Wednesday, January 11, 2012

That Lovely Coffee Smell

When I was a little girl there was a coffee shop in a strip mall near our new home here in Virginia.  We didn't go often, but going was a treat for me.  I don't remember my parents drinking too much coffee, but when they did they wanted the good stuff.  This was, of course, the days before Starbucks and a coffee house on every corner.  The shop in question was not one where you could get a cup of coffee.  It was, instead, a store where you could go and get hand roasted coffees of many varieties ground to whatever fineness you wished.

What I remember most about this store was the smell.  It was amazing, probably the most amazing smell I can recall.  Even better than baking bread, baking cookies and chocolate.  To this day, the scent of hand roasted coffee is one of my favorite scents.  The store was one of my favorites specifically because of the scent, but I don't know why the smell of coffee was such a favorite to me at the time.  I was about 10, it was 1980 or maybe 1981 and my world had turned upside down yet again.  We moved back from Germany, the country where I was born in the summer of 1980 and per my parents there was no way we were moving anywhere else.  Northern Virginia was Nirvana to them.

To me it was Hell.  It still isn't my favorite place and although I have made some good friends here I would gladly pack my bags tomorrow if an opportunity to move elsewhere arose.  But walking into that coffee shop just made everything ok for the ten or twenty minutes we were in the store waiting for the coffee my parents picked to be ground to their specifications.

Ironically even though I love the smell of roasted coffee beans, I didn't taste coffee for the first time until I was 28 and training myself for participating in coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia without making a face.  We were visiting my sister during her Peace Corps posting in November 1998 and knew we would be served coffee more than once.  It was important I could drink the bitter liquid I despised made from the aromatic beans I adored.  I lived in the land of the coffee shop - Los Angeles - but I chose Starbucks as my training ground.  No matter which Starbucks I walked into I knew I would have the same drink each time and while they weren't on every corner, they were on enough for me to be able to get at least one cup a day.

Thus began my love affair with the Starbucks Mocha.  Tall, half-caf/decaf, skim milk mocha.  Yes, I survived the 3 coffee ceremonies I remember in Ethiopia, but they would have been better with the chocolate mixed in.

While I love the Starbucks mocha, Starbucks is not necessarily my favorite coffee house.  With consistent drinks also comes consistent decor.  Remember, I lived in the land of the coffee house.  My favorite coffee houses had beat up sofas from the Salvation army, dart boards, pool tables and barristas in torn jeans reading scripts between making the best hot chocolate I've ever had.  That being said, I do have a favorite Starbucks - the Fox Mill Starbucks in Herndon, VA.

I had never been this Starbucks until November 2010.  As many of you know, I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every year and have since 2007.  In 2010, the Municipal Leader for our area asked me to lead a write-in group during the day, once a week in the Reston/Herndon area.  Starbucks was close to my son's preschool and my home so it won as a location.  I figured, I can sit and smell coffee once a week for a month, no problem.  What I didn't realize was that I was about to find a second home.

The short version of the story is that the other writer who came to the write ins and I continued through December and January then I got my days mixed up and double booked.  I booked a preschool coffee klatch at the same time as a write in.  My writing partner didn't mind so we sat at the big table and I bounced between the two groups trying to get some words written at the same time.  By the end of the coffee klatch, we had two new members of our writers group.  Within another month we had three more.  By the end of the summer, we were up to eight or so.  By NaNoWriMo 2011 we hit more than 13.  Yes, in less than one year we went from 2 members to 13 and I would consider each and every member a good friend.

What is even more amazing, at least to me, is that the Fox Mill Starbucks adopted us.  To us, we are not just another group of women who show up to drink coffee.  Each one of the partners who works there when we write has expressed interest in what we are doing, what genres we are writing, how far we are, do we want to publish?  We've even gotten more members because the partners recommend our group to friends, family and customers they know who write.  They remember our drinks or recommend new ones - I had a cold in December and they wouldn't let me have my regular mocha.  Instead they suggested I drink an Apple Spiced Chai to help clear up the head cold.  It's less expensive than the mocha so a bit counter intuitive, until you realize that these guys behind the counter actually seem to truly care about the customers in their store.  We are their Tuesday morning group.  They want to read our books.  We're part of their week.  Without them, our highly creative group would not have the space to exist the way it does.

I have been to quite a few Starbucks in the US and overseas, the Fox Mill Starbucks is my favorite one hands down.  The only thing that could make it better would be a drive through for those days I absolutely cannot make it inside.  Then again, if they had a drive through I would miss my, now almost daily, interactions with the folks behind the counter.  I know a good number of their names, their family stories, their creativities, dreams, stories and friendships.  It is truly a special Starbucks - a member of a national chain with the feel of a local coffee house minus the beat up sofas and dart board I miss so much from my younger days.

It is another shining example of excellent customer service at work.  There are more than 10 Starbucks, one Panera, a local coffee shop and a variety of fast food coffee shops (McDonalds, Dunkin; Donuts, etc) and I will drive out of my way to get coffee here or not get coffee at all most days because it's not just the coffee.

It's the people.  Both the Starbucks partners and the writing group.

One day we'll all be published and I fully expect that each and every one of us will include the following statement or something like ti in our book acknowledgement:

"Many thanks to the Fox Mill Starbucks crew for the many cups of coffee, the encouragement and a place to call home without dishes to clean, beds to make or kids to chase.  Without those things, this book would not exist."

Now, to finish and find a publisher.  (Hey - Starbucks Corporate!  You looking for a few new authors?)


John Buchanan said...

Thanks for your post, it has given me some great ideas. I must admit that up until about 2 years ago I used to drink about 6-8 strong Mugs of Ground Coffee a day so I will have to watch myself. Interesting thing is that now I am "Coffee Free" Sleep comes hard!

Lisa said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, John. Yes, taking the drug (caffeine) out of your body may just make it harder to sleep from what I understand. I hope you find a way to make it easier soon! Tea might help. Try a tea with valerian in it.