I hate Starbucks. The ubiquitous coffee chain, with its sometimes mediocre beans, reputation for exploiting impoverished coffee growers and its carbon-copy cafés' design epitomises the onslaught of soulless American consumerism. The brand belongs in B-grade Sandra Bullock rom-coms and nowhere else.
Or so I thought - until I landed in the western Canadian province of Alberta on a visit to my sister and her husband. Craving a coffee, I approached the only café I could find in the arrivals hall at Edmonton's airport. It was a Tim Hortons, something of a Canadian institution, I understand.
"Can I have a double shot latte?" I asked, frantically searching for signs of an espresso machine. The assistant peered at me from behind the pots of oily liquid which I realised must be drip "coffee".
"We don't have lattes," he said awkwardly.
They. Don't. Have. Lattes. Had I landed on another planet? Had I crossed too many time zones and landed in the 1970s?
I squinted up at the menu.
"Could I have a cappuccino then with an extra shot?" I asked hopefully. At least a cappuccino had been on the menu.
"We don't have... shots. It's a premix," he explained.
No shots? Duh - that explained the absence of an espresso machine. I nodded, dumbfounded. They call something they premixed a cappuccino? That's outrageous, I thought - so much for being a coffee shop.
Dazed, I walked away with drip coffee, bitter and brewed strong enough to make my hair stand on end. At least it woke me up.
I've spent several days now in deepest, darkest Alberta, with nary a sign of a Starbucks. I'm missing the corporate behemoth terribly -or, rather, I'm missing its machines spurting out espresso, and steaming hot fresh milk. Coffee's not coffee if it's not made this way. (Fine. French presses and percolators are OK for home or in cases of emergency. But they're not ideal - in my book anyway.)
Old Tim, with his bitter "coffee" and premixed concoctions, is everywhere here. But my dreams of bursts of espresso, the milky jolts of a macchiato or the sweet swirls of a latte remain unfulfilled.
It's very different to my home country, South Africa, which while not being known for its café culture, guarantees espresso-based coffees in most country towns (especially on holiday routes). On a roadtrip? In the middle of nowhere you can discover cute coffee shops, full of character, to get your flat white fix on the way.
Not so in rural Alberta, where "flat white" is more likely to mean freshly fallen snow - and where there's not even a nearby Starbucks to help me out. So much for people complaining they're everywhere.
I've learnt not to take my latte for granted. Clearly the espresso revolution - which plonked a Starbucks onto every street corner in the US and introduced the likes of "frappuccino" and "skinny double shots" into the western cultural lexicon - has been widespread, but not quite widespread enough.
To Starbucks, an appeal: Please don't take over the world. But by my next visit, feel free to invade Alberta.
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