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The embarrassing path to good coffee (goodbye Starbucks)

After spending Monday sighing over that the internet won’t shut up about Breaking Bad because it’s not really that good, I decided to catch up on Season 5 (I’d seen up to season 4 a year ago), probably because I hate feeling left out when it comes to Hollywood. That was three days ago. 14 episodes later I have re-emerged and I have pounded my fists on the bed and yelled at my computer on three separate occasions. I have also barely spoken to anyone nor seen sunlight. I’m a little confused as to what my life is right now.

But I love coffee so let’s talk about whitechcolatemochacoffee! My journey to appreciate coffee started, embarrassingly, with Starbucks. Now I call it candy-coffee because let’s face it, most of the concoctions they sell are 3 parts syrup, 1 part coffee and 6 parts milk but at the time I was convinced that a white chocolate mocha (WCM) was this mysterious adult beverage called coffee. And it was delicious! It probably still is but at least now I know to call it by its rightful name: $6 liquid desert.

I got hooked on Starbucks the first time I came to the States 10 years ago and since I was only on vacation that was all good and well. At the time I had no idea that a WCM clocks in at around 800 calories but if you only do it for a few weeks, no harm, no foul (except paying $6 for a cup of coffee.) But considering that my normal daily intake is around 1500 calories that one oversized cup of liquid desert measures over half of my daily intake, or if I were to work it off at the gym, 90 minutes of intense strength training. But blissfully, like a lot of people, I had no concept of these things. I had always been relatively small, not skinny, but definitely petite.

white_chocolate_mocha_fullIn Norway there were still no Starbucks so I spent my time at home trying to replicate their drinks. I got it pretty right with Nestle cappuccino instant coffee, a table spoon of liquid sugar and a splash of chocolate milk. It may sound gross but it’s still pretty good and it’s hilarious to realize that although I used so much sweetener, it still clocks in at less than half of the calories of a WCM. I am now having flashbacks to the way they make the white chocolate mocha in the store, just pumps and pumps of syrup before any coffee even goes in there.

Then, in 2008, I moved to Hawaii for a semester abroad. My collage was located downtown Honolulu in the business district and there is, I kid you not, 3 Starbucks shops located within the same square block, one on each corner. Sadly, I assume this is how most American business districts look like. starbucks_everywhere

I had class early 5 days a week and each morning I would stop by the nearest one for a WCM or a caramel macchiato. These are their two most popular drinks, overly sweet and in Hawaii each costing around $6. Even more if I would get a shot of extra espresso (75 cents) to cover some of the sweetness and actually make it taste a hint of coffee. Every. Single. Day. For breakfast! I could have might as well eaten a large piece of pie! I was there so often that eventually one of the baristas would take pity on me and give me the extra shot for free. So just to summarize, each week I spent $30 on sugary syrup with milk that would inevitably lead to weight gain. And I felt cool doing it. Such is the power of advertising and heavy branding. Eventually I moved back to the land of no Starbucks and my weight didn’t suffer too badly, for a while anyway.

When I moved back to Hawaii in 2010 to pursue my master’s degree at the same university I immediately went back to my old habits of picking up Starbucks before class. It was my little ritual, I enjoyed it. But gradually the idea of spending so much money on coffee started to bug me. $30 a week is over $100 a month. You can buy a pretty good coffee machine fairly quickly for that amount of money. I did the opposite, though, I bought the cheapest machine I could find. MrCoffee, I think, for $15. And then I bought local Kona coffee, pre-ground, for $10 a bag, which I thought was pretty expensive even though it lasted me almost a month. I experimented with different types of milk, creamers and flavored syrups ranging from caramel, hazelnut, raspberry and toffee nut (my all time favorite). I even learned that Starbucks sell a giant bottle of their syrup for $10, which lasts months. I started to see the insanity of paying $5 for a toffee nut latte when I could make 40 of them myself for $10. I learned about organic farming and GMOs, the value of buying local and the horrors of human trafficking within the global coffee industry. Then I got really adventurous and starting grinding my coffee in the store – coops like Kokua Market in Honolulu and Whole Foods have huge varieties of fair trade coffee you can grind right there.wholefoodscoffee

And this is why, now at 29, I feel like I am tasting coffee for the first time. It is so freakin’ good! The smell alone is to die for, but the taste, oh my god. Even to consider putting syrup in it is blasphemy. A pinch of brown sugar and a splash of organic creamer, and this coffee is now the reason I wake up in the morning.

puremauicoffeeAs an experiment, I bought a toffee nut latte from Starbucks not too long ago. The smallest size; I totally used to be a grande type of girl. And I couldn’t finish it. It didn’t taste remotely like coffee to me. First of all, there was too much milk and I could actually taste the chemicals in the syrup. It was disgusting. And I got not-so-irrationally angry that I had spent over $5 on this garbage. For $7 I can get a week’s supply of organic, local, fresh ground coffee at the market.


Starbucks is finally making its way into Norwegian markets. Due to the currency exchange and Norway’s purchasing power frappuccinos cost something like $12. Norwegians are still excited.

1 Comment

  1. Yeah . . . although I stopped buying Kona Coffee when their prices climbed to over $30/lb (I think it’s higher now).

    These days if I want a decent caffelatte, or cappuccino, I use our Nespresso machine at a cost of a tad over 50 cents a pod. Good coffee too.

    Otherwise I make coffee in quantity using Kirkland’s coffee . . . still much better than Starbucks or even the local coffee shop.

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