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.
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.