I really love coffee. It makes me a better human. I also really love rock climbing; I think it also makes me a better human. But I think it’s mostly the coffee.

I am an addict, probably having consumed at least three cups before second breakfast is consumed in the morning. I’ve been caught nuking an old cup’s remnants while simultaneously heating water for the next pourover. I don’t know what a “cut off” time means—I don’t care that it’s 7:30 in the evening. I WANT IT. I genuinely enjoy the warmth of a paper cup in my hand as I walk to work or am spilled over books and my laptop at ungodly hours.

And above all, I appreciate a really good cup of coffee. Like, I just paid $17.00 for that pound of beans but it was worth every cent because, damn! Those are some high-quality beans—is that blueberry I taste? Sweet Jesus.

In a former life, I managed one of the highest volume Starbucks on the east coast. I got a job during high school and worked there for years before I had a funny realization: Shit, I need to go see the world. I left my caffeinated safe-haven and galavanted across Europe for a few weeks, and upon my return stateside I began working at a smaller, local coffee roastery.

By then, I was spoiled by European espresso and was no longer accustomed to the slightly charred taste of most of Starbucks blends. I’d also lost my taste for anything sickly sweet (no more caramel macchiato/white mocha hybrids for me—EVER. I just can’t stomach them anymore.)

So what does all of this and Starbucks have to do with rock climbing?

Well, if you’ve ever lived a vagabonding, van-dwelling, dirtbag life for even a short stint in time, then you know that Starbucks is the absolute best place in the world.

Okay, yes their beans are low-grade quality and often burnt, but I always say that a bad cup of coffee that is fresh is better than a good cup of that isn’t. It’s nothing a little half and half can’t fix/hide. As a former employee, I can attest to their 15-minute timer method. Baristas often manage four batches of coffee at once, rotating them and dumping old coffee, never allowing one coffee to sit longer than 30 minutes at a time. Is it wasteful? It’s a little wasteful (especially at the end of the night or during off-peak hours), but hey, you’ll never have to ask, “What’s your freshest coffee right now?”

A majority of their specialty drinks are sugar-laden and uber-fattening which is less ideal if you’re concerned about sending weight. (That Grande Midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino clocks in at 470 calories, bruh.) Plus, they’re often filled with yummy monoglycerides and diglycerides, not to mention carrageenan (even though the jury is still out on that one, I try to avoid eating things with ingredients I can’t pronounce, as a general rule of thumb.) My point is, whipped cream won’t help you send 5.13 this year 

And with a continuous bump in their prices, those specialty drinks wind up costing you well over $6.00, anyway. But you’re a cowboy, like John Wayne, and you stick to black coffee or espresso. Smart.

It’s just that the fact that I can spend only a few bucks for a cup of coffee and free wifi with no restriction on laptop use is invaluable to me. Many of you tech-savvy, IT, work-remotely dirtbags know this. Additionally, their store hours are often better than many coffee shops I’ve been to while road tripping. “What do you mean, your cafe is only open until 4 p.m.?!” and flash forward to me sitting in their parking lot, poaching wifi for another hour. Most Starbucks cafes stay open until at least 8 p.m. or later 

You can find a Starbucks almost anywhere while road tripping. They always seem to be at your nearest convenience. When I’m starting to feel myself drifting on a long drive, I immediately check my maps for the nearest Starbucks if it isn’t after hours yet and am guaranteed to find one within an hour or so. Some locations are even equipped with easy, mobile pay options and drive-thrus for days that I’ve got a ten-hour window to get to Point B and haven’t showered for multiple days in a row.

Oh, and if you haven’t been keeping up with personal hygiene routinely? You can always count on having your own private bathroom so you can grab a quick sink shower and not feel ashamed. The other option of Walmart will not feel as glamorous, as customers and employees coming in and out of the stalls will inevitably judge you while you are sticking your head underneath the faucet.

There is a Starbucks on every major city street corner, in every shopping center, airport, and highway rest stop. I’ve even seen multiple shops set up on a single Manhattan block. For me, it’s a guaranteed rest stop where I can fill up my Nalgenes with water for free, grab a cup of joe, and have a pleasant, private poop before getting back into a car for five and a half hours. 

Maybe they are an evil corporate company, but this evil demon coffee chain has a reward program that gifts me a free drink on my birthday every year, not to mention I get a 10 cent discount if I bring in my own filthy, crusty, unwashed coffee mug that has sand residue on the bottom of it. They’ll even rinse it out with hot water with a smile if you ask them to nicely enough. That doesn’t seem too evil to me.

As much as we love to hate on corporate America (especially corporate America who doesn’t actually know what a cappuccino is or has made-up beverage sizes), this is a chain that stays consistently convenient. 

Is the dirtbagging, Starbucks-drinking climber on-the-go an oxymoron? Absolutely. But hey, at least you’re not drinking Dunkin’ Donuts.

10 thoughts

  1. nice read Kathy. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to coffee these days and avoid corporate coffee usually but just this morning I had to stop at a Starbucks for my caffeine fix as there was a wreck coming into work and I didn’t have time to make coffee this morning. I too spent a summer working at one inbetween jobs and it was always a fun and clean place to work. thanks for the article.

  2. Most days I walk past at least two Starbucks to get to any coffee shop. There are just other local shops in DC that I like more. My reason for not going to Starbucks come from what you wrote ” I was spoiled by European espresso and was no longer accustomed to the slightly charred taste of most of Starbucks blends”. I don’t like the charred taste; sometimes the more than slightly charred taste of Starbucks. I will drink about any type of coffee in the office, but if I am paying for it then I get picky. There is a place in DC called Philz coffee that makes great pour over coffee. I really like the coffee at a place called Pleasant Pops, in DC. The Chinatown Coffee shop is good also. And when times get hard I will even go to Starbucks. Thanks for your blog and keep writing.

  3. “I also really love rock climbing; I think it also makes me a better human. But I think it’s mostly the coffee.”
    A large, I mean grande, Sumatra blend and a brownie and I’m good until lunch!!!

  4. I’m currently road tripping around Australia, and I’m struggling to find good coffee. In the big Cities there are Starbucks, but for the most part they don’t exist over here. I’m having to live off of McDonalds Coffee, which is just as horrific. (But its easy to camp in a McDonalds car park and steal their wifi; For the price of a coffee)

  5. It was our grown children who pointed out to us that all our trips are punctuated by and rated on coffee shop stops and how good the coffee was etc. I can understand the need. We lived in Europe for ten years, so coffee is not just a powder in a jar. It is life. It is how we time our day. In the UK we have Costa, where we choose if we have choice. I have worked in Canada and drunk the Hortons, but you need to know what to ask for, I was berated for describing the Hortons standard brew as insipid wee. I know what to ask for now, but the Canadians must have stamped my passport, they still look at me funny.

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