Mocha Frappa No! The Pressures of Coffee Culture Taryn Parrish

Here in Canada, Starbucks recently released a new ad for their Blonde Roast coffee. The ad boldly proclaims: “A Starbucks coffee for Canadians who don’t think they like Starbucks coffee.” This ad is of course a bit arrogant, but like all things arrogant, it is lined with a thick layer of insecurity. Just like the high school quarterback who bullies everyone because he doesn’t know how to deal with his secret passion for rhythmic gymnastics. What are you compensating for, Starbucks?

But let’s stop psychoanalyzing Starbucks’ false bravado – which would be a great drink name, by the way! – and let us examine the broader issue at hand: the fact that this ad is one of many examples of blatant propaganda and sophisticated coercion techniques to bring non-coffee drinkers into the coffee drinking world.

You don't know me!

You don’t know me!

Us non-coffee drinkers are a rare, almost mystical breed – like a tired, delicate unicorn. For us, the pressure to join coffee culture has been steadily increasing with each year of resistance. Childhood without coffee was a breeze thanks to “real energy”. Coffee’s presence throughout high school was minimal, but a few maturity-craving friends were lost to this new morning routine. But by university or college, or any type of segway into the so-called “real world”, coffee became the elixir of life, so it was when most non-drinkers crossed over. Friends morphed into grande lattes, double doubles, free-trades or home brews. They became ventis, mochas, no-foams or cappuccinos. And we non-coffee drinkers struggled to find fancier ways to prepare juice, water or tea.

Being a non-coffee drinker in adulthood is virtually unheard of – like a dirty little caffeine free secret.  It’s no surprise that when “the other side” discovers a non-coffee drinker, it can provoke a few different reactions:

1) Disbelief: Stunned, they look at you and ask “Why?” before they throw this mind-bending question at you: “Have you really tried coffee though? Like, really tried it?”  You can only assume that there is some bizarre, secret way to try coffee other than drinking it.

2) Suspicion: Tentatively, they take a sip and raise an eyebrow: “Oh, so you’re against coffee.” It’s not so much a question as it was a statement. Panic ensues: “Do you, like, not believe in it? Who are you? Who sent you? WHO DO YOU WORK FOR!?”

3) Coercion: Wild eyed and psyched at the thought of converting you, they start pouring you a cup: “Don’t like the taste eh? Well how about I pour  a whole bunch of sugar in it!” “You like hot chocolate right? Then you’d definitely like a mocha, just start with that!” “Here, just have a sip of mine., it’s not strong. Just one sip, come on! Grow up!!”

4) Forlorn Reminiscing: Shakily they look on and whisper: “I used to be like you once [*eye twitch*]“

As fascinating as these reactions are, I now feel less inclined to defend myself and my fellow coffee-less people (i.e.: “We are awake! We are social! We are human beings!”) and more inclined to question what the dealio is – why is coffee drinking such a thing? Because the pressure is not limited to non-drinkers, those who actually drink the stuff aren’t safe either. Once you subscribe to the idea, there are a million follow-up questions: what brand do you drink? How do you like your coffee? How many times a day do you drink coffee?  Do you think I should name my kid Coffee and pronounce it Coff-ay? How much money do you spend on coffee? What do you think is the best coffee? Do you enjoy coffee art? Where do the beans come from? What size do you get? Does your barista have a neck tattoo?

Then of course everyone is so tired from talking about coffee that they have to brew a fresh pot just to continue on.

To me, it sounds like we are really just trying to negotiate our relationship with coffee – what does it mean to be a drinker or a non-drinker? What does the choice say about us? And that’s okay – because it’s important to question anything that has become a norm of adulthood, of work life, and of living. But whether you drink coffee ten times a day, or once a week, or not at all, or whether you drink the expensive stuff, the cheap stuff or refrain from it altogether – it’s your call. Lord knows we all cannot afford premium coffee, but we can afford to judge each other a little less.

So for now, I’m saying no to coffee, and its not even because I don’t like the taste, or fear the addiction, or am part of an elite crime-fighting team (Spice Force Five 2.0) that doesn’t need coffee to function. It’s because at this point, it’s more of a social experiment than anything. How much longer will I last before Starbucks and the rest of the coffee world “get me”? How much longer can I stay awake? Will I convert to the other side tomorrow, and this article will be all that’s left of my former decaffeinated self? The future is uncertain, but today I can confidently say no – no thank you Starbucks, I would not like a sip of your gateway coffee. However, I’m still happy to figuratively “grab a coffee” with any and all coffee drinkers – just make mine a False Bravado.

Feature image via Shutterstock. Additional image via.

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  1. As someone making a living in the industry, I feel incredibly guilty when people come into the cafe looking intimidated or embarrassed because they’re non-coffee drinkers who may be meeting up with friends or just ordering tea. Unfortunately, this industry has gotten a bad reputation for being pretentious and unforgiving to our non-caffeinated counterparts and it’s something I don’t understand in the slightest. Coffee is more than simply caffeine-content. It’s an experience and it’s something to be enjoyed. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t feel pressured to drink it. I, personally, feel embarrassed when I’m clearing a table and your barely-touched cappuccino is sitting, cold and forgotten. Instead of making you suffer through it, I would rather give you something you would actually like drinking. Imagine!

  2. This article is brilliant. My friend and I, in an effort to do the mature and sophisticated thing after a lovely evening meal in London decided to order two double expressos. The day before we had been disappointed by our decision to opt for coffee in an attempt to revitalise ourselves from the 6 hour coach journey down to the capital. Our taste buds had sadly been greeted with something that resembled hot, bitter, gravy.
    Needless to say we were left for a second time with an undesirable taste in our mouths as we left the restaurant. The moral of the story being ALWAYS CHOOSE DESSERT!
    Clearly for us rare individuals who are yet to appreciate the wonderful world of coffee, sugar is a perfectly acceptable alternative for now.

  3. I never drank coffee throughout High School, not wanting to depend on something that I had to have to wake me up in the morning, but now that I’m in college, I’ll get the occasional latte here and there. It’s more like a desert to me, rather than something I depend on. I don’t have to have it but for some weird reason, I like the taste and it’s a splurge for myself. :)

  4. I started regularly drinking coffee when I was in college. I thought it would really help me to stay awake and give me the buzz I need throughout the day. However, none of that was proven for me. Instead, coffee made me more paranoid. At that point, I quit cold turkey. But when I moved to Canada and started working two jobs, I quickly got back on the caffeine bandwagon.

  5. I hate the taste of coffee. Ever since we started dating, my fiance has tried to trick me into drinking it by getting some fancy pumpkin spice latte from QT or peanut butter espresso smoothies from Scooters. I can always taste the coffee, and I always wonder why coffee drinkers subject their tastebuds to something so awful. I understand having trouble waking up in the morning. I have trouble getting out of bed most days myself, but once I’m up and moving, I can’t fall back asleep. Every now and then I think it would be nice to pull a JK Rowling and write on napkins in coffee shops, but then I remember the taste and regret nothing.

    • And when I say “trick,” I mean he tells me, “You won’t even taste the espresso!”

      And then when I say I taste coffee, he says, “It’s not coffee, it’s espresso!”

      I’m not sure what the difference is, but they are both disgusting.

  6. I am not a coffe drinker but i have always wanted to be one, Now that i read this i feel proud of being a non-coffee drinker.

  7. Wasn’t a coffee drinker until I moved to Melbourne – but always iced coffee. They’re obsessed with it here, because all the coffee drinks (every variation you can think of and more) are ahhhhmazingggg. Starbucks is not a big thing, just a billion different independant cafes. A Tim Hortons iced capp will never satisfy me again.

  8. non-coffee drinker insecurity – house guests! i dont have coffee, nor do i have a coffee-maker, and i don’t have a map in my head of all the coffee shops w/in 20 miles. i’m trying to be a good host, but i’m not that desperate for your approval. i can sense your sleepy frustration at having to google the nearest coffee shop and then actually drive there to get it, or work it into our day’s schedule, as if i should have planned for this in advance. whoops! did that turn into a rant? well… im on your side Taryn, to say the least.

    • Haha! I feel you! I am the worst host when in comes to providing coffee and I say that with pride! It’s now like a fun little game “Sorry! I don’t have a coffee machine. Whatcha gonna do? Where ya gonna go? Uh oh.” I mean why host when you can challenge people right?

  9. Caffeine has no affect on my body. People always think I’m crazy when I tell them this. I do enjoy the occasional handcrafted caffeine based drink but I am so glad that I am not addicted!!

  10. I drink one cup maximum per day and I’m more a tea-drinker. Green tea has caffeine as well and several studies have shown that tea-based caffeine lasts longer in the organism while coffee-based caffeine gives you a quick “high” but makes you even more tired shortly after. So you have to drink more coffee to stay awake. I like the taste of coffee with my breakfast but if I need caffeine to keep me awake for work, I stick with green or black tea, it’s simply more effective if you have to work 8 hours straight.

  11. I used to work at a non-Starbucks coffee shop and would get so annoyed with customers who used Starbucks lingo to order. The size names were a minor pet peeve (just ask for a small, please!) but what Starbucks calls a macchiato is not what all other coffee shops call a macchiato — I was trained that it’s a shot or two of espresso with just a dollop of foam on top. I was also taught that what Starbucks calls a caramel macchiato (now they see a hazelnut macchiato, too) is a mocha (espresso + chocolate + steamed milk) with caramel added to it. It was incredibly confusing, for the staff and for the customers. It should not be so complicated to order a drink and get what you think you’re getting.

    And nothing was ever worse than customers who tried to instruct you on the proper way to make the drink. It’s one thing to have a personal preference (“Can I get less ice?”) but some people just take it so far that I sometimes wanted to ask why they just don’t buy the equipment and make it themselves at home. Do bartenders deal with this, too. It’s just a beverage!

    • hehehe I’m so glad someone on the other side of this knows how I feel. I work at a Starbucks and when people with actual diversified coffee experiences order something like a macchiato (which we make with vanilla, milk, espresso and top it off w caramel), people usually get completely irritated when I hand them an entire drink instead of their few shots of espresso. it ALWAYS makes me wonder why we all have to call it different things in the first place. Honestly though, I see this with lots of markets in my life. I have tons of hipster and “underground” friends who do, wear, and participate in things that they think what they do is cooler because of its name or exclusivity. Its mind boggling at times, mostly though, its just really laughable.

      Oh, and I don’t drink coffee either. It’s really fun to stand behind the machine, making someones latte, and they go “which drink is your favorite?” “I usually have to make my own, because I don’t like coffee.” After their jaws drop, they usually try to convince me I have no reason or right to work at a Starbucks if I don’t worship coffee. It’s HILARIOUS. : )

  12. I sling lattes and various other coffee beverages for a living and I don’t even drink it (anymore), and the day I gave up caffeine was one of the best days of my life. The week or so where I had to experience caffeine withdrawal was not awesome, but once I made it through that, I realized how much better I felt. No longer needing coffee to function is a great feeling, and I feel far more energized without it than I did with it.

    All that being said, you can imagine the internal tension I feel. On the one hand, coffee is what pays my rent and has done so for three years. Plus, coffee culture can be really fun to be a part of, especially when working at a local, independently owned shop like I do.

    On the other hand…just, oh my goodness everyone. Not drinking coffee will make you feel amazing. But please keep drinking it. And tip your barista.

  13. I really dislike coffee and have to cope with the disappoint of my mother – ‘Well she clearly isn’t my daughter if she doesn’t like coffee!’ But I love tea (would be quite happy with a bottomless teacup. . .) I’m not sure it’s such a problem here in the UK – Not everybody likes coffee but if you suggest you don’t like tea, well then, you’re clearly not british. Plus, we still call it ‘getting a coffee’ even if we’re all drinking tea. Weird. Great article :)

    • Thanks for reading! My mom is disappointed in my lack of coffee intake as well, she wants us to be just like the Gilmore Girls haha :)

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