Once upon a time, a long time ago, I didn't drink coffee. Or I did, on occasion, but not in any serious way. Perversely, at that time, I lived in the Land of Real Coffee Shops. In fact, I lived for more than a year only two blocks away from the best. coffee. ever. And went there less than a half dozen times.

Then, I moved to Austin. I went to graduate school. And I started drinking coffee like an actual coffee drinker (read: addict). The pickings were pretty slim, but there were some okay options, and one that even felt a little bit like Portland (though the java wasn't anywhere near as good).

Over the years I lived in Austin, my coffee addiction grew stronger. I became a lover of the French press. I stopped using sugar, and often went without cream as well. I began to learn what I liked in a coffee bean.

Then I moved here.

And I wept. Seriously. There is no independent coffee here. None. A search for coffee houses in my town turns up just one name:


As a Pacific Northwest native, you are expected, early in life, to take a position at Starbucks. You either love it or you hate it, it's really that simple. And, to the extent that I cared either way when I lived there, I was a hater. Indie forever, fuck the man, all that.

Then, in Austin, I learned that Starbucks has it's place in the world. Not for drip coffee--good God no, just don't, it's awful--but for a foofy coffee-esque drink, when one is required, and possibly some sort of pastry. The green and white sign is especially handy when one has ventured into a neighborhood without an easily identifiable independent coffee shop (such a neighborhood does not, as far as I know, exist in Portland). I became an occasional Starbucks consumer, all the while rolling my eyes.

Here, though, the sad fact is that Starbucks is the best I can do. Not only are they usually the only coffee to be found, they're the only reliably decent coffee to be found. I still won't touch the drip--that stuff is just foul--but I am a more-than-occasional latte drinker, and have even gotten fond of some of the sweet not-really-coffee holiday confections. I understand, now, why Starbucks is what so many people think of when they think of coffee--there are many parts of the country, like here, where it's the only place anything even close to real coffee is found. I'm not rolling my eyes anymore.

I'm still not going to set foot in a Starbucks while visiting home, nor am I going to start buying their beans. I'm not under the illusion that they make good coffee. But I am, begrudgingly, grateful to them for existing. If they hadn't swept the nation, I'm not sure there would be any coffee shops at all out here.

All that said, my preference is to make coffee at home. With beans I order from Oregon. So the snob is still alive in me.


I lost the Starbucks battle in 2008:

These days I'm more likely to stop in for a breakfast sandwich or an oatmeal than for their coffees, especially since the best coffeeshop in town is a mere 2 blocks away from the most convenient Starbucks to my work. It's good to know that the option is there, I guess, and that's something I can live with.

It's really sad, isn't it? That was one of the first things that I noticed about this area too. There ARE however some competing chains, like Caribou Coffee, that, while still not great, will give you a caffeine fix without the guilt of patronizing a Starbucks.

BTW, not that you would want to travel all the way to Alexandria just for a cup of coffee, but I heard that this place is pretty darn good:

There are also some good indy coffee shops inside of the District, but same problem of distance.

You are right about the drip at Starbucks, but a Pumpkin Spice latte or a Peppermint Mocha? Happy, happy me!

We've stopped drinking anything but 100% Kona coffee. There's no use in drinking anything else.

It's either NoVa or NOVA. NoVA isn't consistent and no one local would use that random case.

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April 2012

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