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April 29, 2002
Regular, with two sugars.

This morning, there was this good Veni, Venti, Grande article by Terry Pristin about Starbucks in The New York Times. Now New Yorkers know that the Chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz was raised in Brooklyn and that there are more Stabucks in New York now than Duane Reade Pharmacies. (Duane Reade Pharmacies are this local Pharmacy institution since 1960 that has so many stores that their jingle is:"Everywhere you go: Duane Reade". You get the idea.)
There are more Starbucks in Manhattan than one might think are needed in this already pretty well caffeine saturated place. There were no Starbucks branches before 1994 and now there are 124 (113 Duane Reades). (Only 3 or so beyond 125th street and NONE in alphabet city.) I can see a Starbucks across the street, and if I lean out well enough I can see two more.
David Sipress observed the situation quite well in the New Yorker.

I remember my first Coffee (Coowofiee) in New York. It was 1993 and I had only heard the tales about the coffee being especially good here. I was 23, on my second visit from Germany, I was definitely not a coffee drinker, what did I know? I noticed all these little carts with strange looking bread in their windows and these guys seemed to sell coffee too. I walked up to one in Midtown and requested a cappuccino. This request makes me smile now, but I was all serious, I did not know any other coffee “names”. I was basically clueless. (at least when it came to coffee, ok?) So the guy in the cart looks at me for a second or two, turns around, pours me a coffee from his machine in the cart, sprinkles something on top and hands me my “cappuccino”. It was coffee with milk with cinnamon on top. It was sweet too, which came as a positive surprise, I had forgotten to ask for sugar. I tried the stuff and I knew that it was not cappuccino, but it was fun, I had just ordered my first coffee in New York, and I was a bit proud of myself. I then walked over to times square, at night, and got the full Times Square experience. Every thing was happening at the same time and I had this incredible feeling of pure happiness. So the coffee was good stuff. (I am not using any code language here. I am talking about real coffee, ok?, no other stimulants, just coffee and sugar... Ok cinnamon.)
I have never ordered another cappuccino from a cart again.
When I moved to New York a few years later, I lived on 46th street, basically in Times Square, in a hotel for a month, so my breakfast came automatically from the cart on 46th street and 6th avenue. I would buy a “regular coffee with *two sugars* and a sesame bagel with butter”. It comes out to be exactly $1 and it takes about 7 seconds to make. I would always stick the buck into the window and the guy in the cart would just hand me a brown paper bag with my bagel and coffee. Blue cup, “we are happy to serve you”, a moist napkin on top, and this super dry wannabe bagel with butter, warm on one side from the hot coffee. I would always order regular coffee with two sugars, because regular coffee in New York is a small blue cup of coffee with milk and sugar, but I wanted be more specific. Have it more my way. Two sugars does not mean that there are two cubes of sugar in the coffee. The guy in the cart usually has an empty 1gallon milk container with the top cut off, filled with sugar and he has this big, sly crusty spoon with which he reaches into the container to pour the sugar, in big scoops over the milk he just poured into the little paper cup. Everything happens in seconds, so the milk sometimes splashes onto the spoon, making it all sticky, thus the sugar crust. Good stuff.
The Starbucks article made me think. So here we have New Yorkers, who are, according to the Starbucks chairman: "too lazy to cross the street for a cup of coffee”, and then these people are paying $4 for a cup of coffee with milk, while I try to get mine for ¢50 at the cart. I know I am comparing apples and oranges here, and I know that the starbucks coffee is pretty good. And they have all these sorts of coffee... But they do not have my “regular coffee with two sugars”, so Starbucks-shmarbucks...
I decided to interview my coffee guy who has his cart on 93rd and Broadway, just across the street from a Starbucks actually, about the various sorts of coffee he has to offer.
Witold: Hi, I have been having Regular Coffee with two sugars for the last 6 years or so. What is the difference between my Coffee and the regular, regular coffee.
Man in cart: It is the same thing.
Witold: It is the same thing?
Mic: Yeah. A regular coffee is a Coffee with milk and two sugars.
Witold: (amazed) I see.
Mic: (smiles)
Witold: so what is this “ and sweet” coffee?...
Mic: More milk and four sugars. (Four huge spoons of white sugar!)
Witold: Wow. That is a lot. Ok, I’ll have one of those then. In large.
Mic: That’s gonna be 5-6 sugars, are you sure?
Witold: Yeah, what the heck, let’s try it.
Mic: haha...
Witold: So what other sorts of coffee do you sell.
Mic: I sell Sanka. That is with no caffeine.
Witold:(as he takes the huge cup in a brown bag and pays $1 for the largest coffee)... Thanks...
Interview took about 8 seconds)

So here we have it. I have been ordering a regular coffee for all these years, except I have been ordering it like a tourist. It was a bit of an upgrade from my cappuccino days, but still, obviously not a real new yorker.
This is going to change now. I am going to order my regular coffee. (and still get the two sugar spoons...)
And when I grow up, I hope to be able to order my coffee like REDD. He is from Brooklyn and a *real* New York guy. His order goes a bit like this...
Redd: ’s up?... Thanks. (Pays, takes coffee...)
(Redd usually already knows the guy, and the guy knows Redd.)
Some day. Some day I will also be able to do that. (Redd is my hero.)


Hey, Witold...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months, and have to tell you... this is one of the reasons I keep coming back. I love the way you write, and it's quite enjoyable to read.

And, I found you site while looking at the Mirror.com. ...just got a Sony DSC-F707 digital camera a couple of months ago, and it was interested in other people and their pictures.

In short, love your site. Keep it up!


Posted by: bo on April 29, 2002 11:15 PM

w, i gotta say, who the hell told you the coffee was good in ny? Starbucks or no - it's kinda shit. The coffe cart experience can be good in that only-in-ny way i admit. Except when the guy puts butter on your bagel every single time even though you ask him specifically for it to be dry *every single time*. Or when you've finally bonded with cart dude - and he up and disappears without a trace one day. That's sad.

But tastewise - c'mon - it's shit. The coffee in berlin, thjough, which i had the pleasure of tasting was so yummy, so strong.

Posted by: neille neille on April 30, 2002 04:51 AM

1 more thing - i just read the article - and i think that the popularity has a lot to do with starbucks being used as a meeting point. Like "Meet you at the starbucks on union square." And then you meet and go off to actually do something (but not before getting a warm something)...

a thought...

Posted by: neille on April 30, 2002 04:58 AM

I haven't had cart coffee in a while. I actually really don't like coffee too much, but I have to say I enjoyed that 50 cent cup of coffee more than that gourmet crap at work.

Posted by: eric the redd on April 30, 2002 01:45 PM

Yeah, there are so many variations on the coffee theme... I can already see that the post just stirred up a whole new conversation. There is this bad work coffee from the machine, and then there are all these coffee blends at fairway or at zabars... the spectrum is pretty big when it comes to coffee in new york... something we will need to investigate a little more... ; )

Posted by: Witold on April 30, 2002 10:34 PM

: )
I recently had an omelette at one of these carts and it was the worst omelette I have ever had in my life, including my lousy failed attempts from years ago...

As far as coffee goes... I like that they really just throw a lot of sugar in there. It is so bad... soooo baaad...
but it makes the lights look brighter...
blingblingbling... : )

Posted by: Witold Riedel on August 13, 2003 06:19 PM
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