Sunday, February 18, 2007

Starbucks, McDonald's and me

When Consumer Reports stated that McDonald's coffee was actually better than Starbucks, I was, well, verklempt. I'm passionate about my coffee, and in an atypical stance, I'm brand loyal. And that brand is Starbucks.

I wasn't always a coffee aficionado. I shied away from coffee until I was 25. Truth to tell, I don't know how I stayed awake in all those 8 o'clock morning college classes. Oh--now I remember--fear of failure. That aside, I didn't start my affair with coffee until my husband's grandmother laced a strong cup with sugar and cream and sent us on our way when we moved from Texas to Georgia. Coffee (and talking to the truckers on the CB--"you got your Lone Star, here, come back!") kept me awake as I drove one vehicle and husband the other. I fiddled with coffee for the next several years, knowing for sure I was enceinte when I couldn't stand the stuff, dying for a cup the morning after delivery. (I had a similar experience with bacon.)

Over the years, I developed a real love of coffee, the strong stuff, and when Starbucks first offered its Encore program of mail-order goodies, I signed on for 3 pounds every other month. There wasn't a Starbucks within 60 miles of me at the time, but as the brand has spread like a weed and came within 25 miles, the program was discontinued. I think it's back in full swing, but I manage to buy and have ground to my specs, what I need now.

Being picky about one's coffee means taking it with you to morning meetings, emptying the pot into a (Starbucks) to-go mug and sipping what you like while everyone else has the house's. I don't do this everywhere I go; I know who serves the good mugs.

So having Consumer Reports say McDonald's is better was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. We have a local McDonald's. If it was really better, than it would be really better here, too.

I timed my trip to coincide with my after-lunch cup. This is when I usually visit a Starbucks, so I thought that a fair comparison. My caffeine level would be the same for either. McDonald's does not have Sweet'n'low sweetener, so I provided my own. I usually treat myself to a dollop of half and half, too, but I knew I'd have to forego that. I didn't go through the drive through, but walked in.

Small town McDonald's, after lunch, place just recovering from the girl's basketball team who were all munching on fries and burgers, drive through line long. I'd been wise to come in. Ordered my coffee. Cheaper than Starbucks. I like a bargain. And then she poured me the absolute bottom of the decanter. Shook out the drops.

This was not a good sign. Starbucks would have asked me to wait and they'd make more.

I took my cup, doctored it, and tried. I'll give them this: even for the bottom of the pot, it was far superior to what they used to serve.

But it wasn't my usual experience. To be fair, I pass the arches every week on my sojourn into the city. I'll stop and try another cup. I've already stocked my purse with Sweet'n'low.

But if I were McDonald's, I wouldn't be holding my breath to have me as a new customer.

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