Ask the Ethicist

While I wish I could pretend that I get my caffeine fix at a local coffee house where the owner bakes fresh flaxseed muffins every morning and her domestic life partner plays Joni Mitchell covers during open mic night, I've got to admit that more often than not, I am guilty of feeding the Evil Starbucks Machine. This is primarily because it's right around the corner from both my apartment and my office, but also because the only other place that's directly on my route to work is Whole Foods. And after extensive experimentation, I've come to the conclusion that the coffee at Whole Foods is laced with crack, because every time I drink it, I scare the interns. They often have to peel me off the ceiling and quietly remove sharp objects from my desk. I wish this were true of the two-bite vanilla cupcakes at Whole Foods, because maybe then I'd stop eating them too.

But back to Starbucks. You see, something's been bothering me for a while (and it's not the matter of why anyone would want to put PUMPKIN in their LATTE, though I've had a few sleepless nights over that too.) My dilemma is this: when I get my Venti Coffee (and yes, I've acquiesced---I no longer point mutely to the biggest cup or try to get away with "extra large"), it always comes to $1.96. So after I've handed over my two dollar bills, I have two choices:

a) Stand there lamely and wait for the salesperson (oh come on, I gave you Venti, I draw the line at BARISTA) to hand me back my four cents. Which sort of makes me look like those four pennies are VITAL TO MY EXISTENCE and I'm going to go and count them all later and place them in creepy piles of ten on my desk, when really, just between you and me, if I didn't think it would have some horrible karmic effect, I'd probably just throw them away, because pennies are the most useless invention ever, and the only time you'll ever need them is when you buy something that comes to $19.01, and THAT is when you won't have a penny on you and you'll hold the line up while you search through your purse and then desperately cast about on the grocery store floor in case someone's dropped one.

b) Breezily walk away without the four cents---or throw it into the tip jar---before proceeding to the Splendid Splenda Station. Which, although it gives me an admirable air of recklessness---a sort of laissez-faire attitude, if you will---may in fact be WORSE, since it seems to say "Here you are, peon! Four cents for you! It's your lucky day! Buy yourself something nice!"

Since I have yet to resolve this important quandary, I mostly take the coward's way out and use my debit card. But really, which is tackier? To wait for your four cents or to walk off without it? Or should I just succumb to buying the crack at Whole Foods? It's only $1.57 there. And did I tell you they have two-bite vanilla cupcakes?

Gretchen C.
Nov 09, 2005

Hmm, can't help you out on the penny quandary, because I am the sort of person who could actually throw them away, and in fact I have done. I can, however, make the following two observations:

(1) When you mentioned Whole Foods having crack in their coffee, my instinctive reaction was not "That's terrible" but "Why the hell is there no Whole Foods less than 8 miles from my house?"

(2) I go to evil Starbucks too, and my drink is a venti nonfat no-whip Pumpkin Spice Latte with an extra shot. (Yes, I have succumbed to the evil Starbucks juggernaut with a vengeance.) And to answer your question about why anyone would want pumpkin in their latte, I give you: "Mmmmmm. Pumpkiny."

Nov 10, 2005

Speaking as someone who makes coffee at home or submits to the $.59 large coffee at the golden arches drive-thru (I KNOW, but it's Green Mountain coffee, which is actually okay), here are my learned thoughts:

1) I giant pink puffy heart Whole Foods. If there is indeed crack in the coffee, I'm sure it's wholly organic crack harvested by Americans who were paid fairly for their work.

2) I hate Starbucks. Because, yes; venti, barista? Um, no. Gimme the freaking cup of joe, you spoiled rich little liberal arts major who finally got cut off by mommy and daddy. At least at McD's or Dunkin Donuts the salespeople don't act like they're better than me. ;)

Nov 10, 2005

I am with Gretchen about the Whole Foods coffee--my nearest Whole Foods is in Tulsa, which is not on the way home from preschool carpool line, although I have thought about how to turn the 180 mile round-trip drive into Just Another Mommy Adventure. Solely for the crack-laced coffee.

I say debit card, always. Cash is so 1980-something.

Lynn Moran
Nov 10, 2005

When did small, medium and large become so nondescriptive and confusing that they had to be abandoned for new-and-improved descriptors? When I lived in Kansas City, I never called a large beverage anything other than a large beverage. But just try that in Seattle. I double-dare you. It doesn’t fly. The first time I did that here, I thought the barista (or should I say bitch-ista) was going to throw hot coffee in my face. Is part of their Starbucks training to seek out and destroy all those who don’t conform to the Starbucks naming convention? Or had she just had one too many caffeine-laden ventis herself?

Nov 10, 2005

I vote for waiting for the pennies. If they look at you funny, you can tell them you're Scottish. Or making a doorstop. That's what I do with the absolutely useless 1- 2- and 5-tolar coins I get in change everyday. (If it takes 203 tolars to make a U.S. dollar, I leave you to do the math). I save them up and put them in empty Twinings tins to keep all my doors from swaying crazily.

Alternatively, you could stack those pennies up with some damp leather and zinc discs and have yourself a homemade Voltaic pile. Generate your own electricity, move off the grid -- That'd show those supercilious barista people!

Nov 10, 2005

I've thought up a marvelous plan and I'm delaying my dinner just to say it to you, keep all your pennies in a penny pouch and then oh wait i just realized it didn't work...i was going to say give them four pennies then i remembered that that didn' okay dinner.
p.s. perhaps instead of getting a venti, get two...smalls? Small-eys, whatever they're called. And also the other day i accidentally got venti, i nearly died, fortunately it was only hot chocolate, so i'm just very fat now (so perhaps i should delay my dinner further)

Swedish Girl
Nov 10, 2005


I feel your pain. My wallet is always full of annoying coppers (I mean coins, not police officers). Maybe I should save them up for a day when I'm feeling particularly evil, then stand in line at the busiest Starbucks in London and carefully count out my £1.75 only in 2p coins? While people are breathing like angry bulls down my neck?

Hm. Or maybe not. People armed with hot coffees shouldn't be provoked!

Nov 10, 2005

There are several coffee houses down here in Singapore, which is surprising considering we are 8070 miles from Seattle and 9938 miles from Sao Paulo. In case your're interested, we're also 6430 miles from Strasbourg and 6203 miles from Tripoli.

Nov 10, 2005

I am imagining a bunch of white rich middle aged men talking about how they can make an extra 4 cents off of every sucker that buys the coffee because they KNOW everyone hates pennies. They calculate how many customers buy the venti (or whatever its called) coffe and factor that into their budget. They are thousands of dollars richer because of this nasty passive agressive trick.

I say being tacky and waiting for your hard earned 4 cents is better than letting those Machiavellian honchos dupe you.

Nov 10, 2005

i have exactly the same dilemma when it comes to putting minute amounts of change in the tip jar. so much so that sometimes i actually refrain from putting anything in the tip jar so i don't look cheap - except that i realize that not putting anything is actually cheaper than putting four cents, so i almost always end up overcompensating by putting in something crazy like the five dollar bill i have in my wallet even though it's my last bit of cash.

a friend of mine for as long as i can remember will, when eating out, remove all pennies from any change let over as tip precisely because pennies look cheap. she'll leave all the nickles and dimes in the world, but never pennies.

my newest and best solution to all of these dilemmas: i've stopped carrying cash all together. i am now queen of the debit swipe. i am also near financial ruin. so really, it's a trade off.

Nov 10, 2005

I used to buy my coffee at Dunkin Donuts. I sipped my proletarian coffee as a mark of pride in my New England heritage. Plus, I'd had the coffee at Starbucks. It was overpriced and tasted burnt.

But I think they've changed how they roast the coffee, or something, because lately I've become addicted. And every time I go in to one, I'm freaked out by how well I'm being target-marketed. Hell, they sell Tracy Chapman cd's in the checkout line. And boxes of Tazo Chai.

It's making me paranoid. Or maybe that's just the massive dose of caffeine coursing through my veins...

Nov 10, 2005

I used to feel the same way as Roo, especially about the burnt taste. However, they have changed their roast, and furthermore, they recycle everything, treat their workers really well (including benefits for a simple coffee clerk, which is pretty sweet), and do a lot of fair trade and relief work in other countries. I think it about evens out.
By the way, Holly, if you take in your own travel mug, they'll drop 10 cents off the price of your coffee, so that way you're actually leaving about a 10% tip. Still lame, but maybe not as lame as 4 cents in the tip jar.

Busy Mom
Nov 10, 2005

We are getting our first Whole Foods very soon, so I cannot yet attest to the crack situation, but I'll keep you posted. I have the same trouble with the 4 cents! I usually get it and walk away, but that's because I have a problem with everyone and their counter service self wanting a tip. I may get shot here, but pouring me a drip coffee that is already nearly 2 dollars doesn't rate tip. A coffee drink? Maybe.

Nov 10, 2005

Love your blog!

Just wanted to let you know there are REASONS to save those pennies. Especially if you have a late model Toyota truck just sitting around.
Scroll about halfway down the page.

Nov 10, 2005

well, hello! so many things in common!

1. we both have websites!
2. you visited my site, and now i am visiting yours!
3. we read a lot of the same work: dooce, finslippy, convos about famous people, fug, etc. it must be fate!
4. you live in charleston, i like visiting charleston!
5. my site is down right now, yours is up!
6. you've lived all over the world! i've lived all over dallas!
7. your boyfriend, and my husband, are both graphic designers! that should say enough!
8. you work for a magazine, i like to read magazines! namely: cosmo, US, and other tabloids that document the lives of celebrities. my husband hates it, but secretly reads the magazines when he thinks i'm not looking.

we could TOTALLY be friends. i'll be back!

Nov 10, 2005

and by saying, "i'll be back!" i don't mean to imply that i will stalk you. or really, i will, but not in person. just your site. except when i come to charleston, and then i shall look you up and we will frolic along rainbow row and sip lemonade while wandering through the slave mart.

and do you know what charleston has that dallas does not?

is the suspense killing you?


Nov 11, 2005

When the salesperson hands you your change, just look very closely at your pennies and then exclaim "A 1956?! Oh boy, I can't wait to add this one to my collection!" Sure everyone will think you're a tremendous dork, but no one will think you're saving every penny to pay the rent. Either that or order a medium-- I mean grande.

Nov 11, 2005

Hello - came over from Sheryl's place, per her recommendation, and I am in love! What a charmer!

As for your Starbucks dilemma, I've been there. And I've taken the four pennies and driven off blithely into the morning.

Nov 11, 2005

Hi there! I manage quite nicely on my freshly brewed at home via single serve machine cuppa each morning, so the penny problem is not one that I share. I would probably just walk away though.

I found you today via papernapkin, and upon a quick trip through your oh so slender archives, have added you to my favorites. Your style and wit are lovely, I can't believe I have to add another "must read". I am glad you are here.

Nov 11, 2005

I find myself at the ubiquitous Starbucks near daily (god, they're at every NYC corner). I order the "tall" though, because I'm cheap, it's got a nice staccato punch to it, and I don't have to pretend I'm an American Girl in Firenze.

As for the pennies: I'd either hold up the line by digging around in my purse saying, "I just KNOW I've got a penny in here" until he relents and gives me a nickel (tip jar with an extra dollar) or find the penny, get the nickel (still tip jar sans extra dollar). I worked many moons ago in a cafe in San Francisco and would strain to jedi mind trick customers into throwing their change into the jar after each transaction, so I'm of the toss 'em in ilk now.

Nov 11, 2005

I'm with wickedfun. Made my way here through PaperNapkin, find your writing amusing, and am adding you to favorites! :) Oh, and I make my coffee at home, I do keep pennies ( save them in a big old pickle jar at home), and only tip people who actually wait on, clean up after, or serve food to me.

Nov 11, 2005

I also got here through papernapkin and I'm adding you to my list, too!

I solve the Starbucks penny dilemma by using a Starbucks card - I get points or miles or whatever we're getting on our credit cards these days and I can completely dupe myself into forgetting just how much damn money I'm spending on coffee. Hand them the card, they swipe it smartly and you're on your way - no counting change, no waiting for pennies (and no tip - I'm with Celina).

Nov 12, 2005

You read my mind and say it so much better than I could write it.

Found you via Paper Napkin--and am glad she directed me your way.


bad andy
Nov 12, 2005

AED>>Paper Napkin>>you!

Ha... you make me laugh. There is a lot of good tips from the comments above but since I happen to be a barista I thought I could add or highlight a couple.

The best suggestion I see is to get a gift card especially if you find yourself in line during morning peak times. This is a win win solution: You save the person at the register some time because they aren't waiting for you to find your two dollars and they don't need to stress that they counted out four pennies, and there isn't any pressure to give a tip when you use a gift card (tip because you want to... not because you have to!... its not like drip coffee is some high maintenance service required drink). These cards are re-loadable (even from home.. well the internet). The other idea I like is using a personal cup (lots of pluses with this one). You get a cup discount (good for the environment). Its your personal cup that expresses your personal sense of style (you don't even have to use a starbucks cup). You could grab the splenda and load your cup while you wait in line. The only downside is that I have yet to see a personal cup that is 20oz unless it was some kind of therm-us looking monstrosity.

In the end I wouldn't feel bad about the 4 cents. Lets think about it this way. If you are a regular I could probably process your drink order in about 10 seconds. That means 24 cents every minute or 72 cents for the 3 min that most people will wait for their bar drink (which matches with about average what everyone drops). The beverage bar person thanks you because you haven't added to their queue of drinks (which in turn helps everyone else get their drinks faster).

Nov 14, 2005

I'm with Celina. Who said (and I quote), "Oh, and I make my coffee at home, I do keep pennies ( save them in a big old pickle jar at home), and only tip people who actually wait on, clean up after, or serve food to me."


I actually carry around a huge black leather pocketbook that looks remarkably like a bucket. Whenever I get change, I throw it in the bucket. When my shoulders dislocate, I empty the change from the bucket into a jar at home. When the jar is full, I bring it to the bank and dump it into the happy little change counter machine. Then I take the receipt to the counter, collect my 100+ dollars, and go back out to shop and make more change!

It's a vicious cycle, I know. However, it comes in handy for those times when a) I actually need change at the register and b) when I am late to work and have to park in a pay lot where it takes five quarters to hold my spot for the day. I also have very strong shoulders, probably as a result of carrying the bucket full of change, possibly because of my job as an Atlas impersonator in the "Stars on Ice" rendition of skaters in Central Park.

Just kidding about that last bit.

- M

Nov 15, 2005

I had to give up coffee entirely- living in the Starbucks capital (Seattle) where they literally had a lobby to get Starbucks while you were waiting in line at Starbucks when the line got too long at Seattle's Best from across the street- I got a little too mean when I didn't get coffee so no more for me. My one addiction from Whole Foods are the pecan pie cookies, I think they only make them in the south (never saw them until we came to Atlanta) but they are soft, buttery, crack laced confections which one should never ever try.

Great blog you have here, I'll definitely be returning.

Nov 17, 2005

I don't drink coffee so therefore do not understand the whole venti and grande and what have yous and what the heck is a barista?

My God, Sheryl was right about you. You are very amusing.