It’s everywhere.  The little green mermaid logo.  You see the cafes everywhere, including in grocery stores like Kroger, chain stores like Target, and bookstores like Barnes and Noble.  Starbucks has become an American institution, and the opening of a new Starbucks somewhere is cause for celebration.  Millions of Americans head through the drive-thru every morning before work for their daily caffeine fix.  But is it really worth it?

Generally when I head to Starbucks I get a grande cup of coffee, bold preferably.  We’ve purchased Starbucks coffee to make at home, and we do enjoy the Yukon blend.  Lately, however, I’ve been a little dissatisfied with the ubiquitous chain, and it has to do in part with my preference for coffee and Starbucks’ own choice to push a particularly bad blend of coffee.  Yes, I’m talking about their Pike Place Roast, the blend that “got it all started”.  To be frank and honest, it’s terrible coffee.  I refuse to touch the stuff, and I generally either ask for bold coffee or the “not Pike Place”.  Unfortunately, Starbucks seems to have a policy in place that requires stores to always have Pike Place brewed, over better, tastier blends.  As well, many Starbucks stores in the Atlanta area also don’t brew bold coffee after 12pm.

This particular decision puzzles me to no end.  I can’t be the only person in town who wants bold, strong coffee after noon.  I know I’m not the only person who thinks that the Pike Place is a pretty gross blend.  I’ve heard that stores should offer you a pour-over if you ask for bold coffee and they don’t have any brewed.  For the unfamiliar, this is where they take a coffee filter with enough grounds for a single cup of coffee, and hand-pour the water through the filter to get you bold coffee in your cup.  It’s fresh and tasty.  It’s a lot of work for the barista.  I don’t know if they’re supposed to offer it, or if you need to specifically ask for it.  I don’t generally ask for it, since I know it’s a lot of work.  But I do really, really wish that Starbucks had bold coffee brewed for me after noon.  I like strong coffee.

However, since I’ve been constantly running into the above problem – not being able to get bold coffee at Starbucks after 12pm – I’ve been looking at other choices and ways to get my fix if I need to.  I find that the Nordstrom’s cafe brews a pretty good cup, and it’s a good bit cheaper than Starbucks.  I like the Ariva blend there.  A few local coffee shops also brew great coffee.  There’s a place within walking distance called Land of a Thousand Hills that serves a wonderful cup of Rwandan coffee.  Best of all, some of the proceeds go to bettering the lives of Rwandans.  My fiancée and I have been purchasing coffee from Whole Foods for our morning fix.  We particularly like the mocha java blend.  Best of all, a pound of coffee is about $10, a good $2-3 cheaper than a pound of Starbucks.  We get the whole bean, since we grind it fresh every morning.

Living in Atlanta also lets us take advantage of a program called Scoutmob, which uses an app on your iPhone to bring you daily deals on local restaurants and shops, often for 50% off your order.  There have been several very tempting local cafes and coffeeshops offered in the past few months.  The ones that come to mind are Condesa, a coffeeshop downtown(I forget the exact location), and a place that serves traditional tea each afternoon.  The tea place is located in Roswell, which is very close to us.

I think it’s often important to skip the chains when you can, and try to find local flavor.  This applies not only if you’re visiting foreign countries, but also when you’re simply vacationing in different states.  If you’re vacationing on the Texas coast, why would you want to visit Applebee’s for family dinner when you can jut as easily sample great local seafood in a locally owned and operated restaurant?  One of my favorite coffee places in Corpus Christi(my hometown) is Cafe Calypso, in the Moore Plaza shopping center right off of South Padre Island Drive(S.P.I.D. to the locals).  It’s directly attached to a Half-price Books, so you can browse literature and find a great book cheaply, then make your way through the adjoining doors into the cafe for a great cup of coffee while you read and enjoy the atmosphere.  The cafe offers two flavors of brewed coffee each day, ranging from Columbian to Coconut to Organic Mexican to Creme Brulee and many, many more.  They have a variety of delicious baked goods, and their scones are some of the best I’ve ever tasted.  (Why can’t my own be that good?)  One of my favorite drinks to get at Cafe Calypso is the iced Vietnamese – an espresso shot over ice with lots of sweetened condensed milk.  It hits the spot on those hot summer days… which, in Corpus, means it’s a great drink to try 90% of the year.

Cafe Calypso also has a great and friendly atmosphere.  I would head to Barnes and Noble to browse the shelves there, and  then make my way to Half-price to continue the window-shopping, only to end up in Cafe Calypso to enjoy a cup of coffee while I read, wrote, or sketched.  If you go often enough, you begin to notice that the same regulars are there day in and day out, and there is always great conversation to be had.

I know this started off as a Starbucks rant, and I didn’t have much more than that in mind when I started typing this post, but I really do want to emphasize going local when you can.  Your local businesses will appreciate seeing you, and you’ll enjoy finding an adventure in a place that’s off the beaten path and a step away from corporate America.  What you find might not always be great… but I can guarantee that you’ll remember it more than you would a trip the Chili’s in town.

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