03 June 2016

When There's No Place To Go, I Mean, Charge

Starbuck's or Dunkin' Donuts?

The difference in cost between the two isn't as great as one might think. At least, it isn't between the Starbuck's' and Dunkin' Donuts' places in my part of the world.    

Of course, Starbuck's has variations on coffee that DD--and possibly anyone else--never dreamed of.  I mean, in how many other coffee bars can one get a "Venti Soy Quadruple Shot Latte With No Foam"?  Or an "Extra Hot, Wet Cappucino"?  (Does one need to be accompanied by an adult to order it?)  

Nobody goes to Starbuck's and asks for "coffee, light and sweet", or even "black".  Customers who want the latter usually order espresso.

But the real differences between Starbuck's and Dunkin Donuts come down to who goes to them.  I saw my first Dunkin' Donuts when my family moved to New Jersey; back then, pretty much everybody, across class and other lines, patronized it.  But with the rise of Starbuck's--as well as any number of other "boutique" coffee shops that aren't part of a chain (e.g., the kind found on every other corner of neighborhoods like Soho and Williamsburg)--DD came to be seen as declasse. In other words, it became the sort of place where people of a certain age who never married, or who are widowed, converged late at night.  Also, it became a place for geeks and loners of other kinds.  The young and hip--or those who were trying to seem so--went to Starbuck's and their imitators.

What that means is that you'll usually see a younger crowd at Starbuck's than at Dunkin' Donuts.  The young--whether or not they're hipsters, or wannabes--tend to use electronic devices more than people who are around my age.  (In a conversation with my brother, I remarked that most of what I know about computers, I learned from my students.)  The folks who run Starbuck's are no doubt aware of this.  Thus, you are more likely to find a portal where you can plug in your I-phone or laptop in the home of extra scalding frozen white chocolate mocha chai than in self-proclaimed home of "the best coffee in America"

But what do you do if you're out on a ride and you absolutely must plug in your device--and there's no Starbuck's anywhere in sight?

(Disclaimer:  I have never felt any such need while on a ride.  But I have felt another kind of need, and I have stopped in Starbuck's for that!)

Well, if you really, really must recharge that Android when you're on the road or trail, you might think about investing in this:

Hey, don't laugh:  It's green.  Yes, this bicycle--it has two wheels and pedals!--contains a docking station powered by the rotation of the rider's two feet.  And a screen built into the handlebars gives the rider access to the internet via his or her laptop.  I mean, you can't miss those special deals on e-Bay and Amazon while you're riding, can you?

Yuji Fujimura designed this  machine--presumably, with a unique concept of aerodynamics.  After all, its shape will slice through a headwind or slip into the stream of a tail wind.  But the slightest breeze to the side could send the rider tumbling into a field of fair-trade organic soy frappucinos!


  1. I wouldn't say that ALL Dunkin's are for old people, at least not where I grew up! In the suburbs of Connecticut, the 24 hour Dunkin was the only place for kids too young to get into the bar to hang out. It was a given that you'd see a bunch of folks you'd know, hanging out in the parking lot, figuring out where the party was. Ah, nostalgia.

    As a Native New Englander I still have a soft spot for Dunkin' Donuts....

  2. Urban--When I was growing up, I didn't have the impression that DD was for old people. In the town to which my family moved, everybody went to Dunkin' Donuts, including yours truly, as I mention in m post.

    Perhaps the age and class divide between DD and Starbuck's is a regionalism. Truth be told, I still prefer DD, if for no other reason than it's less pretentious, I mean, self-conscious.

  3. The plethora of coffee species offered in the US is amazing. But if I am in Italy, I can go to a bar and say "uno cappuccino, par favore", and every time in every bar anyplace in that country I will get a perfect little cappuccino that has not changed since the 1930's. I have never seen a REAL cappuccino anyplace in the US, and I have searched for one in a half dozen cities over the last 25 years, on my visits there.

    One can get a "Cafe Americano" in Italy. I have been told by a good Florentine friend (an owner of a restaurant) the this beverage came into being after the war to satisfy the taste of Americans who began to visit Italy in droves. It is a watered down espresso. "Everybody knows" he says, "that you can taste the water in American coffee". He expressed grave doubts about the authenticity of American "coffee culture".

    And isn't it nice that in Starbuck's they ask for your name so they can write it on your paper cup in order to "personalize" it? I usually say "Call me Ishmael", thinking, having attended an American high school in the late Jurassic Period, that everybody knows who was the first mate on the Pequod. Only one older man ever raised his eyebrows and spoke to me. How the mighty have fallen.


  4. Leo—I think the so-called “coffee culture” in the US is just another kind of “one upsmanship”, which is a reflection of the American obsession with status. The “coffee culture” seems to me to be about spending as much as possible on the blend or drink with the longest, most exotic-sounding name. The folks involved would never, in a million years, want to live in a country where you can walk into any given café and have a better-than-average chance of getting a really good cappuccino, café au lait, espresso or good ol’ ‘Murrican “Joe”. If good coffee were available everywhere to everyone, no one could “one up” anyone else.

    This all reminds me of something James Baldwin said in one of his essays: If everybody is pursuing status, it’s entirely possible that nobody has any.

    Oh, and the people I'm talking about probably have never heard of Baldwin--or Ishmael!

  5. Justine--I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you on calling coffee culture "so called" and saying it's all about one-upmanship or status. Sure, there definitely is an element of that, and there's always an element of status when enjoying the "finer" things, whether coffee or wine or stereo systems or even bicycles. But to say that it's only about that is ignoring the main reason why coffee culture has been booming here the past few years: Because American coffee sucked for so long.

    People get interested in things like this, and when there hasn't been a "coffee culture" before it, people create one. Maybe they get a bit too obsessive about it, because there was nothing like that beforehand. But if we go over to Italy, where "good coffee" has always been a given, there is no coffee culture, because it's a way of life. It's pretty similar to how the Dutch regard their bikes and how we Americans regard them. Is either way right or wrong?

    And when I say "Coffee Culture", I don't mean Starbucks, a place I try to avoid. And I'm sorry to say, Moby Dick was not hoisted upon me in high school (surprising since I'm from New England) so I wouldn't get the Ishmael reference. Though I've listened to Moby Dick by Zeppelin plenty of times!

  6. Shawn--All right. I agree that not so long ago, most coffee in the US was awful; I realized as much during my first trip to Europe. And I'm glad that more varieties of coffee are available. That said, I think many so-called coffee aficianados have no idea of what they're actually drinking and order whatever they order as if they're buying a fashion accessory they hope will impress someone or another. Those "frappucinos" or whatever they're ordering have no corollary in any French or Italian or other European cafe.

  7. Justine--That's what I was talking about in my last paragraph. "Starbucks Culture" is NOT "Coffee Culture". And "frappucinos" are Coffee Flavored Drinks, NOT Coffee.

    I'm talking about places like Stumptown Coffee. I KNOW they got at least one of those in New York!

  8. Stumptown Coffee--I haven't seen it here. But with a name like that, I'd check it out!