Settling into the coffee culture, even as a tea drinker is not without its challenges. A new set of language and rules to learn that define the culture. Having complexity and rites of passage is important to any ‘club’. When did ‘grande’ become a synonym for medium?
As a writer, one of many launching points I use to get the hand moving and the brain engaged is to focus on an object within view. On the wall beside me a poster is visible behind non-glare glass. It caught my eye, a lotus blossom and my proclivity to anything Buddhist. A longer pause followed to linger on the rich palm frond palette, a green that awakened a communion with nature, on offer of serenity in a sip.
Casting my thoughts to the poster’s origin, the pen begins a cursive trail across the page (I often start with a watery fountain pen instead of the keyboard) I imagine a boardroom in the SBC (or maybe Starbucks) corporate headquarters. A broad sheet of glass faces west, pulled taught between the steel girders, it translates the sonorous vibrations of the Seattle harbor: a foghorn, a ships whistle, and the low vibrato of giant diesel engines. Three stories below, from a narrow strip of buildings, the sounds of the famous fish market rise and fall.
On this day, a young woman slowly pads back and forth on the hardwood floor of this converted office building. To her left, an easel props up a series of poster boards, the plane white backing facing outwards. Over the door ‘stir stick’ hands on a clock remind her that it is five more minutes before the meeting is to begin.
In the following hour, murmurs of agreement, questions, and plaudits arise as the woman, doing well to calm her nervousness, presents the plan for a tea promotion: Tantalizing Tea Lattes, maybe her name was Tracy as she touted a trilogy of Tazo Teas. Surely these would be popular amongst the ‘wanna’ be writers that flock to their coffee houses.
The poster eventually found its way into SBC stores across their network, and now hangs up and to my left. Across the gray slate like tile, another copy at the front of the store balances in its medal stand. I was ready to be led across the poster, a path laid out, Green Tea Latte, Chai Latte, and Vanilla Tea Latte.
The Green Tea went well. No hesitations when ordering, even the soy modification at .55 cents extra yielded no embarrassment.
On the next visit, I was ready to venture another step, skipping to the next lotus leaf step to the already familiar chai, though silently wondering if chai means tea in Hindi, is ‘chai –tea’ not redundant?
The final step, a Vanilla Tea Latte. I ordered carefully, knowing now to ask for a mug (anything to avoid the apparently disposable) . Placing the exact change, $4.11 on the counter, I was suspicious when the price was .25 cents higher. The pressure of the assembly line was building behind me, there was no time to question and betray my freshman status. I was pushed along the counter, the screech and hiss of steam, the banging of metal, a manufacturing process was about to be complete — consumer with beverage, packaged, and ready for consumption.
Reaching out and sliding the steaming mug off the polished bright red laminate counter, I was curious at how much darker it was than most teas. I walked back to my table, lips hesitantly placed, the mouth pulling the first taste. Coffee flavor, I had stepped off the posters careful path. But for a single letter, I had inadvertently ordered a Vanilla Latte, not a Vanilla ‘T’ latte.