Starbucks: The Dessert Desert

Between the slowed economy, the advent of the McDonald’s barista, and Dunkin’ Donuts expanding west, business at Starbucks has slowed, and the coffee giant announced it would close 600 locations by March. A “Save Our Starbucks” campaign was launched recently in towns and cities across the country to prevent this devastation, but there’s a little more that Starbucks could do to help itself.

As someone who spends up to eight hours a day writing in my Starbucks “office,” I can offer some constructive criticism to the coffee giant as it struggles to maintain its industry supremacy. For example, every time I need a break, I go up to the counter and futilely survey the depressing parade of colorless nothingness on offer:  Zucchini Walnut Muffin; Cranberry Walnut Scone; Maple Oat Nut Scone (which looks like a piece of tree); Banana Nut Loaf; the most unappetizing Blueberry Muffin ever invented (which crumbles to hell when you finally find a place from which to bite into it); Honey Oat Bran Muffin; and Biscotti (which is re-selling you bread that you threw into the cupboard six months ago and forgot about). The Apple Fritter, which normally wouldn’t excite me, saves the day at the dessert desert that is Starbucks. But sometimes it isn’t there. “Oh those go fast,” several baristas have explained. “That’s because it’s the only edible thing here,” I’ve explained back.

My mouth dries just looking at the callusing, sadistic selection of bland, crumbly, cardboard-like pastries. Already a cakeless café, and having managed to ruin the basic chocolate chip cookie, Starbucks even had trouble with the Brownie. They have something called Espresso Brownie, but you’ll notice this triangular thing is only half a brownie. In other words, Starbucks won’t even allow you the pleasure of a whole brownie — and will make sure to taint this single hint of chocolate with coffee flavoring. (Nothing should be coffee-flavored except coffee, which is an acquired taste. No one is born liking the taste of coffee, but we are born liking dessert. So why make dessert into an acquired taste? I acquired the taste for coffee by having a brownie with it every time.)

Once in a while someone at Corporate will have a stroke of genius, as when the Mocha Malt Frappuccino was introduced — for a limited time only! (because they wouldn’t want you to be happy all year long). Other times, Starbucks will just have a stroke, as someone must have had when coming up with this concept: “Starbucks Launches New Chocolate Line that Includes Coffee and Tea-Flavored Pieces,” the AP reported. Woo-hoo! Tea flavor. Almost an oxymoron in itself. That’ll really tempt me off my diet.

I’m not alone in my love-hate relationship with Starbucks. As one friend said, “I’ve nearly choked on the dryness of Starbucks pastry. And my daughter can occupy an hour quite happily picking the cinnamon chips out of the scones so she doesn’t have to eat the dry scone itself. The pastry is just unaccountably low grade.”

After staring for five minutes at the sparse selection of punishing pastries, I end up ordering the same peppermint mocha I always get, so as to not taste the “special” (burnt) Starbucks roast. As a waitress in the 1980s, I would have been fired for serving coffee that tastes like fresh Starbucks blend, since it would mean I poured from the bottom of a pot that’s been on the burner since the day before. But apparently there are a lot of masochists who love the taste of Starbucks, whereas I love only the atmosphere — except in the summertime, when the atmosphere hovers around 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

I suspect the temperature is controlled from some central headquarters and is programmed to monitor the moment at which snot from a customer’s right nostril has reached her upper lip and the left nostril is about to follow suit, at which time the air mercifully switches off. Once a customer has wiped her nose and stopped shivering, it switches back on. Every time I ask for the air to be adjusted to the more humane, the impossibility of such a task is explained to me by a panel of baristas, with the reason varying from Starbucks to Starbucks, which is how I know it’s a central conspiracy to keep people from staying eight hours typing on their laptops. The conversation ends with me telling the baristas the same thing I always do: “I can’t wait for winter — so I can be warm again.”

Still, this is a lesser crime when compared to bad dessert, a crime against humanity in developed societies. It’s possible that with competitors Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s not freezing their customers — and selling a chocolate chip cookie that won’t injure you — the increased competition to Starbucks is just desserts for being in contempt of the human palate. Until Starbucks studies a few Boston or Brooklyn bakeries to discover what sweets Homo sapiens actually enjoy eating, I will continue to pick up my coffee and pastry from Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to my Starbucks office.