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Thursday, June 26, 2003 02:20 pm

Ack! This coffee is burned!

The bitter truth about Starbucks

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For most people, coffee is a friendly acquaintance to be greeted each morning like the office receptionist. Hello, how are you, just a cup or two, and they're ready to get on with their day.

For me, coffee represents the longest intimate relationship of my life. I love the smell, I love the taste, and I can drink a pot or more per day. It's as vital as oxygen to me.

So you would think I'd be thrilled to see Starbucks come to town, right? I wish I were that easy.

I come from a city where Starbucks sprout on every corner, open from dawn until the late news. One was conveniently located on my way to work, and another one was handy on my way home. There were two by my bank, one at my kid's skating rink, and another one next door to his ballet school. And most of them knew my regular order: a "grande COD" ("coffee of the day") in winter, and a double espresso over ice the rest of the year.

But I'd avoid them all and drive blocks out of my way to get coffee at Legal Grounds during the hours it was open. Legal Grounds was my favorite coffee house for many reasons. One--it is owned and operated by an attorney, whose law books line the walls, adding a touch of functional décor. I can't think of a better use for a lawyer than to put him in charge of brewing beans. Two--I liked the people who populated the place, on both sides of the coffee counter. And three--I could order in plain English. No hipper-than-thou, younger-than-my-shoes "barista" would correct me if I said "large" instead of "venti."

Most importantly, though, I loved the coffee. Every day, there was a different delectable flavor like Snickerdoodle or cinnamon hazlenut or Southern pecan. And a refill for my go-cup cost just one dollar.

See, that's the bottom line for me. I'm just not a big fan of Starbucks coffee. It tastes like they burn the beans. Starbucks doesn't offer flavored coffee except shots of syrup, which add 30 cents to the price and, even worse, calories.

But let's face it: The opening of a Starbucks downtown is a giant step forward for Springfield. I'll be a regular customer, especially on Sundays, when both Andiamo¡ and Trout Lilly are closed. It's getting hot out. I'm ready for a doppio on the rocks.

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