I don’t buck the trend: It’s Starbucks

In coffee tasting, as in all aspects of life, preparation is the key to success.

President Lincoln got it right when he said that if he had eight hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend six hours sharpening his axe. In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and having just over a week to write this column, I spent six days sharpening my axe and chopping down a tree.

As satisfying as that was, it left little time to complete the painstaking research that goes into these coffee reviews. To make deadline, I had to skip Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam at the Tacoma Dome and instead found myself prowling the aisles at Safeway in search of that elusive king of the coffee jungle, that holiest of coffee holys, that ubiquitous purveyor of all things coffee, our friend, Starbucks.

I confess to an enduring fondness for Starbucks, but then I tend to root for the overdog. Starbucks attracts a certain kind of coffee drinker; one who likes his or her adventure in moderation, his surprises in small doses, one who craves the exotic in theory but seeks out the predictable and familiar in practice. I make that observation with the full knowledge that I fit entirely within that category. More edgy coffee drinkers order from obscure Italian or boutique roasters and only buy lattes from independent baristas sporting orange hair or dreadlocks, soul patches, multiple piercings and Bob Marley t-shirts. But enough talk about my mother; let’s talk Starbucks at Safeway.

Starbucks at Safeway is located in the front of the store right where…something else used to be. It’s a tidy and compact little kiosk, staffed by baristas who look suspiciously like Safeway checkers wearing Starbucks aprons over their Safeway uniforms. Starbucks uses the familiar Solo Special Design Hot Cup with the comforting black and green mermaid label. The Special Design Hot Cup is now made for Solo by a company called “Fabrique.” Has Solo outsourced its cup-making to a fashionable French company? Or is “Fabrique” actually a front for a third-world sweatshop, possibly the same one where Kathy Lee Gifford had her line of children’s clothing made?

Those are intriguing questions, and maybe Mr. Lincoln would have been prepared to ask them, but we didn’t, and that’s why Lincoln is on the front of both the penny and the $5 bill, and we’re on page 5 of the Review.

My only real issue with Safebucks is the whole beverage-size thing. In my day, we had small, medium, large and extra large, and everybody pretty much understood that large was bigger than medium but smaller than extra large, and we were able to build the Great Society and put a man on the moon based on that commonality of understanding. The size choices at the Starways are tall, grande and venti, (venti being an Italian word for “bladder buster”). In Starwaybuck’s world, tall is small, and on that conundrum hangs the seeds of the decline of Western civilization. Assuming one gets beyond the sizing hurdle, the next obstacle is the milk preference. Non-fat, low fat, 1%, 2%, whole, organic or soy are the basic options. I usually ask for powdered, although that line has yet to get a laugh.

My test latte at the Safebuckwaystars was tasty and attractive. The seating options at Safebuckstarway are somewhat limited. Were this summertime, one could take one’s latte outside and sit on a bag of mulch or beauty bark. There’s also a small coin-operated horse near the entrance that offers a unique seating opportunity, but be prepared to move if an insistent 5-year-old claims it. There are several plastic chairs and tables inside the store, but the view is heavy on the pan, and light on the aroma. The indoor seating option can be improved dramatically if you’re willing to carry your plastic chair and table over to the wine and coffee aisle where the view is spectacular. For a change of pace, you can also sit near the seafood section in the corner and pretend you’re at a pricey French beach resort while you sip your latte out of your fancy French “Fabrique” go-cup.

Our rating for Starbucks:

Taste: 5

Service: 4

Ambiance: 2 (increasing to a 4 until one is asked to remove his plastic chair and table from the wine aisle and return it to the front of the store).

Total: 11-13.

A good score for what some consider the Darth Vader of the caffeine trade. If a passion for good coffee and a fondness for cold beer are points of intersection on the Venn diagram of your personality, then you’ll want to join us next week when we visit the Treehouse Café at Lynwood Center.

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.