Starbucks Is Discriminating Against Iced Coffee Drinkers

There is no more War on Christmas, only War on Iced Americano

TIANJIN, CHINA - 2020/01/21: Paper coffee cups especially made for Christmas on the table in a Starb...
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Baby, It's Cold (Brew) Outside

‘Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the country, many people were stirring, to put it quite bluntly. The mochas were poured by baristas with care, in holiday cups designed with a flair. Customers caffeinated to rise from the dead, while visions of peppermint danced in their head. When outside the store arose such a clatter, ‘twas me going on, “Iced coffee cups are the crux of the matter!”

I may have lost the rhythm of that last line, forgive me, I am not a poet. I am just a woman who loves the holiday season and iced coffee beverages. This time of year, nothing brings me more joy than putting on my biggest coat, walking to the Starbucks near my boyfriend’s apartment, and picking up a cold brew with a splash of milk. Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially festive, I will get a peppermint mocha on ice, which is one of life’s most indulgent treats.

When this drink is handed to me, I smile behind my mask (because you can hear a smile) and say “Thank you, have a good one,” to the barista. On the inside, however, I am furious. Not at any of the angels working at the store, but at Big Starbucks. My beautiful java beverage has been handed to me in a plain plastic cup, the same one I can get any other time of the year.

There are no snowflakes, no stars, not even the suggestion of a mistletoe. Meanwhile, the people around me are having their hot chestnut praline lattes served to them in a beautiful red and green container. Ribbons and sparkles cover their cups, and they get to walk out of that store filled with holiday cheer. City street lights blink a bright red and green as jolly carolers stroll by — but only if you get a hot beverage.

My coffee may be cold, but my heart is not. I want to join my fellow joe-lovers in their festivities. I want to walk down the street with a little piece of plastic-y holiday joy. Starbucks does not feel that me and my people— the ones brave enough to enjoy cold brew year round — deserve this right.

“This year, we focused on our four red cup designs and the reusable red cup giveaway. We have had iced holiday cups in the past, however, it was not part of the lineup this year,” a representative from the company wrote via email when I inquired about holiday cups for cold coffee drinkers. Let’s break that down.

There are four cup designs for people who like burning their tongues on a piping hot Pike Place blend. This year’s theme is wrapping paper, with each cup looking like a little present to its drinker. On their website, Starbucks associate creative director Suzie Reecer is quoted as saying, “Any time you're holding the cup, we hope that it's just filling you with the excitement of the season and reconnecting with friends and family.”

Yeah, Suzie, I would love to be filled with the excitement of the season and the joy of reconnecting with friends and family. That sounds really lovely. But as a second-class Starbucks citizen, I have to find that excitement somewhere else, like my actual flesh-and-blood family or whatever.

I don’t even want to get into the “reusable red cup giveaway,” in which the company offers a select few hot coffee drinkers beautiful commemorative plastic cups whenever they order a “handcrafted holiday or fall beverage at participating U.S. stores.” So not only does this community get their vibrant paper cups whenever they want, but they also get a chance to procure one that they can keep forever.

It’s just not fair. I am not asking for much, just a little recognition from a holiday-obsessed mega-corporation — to check their list twice, if you will. I think the cup could be simple; just some snowflakes and holiday colors would be enough. It could maybe look something like this:

Illustration by the author

I don’t know, that’s just a first draft. There are no bad ideas in the brainstorming phase. The only bad idea currently being presented is that those of us who love drinking half of an iced Americano and then forgetting about it don’t deserve to feel some spark of merriment coming from our morning cup.

We cannot enjoy our festive cup while listening to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and considering that this time of year, despite all of its purported cheer, can be quite melancholy if you’re not in the right mood for all of its showiness, and how oh my god the year is already over, what am I doing for New Year’s Eve? What am I doing with my life? This is going to be the third year of the pandemic? Oh dear lord. But hey, at least I have this cute little red cup that makes me feel a pica of serotonin for about two seconds. No, instead here we are, sipping out of a normal cup like it’s some Thursday in March.