I have friends who are Starbucks fans. I can suggest The Fyxx but I know we’ll end up at Starbucks, even though there’s nothing wrong with The Second Cup either. I like Starbucks… you can sit down on a comfortable couch or maybe gather round a table or sit in an armchair and have a civilized brew along with a good conversation. Depending who you’re with, of course.

Starbucks Logo But some of these people — people I like, mind you — are Starbucks snobs. They just don’t want other coffees… even the brew at home is Starbucks, don’t bother if Seattles Best Coffee is better than Starbucks. Coffee snobs. I’m a coffee snob, but not that kind… I’m the type that figures if you’re going to ingest the nectar of the gods, you should have the decency to brew it properly, drink it hot, and above all, don’t desecrate the elixir of life with cream or sugar. In Hell they drink instant coffee that’s slightly cold, and they make you use coffee whitener and six lumps of sugar. Don’t imitate Hell-coffee.

Now, there’s one thing I don’t like about Starbucks. Why the *$@#%! can’t they print the %%@^$ menu in English? At the location I visited on Friday, even one of the employees couldn’t pronounce what she was making. She was new, but still, what’s with all the vocabulary soup? You can’t even tell them what size you want without guessing what they mean. Venti, Grande, or the other one? Normal people ought to be able to order a “Large.” At least you know what you’ll be getting. After that you need to wrestle with figuring out the difference between one fancy brew and the other… besides 40 cents. Seems to me you can get the same thing with three different names, if you just figure out which price you want to pay. Maybe the harder to pronounce ones are cheaper, so the customers will cut straight to the one they know how to say and just pay the extra 90 cents for it. “Yeah, I’ll give you an extra two bucks, just don’t make me try and pronounce the menu.” The price is of course the second thing I hate about Starbucks (maybe there’s two things). I was there on Saturday morning, and three drinks later I was trying to figure out how for the price I’d just paid we walked away with liquid only…. I should have gotten three whole breakfast specials. And I would have if I’d been anywhere else. Coffee has an insane margin, and Starbucks is based on the concept that 900% isn’t enough…. well, make that 870% margin if you include a free refill or two. Once they’ve finished making your unpronounceable selection of caffeine delivery methods, they serve it up on a ledge and call out what it is so you’ll know it’s yours. This is of course a bit of a farce — what actually happens is that if nobody else grabs it, you figure it must be the thing you ordered… and you think, “So maybe that’s how you pronounce it,” and tentatively grab your beverage from the serving ledge.

So basically at Starbucks, you can go in, read the menu in a foreign tongue, guess what you’re ordering, pay too much for it, and second-guess your order when they serve it. But if you get that far, you’ll definitely enjoy the product, and appreciate the comfortable context for a relational conversation with a friend or two. The end is of course so enjoyable that you’ll come back and do it all over again the next time.

Jesus and Starbucks So here’s the thing. The established church doesn’t need to serve Starbucks coffee to become more emerging-minded. The established church already is Starbucks. I’ve finally figured this out, and in so doing, I now know how unchurched people feel when they walk into an established evangelical church hoping for some sustenance. The menu is printed in a foreign language, the people say things they can’t understand, they end up parting with more money than they were ready for, and they second-guess the whole experience. If they stick it out, the end result is worthwhile, but the whole thing feels pretty foreign until they’ve managed to sample the entire menu, figure out the lingo, and find a comfortable place to sit and converse relationally with someone. By this time they’ll be encountering the snobbish types who tell them that noplace else in town is as good.

Here’s my plea. Speak simple English, be normal, and get over the snobbery. And cheaper coffee prices. This plea, of course, goes both for Starbucks and for the church.

Now, if I’ve offended anyone with my comments about Starbucks, well, please know that I didn’t mean to do so, and please accept my apologies. If I’ve offended anyone with my comments about church, well, please know that, er, such things are bound to happen.

Update: in unrelated news, more Starbucks posts appeared today at Matrix Minister (HT:Kevin Cawley) and over at As It Is. Starbucks Jesus image credit: Vaughan Thompson.

Update: (January 2006) Turns out there’s an undocumented Starbucks coffee size, the “short”. I think this just proves my point about the church even further… if you really press beyond the secret language, there just might be unadvertised specials that you’ll enjoy better, and you’ll understand what they are. In English.

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