a common phenomenon.
Some use it in the interest of privacy, some want to avoid the tiresome task of spelling out an uncommon name, and some coffee pseudonyms are just for giggles. I once stood in line behind an iced tea duo of Mary-Kate and Ashley, and have seen tittering middle-schoolers retrieve frappuccinos made for the likes of Seymour Butts and Hugh Janus. One unflappable barista took Voldemort’s order and returned a cup marked He Who Must Not Be Named.

What’s your Starbucks name?
Create your own with the Starbucks Name Generator.

Saturday Night Live nailed it.
Watch this parody of Starbucks’ at-home brewing system to see how the Verisimo can mess with your name in the comfort of your own kitchen.

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Another Epic Twitter Fail – This Time It’s Starbucks’ Turn

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

 

When good tweets go bad
Twitter is a powerful tool for brands to interact with their fans. It’s an inexpensive and immediate way for restaurants to build relationships and create a buzz. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. But when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry.

The followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
We’ve seen blunders and over-sharing, humor that backfires, restaurants that tweet their own gaffes, and Twitter campaigns hijacked by disgruntled customers. When it happens, the company’s own narrative is in the hands of the masses. Starbucks is the latest in a string of restaurants to lose control and see their Twitter campaign blow up.

They spread it, all right.
Starbucks created the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out some holiday cheer. The feed was displayed  on a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum where the company sponsors the ice rink. But cheerful quickly turned to sneerful.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has a reputation as a bit of a Scrooge in Britain where the company has been in the news for its plans to cut paid lunch breaks, sick leave, and maternity benefits for thousands of employees. It had also recently emerged that the coffee chain, with 700 locations across the U.K., had circumvented the British tax system with some financial-sleight-of-hand involving its division in Switzerland, and had paid less than 1% in corporate taxes over 14 years. The tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup. And all was displayed on a giant screen at a central London landmark.

For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #HurricaneSandy or #JustinBieberHaircut, or for about $120,000 a hashtag can be purchased and promoted as a trending topic, as Starbucks did with #SpreadTheCheer.

This is not the first restaurant twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock.

There have been some obvious missteps: Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?  And Denny’s printed its menus with an invitation to Join the conversation! that directed its customers to the Twitter account of a Taiwanese gentlemen named Denny Hsieh whose Twitter handle is @Dennys. The menus were used for four months in 1,500 locations before they were corrected.

For Starbucks, this was a rare stumble in cyberspace. The company has topped virtually every list of social media winners since such things were tracked: industry, media, and marketing firms have all singled out Starbucks as the most socially engaged company, the best loved online brand, and the top restaurant presence online. That’s what makes this bush league Twitter fail all the more surprising. A publicly displayed, unmoderated, real-time feed? They should have known better.

 

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The $450 Starbucks Card Is Here

 

Last week Starbucks rolled out  the Starbucks Metal Card. For the low, low price of $450 the card gets you $400 worth of coffee.
That’s not a typo. $450 gets you a card preloaded with $400 in store credit. Oh, and you also get a gold-level Starbucks card membership, a frequent buyer perk that gets you some freebies like drink refills and a birthday frappuccino, but that’s already free to regular customers.

Forgetting what they say about one born every minute, Starbucks announced a limited initial run of 5,000 cards and offered them for sale on the luxury goods website Gilt. The cards sold out in less than a minute and you can now find them on sites like eBay and Craigslist where they’re being resold for for more than $1,000.

Clearly this about more than just coffee. But what?

Starbucks gave up its aura of exclusivity the minute it opened its first shop outside of the Seattle city limits. You can’t be an insider to something  that you can buy on every street corner, turnpike rest stop, and hospital cafeteria. And the now mass market coffee brand doesn’t speak of any particular connoisseurship. The true coffee snobs left the building long ago. But since the next guy in line won’t have the Metal Card in his wallet, merely possessing the card confers a conspicuous kind of status in and of itself. And the Starbucks Metal Card, which really is made of metal, is truly conspicuous. Watching someone pay for coffee with a slab of etched stainless steel is a little like seeing Fred Flintstone buying his brontosaurus burgers with a stone credit card issued by the Bank of Bedrock.

Starbucks understands that status signaling is a game of ever-higher stakes.
Look what happened with credit cards: the fading luster of the American Express Gold Card led to the AmEx Platinum, only to be topped by the company’s black titanium Centurion Card, distinguished less by the superiority of its member benefits than by its $5,000 initiation and $2,500 annual fee. Then there’s the I Am Rich mobile app: when iPhones first became widely available and lost their must-have status, a $999.99 application was sold through the App Store that was virtually featureless save for a large glowing red screen icon and the mantra “I am rich. I deserve it. I am good, healthy & successful.” Eight were sold before Apple removed it from the store.

While it’s intended to be seen, status is really in the eye of the beholder.
“This is a card for the 1%,” cultural anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff told USA Today. “It’s all about status, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know if I’d want to be seen with one of these.”

 

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Starbucks Promotes Its New Coffee That Doesn’t Taste Like Coffee

roasted and unroasted coffee beans image via Smithsonian.com .

 

Customers have long complained that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt. Apparently, the company has been listening. Maybe a little too well. Starbucks is rolling out new beverages made from unroasted, green coffee beans.

What, you might ask, does unroasted coffee taste like? Apparently not much. According to Starbucks’ vice president of global beverage Julie Felss Masino, “It’s coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee.” In fact, the company refers to the green coffee extract as ‘flavor neutral.’ It also doesn’t have a coffee aroma, and contains a mere fraction of the caffeine. And the point of this new beverage is…?

Starbucks is selling two flavors of the iced, green coffee beverage called Refreshers. Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus get their flavor from added fruit juice and are sweetened with stevia.

Green coffee bean beverages aren’t exactly new. Like green tea, green coffee beans are  the youngest and least processed form that, on their own, produce a grassy, astringent brew. And like green tea, they have a longer history in Eastern cultures where they are prized mostly for medicinal uses. Recently, green coffee and its extracts have been available in weight-loss aides, and Nestlé has been selling its Nescafé Green Blend, containing one-third green beans to two-thirds roasted, which it promotes for the health benefits provided by high levels of naturally-occurring antioxidants.

Next time you want a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee, smell like coffee, or pack much of a caffeine punch, you know right where to go.

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Are You a Coffee Person or a Tea Person?

image via Chonostöff

 

Tea is the most popular beverage on the planet.
But not in the U.S. where it’s way down the list behind soda, coffee, beer, and milk.
Industry experts still point to the Boston Tea Party to explain this cultural divide. While it’s true that prior to that long ago rebellion we drank more tea, maybe we are simply a nation of coffee-drinkers by character and choice.

These are two drinks with a lot of similarities—both hot, caffeinated, and soothing—but two very different cultural identities:
Tea is mild and genteel, evocative of bone china and extended pinkies. It’s white gloves, ladies’ lunches, and fussy rituals.
Coffee is fast-paced and tough-minded. It’s hard work and hard luck, lonesome highways and Hopper’s desolate nighthawks.

A pair of behaviorists and a neurologist drill even deeper. They say that your caffeine fix of choice reveals your psyche and temperament. They’ve dissected the different personalities associated with different coffee drinks.

Black coffee /espresso drinkers are not the easiest of personalities. They can be moody, minimalist, and direct, and they don’t appreciate frills or sugar-coating.

Cappuccino drinkers are passionate and warm but easily bored. They are big thinkers who often flake on the details, are optimistic, and enjoy their creature comforts.

Latte lovers can have a childlike side—maybe a fondness for fuzzy toys or a propensity for baby talk. They are generous in relationships, spend time pondering life’s big questions, and have a hard time making decisions.

Mocha drinkers love to be in love but hate to make commitments. They are insightful and compassionate to those around them, but are short on reliability.

Frappucino drinkers like to mix things up. They seek trendy experiences, big adventures, and never turn down a challenge. They are socially successful, but do best in life when there’s a partner to keep impulses in check.

According to the research, instant coffee drinkers, if there are any of these still around, are straight-shooters who laugh easily and keep their socks on during sex.

And what are tea drinkers like? You could characterize the entire tea sipping population as patient. For years they waited in lines behind the coffee crowd and their tedious orders, then stood by for the all the hissing and swishing while the barista carved a scale model of the White House atop a foamy concoction. Finally they would get to pay $3.00 for a cup of hot water and a tea bag.

But now it’s their turn. Starbucks has announced the opening of its first tea-only cafe with 80 mix-and-match varieties of loose tea leaves and a full menu of tea-based specialty drinks. The hope of course is to make tea the next coffee.
For now there are 17,000 Starbucks coffee outlets and one Starbucks tea shop.

 

 

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Celebrity Coffee Brands: Not Your Average Joe

 

Any self-respecting consumer of pop culture knows it: celebrities love coffee.
Peruse the photos of a supermarket tabloid and you’ll find ample proof. Undersized fashion models with oversized lattes, LA actresses cooling off from yoga class with their post-Vinyasa iced chai, and the familiar sight of Britney Spears toting a Starbucks Frappuccino. Now it’s gone from celebrity accessory to celebrity brand as bold names are appearing on bags of beans.

2012-01-19-davidlynchcoffee.jpg
Director David Lynch has the credentials for his David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee. He claims a coffee obsession of long standing; for a period he routinely drank 20 cups a day. He has also famously endowed many of his fictional characters with a love of coffee.

 

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-eNCzliX2Rq0/T2-8FbYZ_YI/AAAAAAAAiYY/DFpFVTh0X2w/7340481.jpeghttp://now.phenomenon.com/storage/leo1_1777594b.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1328830506615Hugh Jackman and Leonardo DiCaprio both took inspiration from Paul Newman, the grandaddy of philanthropic celebrity food venturers whose  Newman’s Own has donated millions to charity. Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee donates 50% of its profits to educational inititatives, while DiCaprio’s Lyon, a proprietary blend from La Colombe Torrefaction coffee roasters gives 100% to his family foundation that works on a variety of environmental and humanitarian issues.

http://www.mnn.com/sites/default/files/zomb-mnn_1.jpg

 

Rob Zombie: scary metal musician, horror filmmaker, and now coffee roaster? The beans are organic and fair trade certified, and you can pick up a bag at the online Rob Zombie Store amid the death skull lunch boxes and lunatic-with-an-axe t shirts.

 

http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/kiss-coffee-big.jpg

The band KISS also has a line of coffee, but unlike Zombie’s sustainably-sourced, single origin beans, the Kiss Coffeehouse line comes as artificially flavored ground coffee in varieties like Rocky Road and blueberry coffeecake. Read into that what you will.

16 OZ Bag of Possum Coffee - Click Image to Close

The Tennessee-roasted Possum Coffee rests a little awkwardly on the shoulders of country music icon George Jones. Yes, we know that his nickname is Ol’ Possum, but it still makes for an unappealing brand name. Never much of a coffee drinker, Jones is better known for his boozing— legend has it that when his wife would hide the car keys to keep him from bar-hopping he would head out on his riding mower—but at $10 a pound, it’s the bargain of the celebrity brands.

 

http://kboo.fm/sites/default/files/nodeimages/Marley%20Coffee.jpgWe want to like Marley Coffee. It’s the product of Rohan, the son of the late, great Bob Marley, the beloved and revered reggae musician who gave a political and cultural voice to indigenous communities throughout the world. But…the roasts are given hokey names referencing his father’s lyrics like Lively Up 5 Bean Espresso and Buffalo Soldier Dark Roast. A multi-pack of single-serve pods is called the One Love Breakroom Pack, and a subscription is known as Monthly Marley. Blasphemy!

 

 

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The Best Cup of Coffee You Ever Had.

The New York Times called it “majestic” and “titillating; Time Magazine named it to the list of The Top 10 Everything of 2008; and when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz happened to stumble across one at a tiny café in lower Manhattan, he declared it made “the best cup of brewed coffee I have ever tasted.”

They’re all raving about the Clover, an eyebrow-raisingly pricey coffeemaker that brings high-tech precision to gadget-loving coffee drinkers. It also brews a hell of a cup of coffee.

Schultz discovered the Clover in 2006, curious about the customers lined up to get into a small, independent coffee shop. The Clover was then a cult object, hand-built in a converted, Seattle trolley shed. Costing $11,000 and requiring the equivalent of a masters degree in barista arts to operate, there were fewer than 200 in use worldwide—you could find more Flickr photo tributes to the Clover than there were machines in existence. So wowed was Schultz that Starbucks bought the Clover’s maker, and now distributes Clovers exclusively to Starbucks.

Why all the fuss?
Your home coffeemaker is probably an automatic drip; it boils the water and pours it over the beans, dripping the coffee into a carafe. You control the beans and the grind, and the coffeemaker and gravity do the rest. Some prefer the pour over; basically a manual drip that lets you adjust the water temperature and timing of the pour for a bit more nuance.

The next step up the scale of coffee fanatacism is the French press. The grounds and sub-boiling water steep until you push down on a plunger attached to a mesh filter that uses pressure to separate the brewed coffee from the grounds. The vacuum pot, those glass-globed contraptions found in cafes frequented by coffee geeks, achieves similar results. The pressure is created by heated water vapor that’s forced into the top globe; it agitates the ground coffee until the pot is removed from its heat source and the finished brew filters down to the bottom globe. Both of these methods add elements of control to the temperature and brewing time.

None match the precision of the Clover. It brews one cup at a time using pistons and valves that alternate a pressure push with a vacuum pull. It’s outfitted with proprietary Cloverware software and an Ethernet port connected to an online database that micromanage every variable of the brewing process. In the hands of a skilled barista, the choice of bean, grind, coffee dose, brew time, water quantity, and temperature contribute to one perfect, magnificent cup of coffee that will have you reaching into a wine lover’s vocabulary to describe it: a cocoa nose to the Sumatra; hints of tobacco and walnut in the Nicaragua; a voluptuous, plummy Peaberry.

Where can I get this ambrosial brew?
Starbucks has placed Clovers in just a few hundred locations, and done so with so little fanfare that you have to wonder if the company really wanted the Clover coffeemakers or just didn’t want them in the hands of the competition. You can click Clover Brewing System in the search filter on the Starbucks Store Locator and hope there’s one nearby. And keep an eye out for Clovers in the independent coffee shops, where they are holding tightly to those they purchased before Starbucks cornered the market.

 

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I am Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card.

Hi! I’m Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card. You can download a picture of me to your phone and buy coffee with it. Seriously.

http://jonathanstark.com/card/

It’s true. You can use Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card to get yourself a free coffee. The real card lives in Jonathan’s wallet, but he has posted a downloadable copy that can be scanned at any Starbucks. An iced vanilla latte, a French press pot of Guatemala Antigua— name it. There’s no cost, no catch, no strings, no restrictions.

Jonathan Stark was curious about the concept of social sharing.
About a month ago he loaded $30 onto a Starbucks card and posted the image for his friends to use. They quickly turned it into caffeine, so Stark added another $50 and invited a few more friends. This time, the card wasn’t depleted. His friends were adding money as well as spending it, starting a twitter conversation in the process. So he created a program that allows coffee drinkers to check on the card’s balance, updated every minute, and encouraged users to share it with their friends.

Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card has become an experiment in anonymous collective sharing that turns a cup of coffee into an act of participation and social engagement. It’s kind of a high-tech version of the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish next to a cash register. Sure, you could order 8 pounds of French Roast and a round of venti frappuccinos for the office, but there’s a karmic toll to it; the same one that keeps you from dumping the whole take-a-penny dish into your pocket, even when you see a bunch of quarters peeking through the copper.

The card occasionally struggles to find its equilibrium between generosity and  moochers. As of this writing, a few hundred dollars is passing through the card every hour or so, with nearly half of the users also giving back.

Say ‘Hi!’ back to Jonathan’s card.

 

 

 


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