I think everyone would agree that, for the most part, the proliferation of coffee bars is a good thing. I mean it's better than, say, a proliferation of opium dens (although I have noticed a lot more hookah bars of late). The easy access to this rich, dark, aromatic liquid certainly beats the brown, watery swill served up in days of yore.
But there's a downside to progress. In my myriad perambulations, popping in to the nearest coffee bar and ordering an espresso is a singular delight, including the correct spelling and proper pronunciation (most of the time). I'd savor the petite treat in all its warm, caramelly deliciousness, with the added perk of a pick-me-up. And coffee can be slimming -- I myself lost a lot of weight a few years back on a largely coffee-based diet. But, there's a problem with this particular availability -- greed. Soon, a solo got upgraded to a doppio. Because really, a single espresso is just for after a meal... as a digestive... before you go to bed. Morning really requires something more substantial. It's only logical to have a double espresso.
One cold winter morning I thought, "Wouldn't it be comforting to have a cappuccino." Who was talking? I don't even keep milk in the house. With '60s health nuts for parents, we were raised with the adage "cow's milk is for cows, people's milk is for people." Um, no thank you -- so I eschewed the stuff altogether. But it was too late. Or should I say latte? Cafe au laits and double tall mocha gargantuas followed. Summer offers no respite because, of course, everything comes iced!
I drew the line at the whipped-frapped-blapped-blended liquid sugar concoctions masquerading as caffeine delivery systems. How, how do all the people in there guzzling tankards of that stuff stay so slim? I slid down the foam-laden slippery slope till I smacked into... biscotti. This must be what they (the infamous "they") mean when they aver that one drug leads to harder drugs. Rationalization set in. Biscotti? You could break a tooth! Better off with a maple scone, pumpkin cheese bar or apple tartlet fritter slab. Chocolate-covered espresso beans are only for the road. One has to have rules.
Two things helped. Well, three. Running past the places for exercise -- sometimes that worked. Calorie listings -- but not all states have them. And familiarity, which does, in fact, breed contempt -- those delicious lemon squares? Pah. Not nearly as good as the ones my grandmother used to make. (Saved!)
But the biggest trap? Curiosity. Once you're sure you've tried every possible permutation of pastry, you get ambushed! A birthday cake pop -- what in the world could that be like? And MINI SIZES... aaaaaaarrrggghh. Bargaining runs wild with those. (They're so small. As a trade-off, I won't brush my teeth, I'm sure toothpaste is laden with calories.)
With the key-lime oatmeal-crunch bar, a split personality emerged: "Key lime is only for summer." "But oatmeal is for winter. And good for you." Soon, you're the Sybil of Starbucks -- openly arguing with yourself as the baristas look on with bemused pity. Or they got foam splashed in their eye -- hard to tell.
I went back to the beginning -- re-experiencing the joy of a single espresso. And I wear my Bluetooth, so when I'm arguing with myself, I can look like I'm deep in conversation with an insane person. Which is true.
And I noticed the other day that a favorite caffeine oasis is now a hookah bar. Uh oh.
Gerit Quealy writes on Style & Substance at NBC's StyleGoesStrong.com.