Do Starbucks and “Sugar In The Raw” Have A Strategic Alliance?

January 16, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Beverages, blogging, just life, Rants 

Starbucks Drive Thru SignPhoto Credit: Sherry Dedman

What is with the shameless pushing of “Sugar In The Raw” that seems to be going on at Starbucks?  I’ve been getting the same drink at Starbucks – a Triple Grande No-Whip Mocha – for years now.  And I usually just add the (white, normal) sugar at the little bar or whatever and leave.

But recently I decided I’d like to have the barista do it for me – seems more efficient and I wouldn’t have to mess with the lid and stuff.  Starbucks coffee (or espresso, in my case) is really good, but I don’t really want to spend any more time there than I have to in the morning, “happily” chatting with people before I’ve had my morning caffeine.

Well, you wouldn’t believe the problems that the simple act of requesting sugar in my coffee (espresso, actually) has caused.  Here are some of the ridiculous conversations requesting sugar in my coffee has caused:

ME:  “Hello, I’d like a triple grande no-whip mocha with 4 sugars, please.”

Starbucks Barista:  “Sugar In The Raw?”

ME:  “No, just regular sugar.”

Starbucks Barista:“We don’t have sugar.”

ME:  (I do a double take, then…)  “You don’t have sugar?”

Starbucks Barista:“No, we only have Sugar In The Raw.”

ME:  “Ok, whatever, 4 Sugar In The Raw, then.”

This was a conversation via the speaker at a drive-through (another reason I’ve taken to having the barista add my sugar for me – I finally found a neighborhood Starbucks in West Des Moines, Iowa, with a drive-thru.  Oddly enough, a Starbucks with a drive through is incredibly rare in this frozen wasteland, where you would think drive-throughs would be the norm due to the weather, but I digress…..)

Anyway, so I drive up to the window and the cashier processes my card while telling me how much better Sugar In The Raw is for me.  Whatever.  I really don’t care.  I just want my caffeine and don’t care to get into long discussions in the morning before I’ve had it.  Just give it to me!

I finally get my coffee and drive away.  And I drink it, and it’s like there is almost no sugar in it at all.  I have to be on the road for the next 20 minutes or so to be to my destination in a timely manner, so I don’t really have any choice except to drink my not-very-sweet mocha as it is.  (The add-shots of espresso of the “triple” are very intense and do need sugar or something to tame them.)

Er, anyway, it’s not-very-sweet until I get to the bottom….  Not only are the last few drinks exremely sweet, but they are very crunchy as well!  It took me a minute to figure out that these little crunchies were ‘Sugar In The Raw’ bits that had never dissolved.

Never dissolved even after being exposed to scalding hot espresso and steamed milk and then stirred.  After that it was sitting in this liquid for 20 minutes as I drank down my beverage, bit by bit, on my way to my destination.  Ish.  Still crunchy – as in non-biodegradable?  Another question for another time…  again, I digress…..

So the next time I ordered from Starbucks, I just put the sugar in myself, as I went inside.  Why they have sugar at the little self-serve bar but not available to the barista is far beyond me, but whatever.

Soon after that, though, I needed to hit the drive-thru again.  It was on my way, and I was kind of in a hurry.  I needed my caffeine so decided I would live with whatever they gave me.  I was resigned to “Sugar In The Raw” and did not desire a long conversation about it.

I ordered my drink at the speaker:

ME:  “I’d like a triple grande no-whip mocha with 4 sugars, please.”

Starbucks Barista:“Sugar In The Raw?”

ME:  “Well, since that’s all you have, then yes.”

Starbucks Barista:“We have Sugar in the Raw, Nutrasweet, Splenda….”

ME:  “I don’t want an artificial sweetener, just sugar.”

Starbucks Barista:“Well Sugar In The Raw is not artificial!”

ME:  (Shaking my head in exasperated disgust that this conversation had to happen again……) “Ok, I’ll take that, then.”

So I get to the window and am met by not only the cashier, but two baristas.  One who says how much better Sugar in the Raw is for you.  And another who says if I ask for him especially, he will measure out 4 measures of white sugar just for me after I tell him that Sugar In The Raw never dissolves well in my drink.  It was a debacle.

As a side note, happily, they did remember to give me my coffee after all of their clucking, squawking, and quacking.

So the next time, determined never to have this conversation again, I ordered my coffee like this:

“I’d like a triple grande no-whip mocha with 4 sugars-in-the-raw, please.”

Cool.  Works like a charm.  Until I get to the window and the cashier says,

“Oh, you’re the one with the big ‘Sugar In The Raw Fiasco’ aren’t you?  Did it taste all right?  Did we convert you???”

WTF…….  In stunned disbelief I thanked her grimly for my coffee and drove away, determined never to visit that particular Starbucks Drive Through ever again.  In my mind I imagined a Starbucks company newsletter and a story in it about how to handle customers who want (gasp) sugar in their coffee, with a headline reading, “The Great Sugar In The Raw Fiasco of 2008.”  And I am mortified.

So this morning…….

I walk in to a Starbucks.  I order my usual.  I say only “sugar” when I order, instead of “sugar in the raw” – just to see if they happen to have sugar packets.  Maybe it’s only that one drive-through that does not have white sugar packets.  I guess I’ll find out.

I order my drink.  The cashier does not correct me when I say “sugar.”  I feel optimistic.  I walk over to the other end of the counter and the barista starts preparing my drink.  She pulls out a little cup with all the sweeteners available to her. 

Sugar is not among them.  Sugar In The Raw is present in abundance.  She takes 4 packets of Sugar In The Raw and empties them into my drink after the espresso and steamed milk are added.

She stirs.  She stirs.  She stirs.  She looks up at me, still stirring her little heart out, and says, “I can still feel lot’s of little granuals down there.”

I say, “I know.  Sugar in the Raw does not ever dissolve when it’s put into my drink.”

I try very hard not to show that I am restraining a bit of a rant.

I try very hard not to let on to her that her words were the “third base” punchline in a long-running Abbott and Costello routine.  I try very hard, and succeed, to maintain my composure.

I thank her for my drink.

I leave.

20 minutes later I am crunching my little Sugar In The Raw granuals……

And I wonder – why does Starbucks push a sweetener that is not optimal for their main product?

The phrases “strategic alliance” and “I think I’ll put this in my blog” run through my head.

Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch…..   I suppose it could be worse.  At least it’s not High-Fructose Corn Syrup….