Wednesday, February 07, 2007

There and Back Again - Part 8

My brother will tell you that one of my favorite topics is Starbucks. He jokes with me that when I appear hard up for a topic for a blog, I will usually go with my old 'stand-by' topic, Starbucks Coffee. Well, when I asked him to take this accompanying photograph for today's blog, he knew exactly where it would end up. So, without shying away from what I admit to be a truth, here's today's blog with the requisite topic, Starbucks. I started drinking Starbucks Coffee back in my freshman year of college. At that time, Starbucks was not allowed to display corporate logos on campus at the University of Maryland but the entire establishment, from color scheme to menu items was clearly meant to be Starbucks. At the time the coffee house trend was still up and coming and I was pulled in after sampling a Cafe Mocha. Since that time I have been a regular customer.

Throughout college and into my working career Starbucks became a staple part of my week. I won't say that I'm a daily customer, but I will say that there are certain stores that had baristas who got to know me on a first name basis. I have tried most every item on their menu and have sampled so many of their impulse items or food choices that I know where I can go in a clutch situation for a quick bite to eat. As such, drinking at Starbucks has become sort of a tradition of mine everytime I am at the airport. Whether it is to drop someone off, pick someone up, or leave to go on my own trip, one of the last little bits of home I will enjoy is a cup of Starbucks Coffee and with it the fond memories I have of various coffee consuming events. My trip to India was much the same.

We arrived at Dulles for the late night flight and so after checking in and prior to boarding the flight, I enjoyed a cup of Starbucks. Seeing as how it was well past the 'holiday drink' season, the baristas were busily trying to finish off all of the holiday syrups so I was able to enjoy a peppermint mocha. Some say it's like the barista dropped a tube of toothpaste into a Cafe Mocha, but I still like it. To each his own. I enjoy people watching at an airport and trying to figure out where people may be going and why that may be. It may be a weird thing to do but how else will you fill the three hours you have after checking in? So you sit and enjoy the passing scenery and people and sit back with a cup of coffee. I am a bit spoiled and have come to prefer the coffee brewed over here and find that the methods of preparation on other shores can sometimes result in interesting combinations. So off we went to England en route to India.

I had been to England a year before and I was happy to note that there was a Starbucks right next to the hotel I stayed at. As always, I sampled my favorite preparation over there and found to my surprise that it wasn't as good. Again you can chalk it up to the water used, the strength of the coffee or how much sugar was used, but in the end it was comforting to be able to go to a foreign country and enjoy a cup of coffee much as I would at home. Some will call that stupid and say that 'when in Rome...' but if the Romans had been forced to endure bad coffee that can sometimes be produced in England, then they would have changed the phrase.

In India I knew that there weren't any Starbucks because my cousins had told me not to expect it. They have the rough equivalents which serve up similar concoctions but it's like eating at McDowells and wishing for McDonalds. Sure they may look similar and have similar foods, but you long for the real thing a lot of times. Knowing that Starbucks has not yet invaded India, I was readying myself for Indian tea. In lieu of coffee I will always prefer Indian tea. Not the so-called Chai that Starbucks brews but rather the actual authentically done version that tastes infinitely better than chai.

I was readying myself for similar experiences in Dubai when to my utter delite and surprise, I happened to see Starbucks there. And not just one, but just like my neighborhood in Vienna, a Starbucks on almost every other corner. I just had to go in because unlike the Starbucks in England, here the menu was in both English and Arabic. It was fascinating to go to a place like Dubai with it's opulent malls and buildings and order a Cafe Mocha and have it come to you in much the same fashion. There were little taste differences but it was again comforting to find a familiar place in a place so far from home.

It may be a bit jaded to want all the things from home in a new place. You could ask then what the point was in leaving home in the first place. My simple response is that you always need a bit of home with you when you travel. So, content in my Cafe Mocha, I continued to tour the malls of Dubai and take in the sites. It was the opportunity to add another memory while enjoying Starbucks Coffee. It was also another opportunity to kick myself for not having invested in the Starbucks chain much earlier. Oh well, I'm sure another Cafe Mocha will help calm my nerves.



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