One of my favorite childhood memories is going to Starbucks. When I was little, my mom used to wake up my brother and I at the break of dawn, shuffle us downstairs in our pajamas and drive us to Starbucks before we hit the best deals of the year at garage sales. My order was always the same, and it is one I still cherish to this day: an iced, unsweet green tea and a piece of banana bread. Before I knew how important coffee would be in helping me function on a day-to-day basis as I grew older — let alone even knowing what it tasted like — I had a soft spot carved out for Starbucks, the most famous coffee shop in the world.
However, I soon began to realize that this coffee shop was something that should be considered a luxury. I distinctly remember reading in some teen drama novel that the main character was teased by her friends for throwing away her expensive cup of Starbucks without finishing it. As a result of this, I started paying attention to prices. The next time we went through the line and I ordered my strawberry frappuccino, I made a mental note of the price and cherished every last sip. After all, there was no way that I would be able to afford this $5 drink when I was older.
But then I got to high school. Side note — I firmly believe that coffee culture kicks in during high school. This was the case for me. Getting a coffee and bringing it to school was as much a part of your look as your Uggs. Every high school is different, and at mine, Dutch Bros was the Chanel of the coffee brands. People would swarm to find out what flavor of coffee slush someone had gotten that day. The catch? It was an expensive accessory. Whereas I had considered a $5 Starbucks to be a pretty penny, Dutch Bros ranged from $6-9. I didn’t really understand the hype, but I figured it must just be that people really love their coffee.
It wasn’t until I was out delivering an Uber order that I realized buying coffee is about so much more than the coffee. I was picking up a $20 Uber order consisting of just one coffee from Dutch Bros and trying to wrap my head around how anyone could justify the buy when I came to the conclusion that no one really wants coffee that bad — they want the satisfaction.
Although this answer might seem obvious, my next question would be: why coffee? It seems like such a random item to give so much weight and purpose. “I need my Starbucks.” “Have you tried Peet’s?” “The Dutch Bros line is so long but so worth it.” Of course, there’s the reason that coffee is something most everyone has in common, so it makes for an easy conversation starter. But would you really pay that much to have a discussion topic ready to go?
People pay the price for their coffee, no matter what it is, because it speaks about who they are. Are you a go-getter who orders their Starbucks on the app, or are you a small-business supporter who goes to the local family-owned cafe even though it costs an extra $1.75 for one shot of vanilla? I admit, on days when I’m feeling down, I almost always buy myself a drink. Sure, my hair may look awful and I may be on the verge of a breakdown, but if I have my vanilla latte in my hand, I am ready to take on that breakdown. If I’ve had a good day? Let’s go get an iced coffee to prove to myself that nothing can stop me, as these two extra shots have my back.
Sure, you could make the argument that you pay the price you pay because you enjoy the environment of coffee shops. But I’d point out that there are lots of beautiful parks and libraries that are free. You could make the argument that the coffee really just is that good. But I’d point out that if you loved the coffee that much, you could ask for the beans that they use and brew it yourself.
I’m not making the argument that we shouldn’t go to coffee shops and use them as ways of making us feel or look good. If there was an Urth Caffé next to my house, I’d probably be broke. I’m making the argument that no matter what, coffee is just beans and water, and paying $6 for it is never justifiable for the coffee alone. Let’s stop trying to come up with excuses for paying that price because it’s ‘just that good,’ and admit that coffee prices are a scam. They are a scam that works and will always work because we are humans. We will pay for things that make us look good or feel good, especially if they are socially acceptable and commendable.