After a satisfying day of running errands (in my new J. Crew flip flops of course), I stopped off at Starbucks to pick up a package of espresso pods. If you own an espresso/cappuccino machine and haven't tried espresso pods yet, you should! It's not that I don't like buying fresh coffee beans and grinding them daily, then tamping and brewing them into a nice morning latte, it's just that it gets messy and invariably leads to coffee dust everywhere, no matter how meticulously I brush them off every surface. And one has to wait for the machine to cool before cleaning renegade grounds out of every crevice so stale grounds don't make their way into the portafilter and contaminate a future latte. Anyway, as much as I enjoy the intoxicating aroma of freshly ground coffee in the morning, I'd rather just pop in a pre-measured, pre-wrapped pod into my portafilter, push a button on my Gaggia Carezza, and watch the rich crema flow into my cup. I had read about espresso pods previously but wrote them off as lazy peoples' coffee solutions, not the authentic espresso experience. Well, let me tell you, the first time I used espresso pods, I was sold. It was late at night and I was scurrying about hastily trying to buy all sorts of ingredients for a ladies brunch I was hosting the next morning, and with almost everything closed, I happened upon a package of espresso pods at my local gourmet store. I scoffed snobbily, probably a little too loudly, because a store manager came out to assist me. After assuring me that the pods were completely acceptable and did not compromise the flavor of the coffee, I agreed to test them out. They were Illy brand pods, which has a reputation for being the top-of-the-line packaged coffee (according to all the coffee forums out there). At $12 per vacuum-sealed can of 18 pods, they had better be worth the hype, I thought, as I took them home to meet my very picky and emotional Italian expresso maker.
I was delighted the next morning when my normally messy and slightly labor-intensive espresso-making ritual was turned into a short, easy, and clean experience. No one guessed that the foamy cappuccinos and flavorful lattes I served up had come out of neatly pre-packaged little pods. The best thing is there is absolutely no measuring, no tamping, and no cleanup. Once I tried pods, I never went back. However, the price of my espresso pods habit was starting to eat into my shopping budget, so I needed to find a better value to get my daily latte. I figured I'd give Starbucks a shot, as $9.90 for a 24-pack was slightly more palatable. I mean, the whole point of getting an espresso maker was to save money by making it at home (and also to impress all your friends and family with personalized espresso beverages). A budget will only stretch so far, and surely any diva worth her Dior would rather save her dollars so she could buy a new handbag every season. Think about it -- at $9.90 plus tax, each latte costs roughly 42 cents. Add in the price of milk, a large bottle of flavored syrup that should last you a few months at least, and a moderately priced espresso/cappucino maker which should last 4-5 years (I snagged my Italian one about 2 years ago with some diligent shopping around for a mere $197 when it had originally cost over $270) and you're looking at a very affordable $1 per latte, if that. This should save you $2-3 for the daily hazelnut latte or caramel macchiato. Multiply the savings by 25 beverages per month for 3 months and you can save between $150 and $225. You can either get a fun new bag each season, or, you can accumulate $600 to $900 and splurge on a totally chic designer bag at the end of the year. See how important those espresso pods are now?
So when I went on a Starbucks run today to replenish my supply, I was quite taken aback when the store I usually frequent was out of fresh boxes of pods. Now, they weren't completely out of pods, mind you -- there were plenty of regular caffienated boxes of pods -- but all the decaf boxes had slipped past their recommended freshness dates. (Before you laugh at me or write me off as anal, keep in mind that there is a time and place for decaf expresso beverages. After dinner on weeknights or when I've already had too much caffiene that day, I'd really rather curl up with a calming, decaf latte and read Lucky Magazine or shop online. And occassionally in the mornings when I've been up too late the night before and can't handle the jolt of a double-shot of espresso coursing through my veins, I'd rather just have decaf. With summer party season in full force, there have been a lot of mornings like this recently. That's why I like to keep decaf espresso pods around.) I brought this up to the Starbucks manager who was appropriately embarrased and apologetic about the matter. He promised to order a new shipment of decaf espresso pods that week. Not to be deterred, I made my way to the next closest Starbucks and was encouraged as I stepped through the entrance and saw boxes of decaf pods neatly arranged on the shelf. Alas, when I walked over and picked one up, it was the same sad story. The freshness date had expired and each box was past its prime. Once more I pointed out the lack of fresh boxes to an associate who was again embarrased and apologetic, in fact, much more so than the first. This female associate also informed me that a new shipment would be arriving that week and she would make sure that fresh decaf espresso pods were in it. I assured her that I would be back to buy a box. Then, she took matters into her own hands and went a step further. She actually ground me a whole bag of coffee from their own stock of espresso beans so I would have Starbucks coffee to savor between shipments of pods. And she gave it to me for free! Now that's outstanding customer service. Because a society girl shouldn't have to go a single day without her Starbucks latte. Kudos to the Sunday evening female associate at the Alexandria Commons Starbucks! I will of course return, as promised, mid-week to claim my box of decaf espresso pods. I hope they don't disappoint me on my next visit!
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