A Horde of Under-caffeinated Hoarders

On July 24, 1777 Boston merchant Thomas Boylston got what was coming to him. Or at least that’s probably how it was understood by the one hundred or more women who attacked him on King Street. Boston, like most cities around this time in the burgeoning nation, was experiencing a series of food shortages. Both the British and Continental armies frequently requisitioned food and livestock and a lot of women had been left scrambling on their own to manage families, homes, farms, and businesses while their husbands were off fighting a war.

This is a horde. Image by Ahmadreza89, via Pixabay.

Like there are in most good crises, there were those who saw advantage in the struggle. Boylston, who was a cousin to John Adams, was generally thought to be a patriot, and who seriously underestimated the wrath of a whole horde of caffeine-deficient women, decided to hoard coffee in order to drive up the price.

Now, I am not a coffee drinker, but I know a lot of coffee drinkers. Some I might even call obsessive, a category that might even include you. I know it includes the people who make it difficult every single day for me to drive down the access road behind the main Starbucks in my town. I say “main” because we do have more than one. They’re both busy. Always.

This is a hoard. It’s just as scary. Image by Nature-Pix from Pixabay

I mean like winding drive-through line that spills ten cars deep out of the Starbucks parking lot and into the road that I innocently attempt to drive down in order to make my way from one place where I don’t buy coffee to another place where I don’t buy coffee kind of busy. This line, I assume, is filled with people who might have joined in with the women of Boston that marched to Boylston’s business, demanded his keys, and when he refused, seized him by the neck, forced him into a cart and, according to some accounts, spanked him until he complied. He eventually did. The mob then carried off all the coffee and left Boylston contemplating the fact that he’d been beaten up by a bunch of girls. One farmer justified the mob actions by saying, “This is the very same oppression that we complain of Great Britain!”

And this is just coffee. I don’t really get it. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

While that may be a slight oversimplification of the causes of the Revolutionary War, short supplies can make people do crazy things, like hoard twelve years-worth of toilet paper next to the Christmas decorations and model train sets in their basements. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a desperate shortage of coffee right now. Or at least there wasn’t before National Coffee Day yesterday.

To celebrate the day, Starbucks offered a free cup of coffee to any customer who came by with their favorite mug. No need even to spank the barista. The offer was limited to one cup per customer per store, but since there are approximately forty-seven Starbucks stores within an hour of my house, and probably yours, too, coffee drinkers could have kept busy picking up free coffee all day long. Judging by the line spilling out of the parking lot, most of you did.

Slipping in Unicorn Puke

In the early part of the fourth century BC, a historian by the name of Ctesias returned to his native Greece after traveling through India and Persia, where he served a number of years as physician to the royal court. When he got home, he set to work writing about his travels in his great works Persica, which like many of the era’s works of history is somewhat dubious in nature, and Indica, which among other things, describes India’s native unicorn.

The unicorn, he wrote, was as large as a horse, with blue eyes, a red head, a white body, and a horn on its head measuring at least a foot and a half. It was also very strong and lightning fast.

For a while rumor had it only a young virgin could successfully catch a unicorn because the creatures were attracted to purity. By Domenichino – Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ctesias offers us the first written account of this elusive animal, but he certainly wasn’t the only “scholar” to write about it. Among those who mention the beast are Pliny the Elder, Saint Isidore of Seville, and Marco Polo. The unicorn even gets a nod in some translations of the Bible (I’m pretty sure the LSD translation is on the list).

Of course none of these writings seem to be eye-witness accounts, and the descriptions vary (some may more closely resemble a rhinoceros, which definitely is real), but for a good part of human history, there was little doubt of the unicorn’s existence. Its horn has been pulverized to make an antidote for poisons, it’s been used as a religious symbol of purity, and it’s even graced symbols of state.

Today’s unicorn is a little sleeker, a little sparklier, and a little more make-believe (though I hear Animal Planet is planning a show called Hunting Unicorns, which will air just as soon as they find Bigfoot). The unicorn of today also seems to have a hard time holding on to its lunch (which I have to assume is made up primarily of Skittles) because the creatures are frequently depicted puking rainbows.

Yep. This sure makes me thirsty for something with sugar and sparkles.

I have to wonder if that’s what Starbucks was hoping to call to mind when they introduced their Unicorn Frappuccino last week. The multi-colored sugar bomb lasted only five days, and was even sold out at many stores faster than that, proving as difficult to catch as the unicorn itself.

I’m certainly not complaining. As a more or less non-coffee drinker, I have one Starbucks order I’ve convinced myself I enjoy when I occasionally have to meet up there, and the Unicorn Frappuccino isn’t it. But if they were still making them, then for the purpose of thorough research I suppose I would have gotten one just to take a picture. I might even have tried a sip so as to not anger the barista who just spent the last hour making 437 of them and is starting to take on a strange pink and blue hue.

Since I didn’t get the drink you’ll just have to use your imagination. Picture this in a cup topped with whipped cream and pink and blue sprinkles.

So I didn’t catch a unicorn myself, but for a few days there I sure did hear a lot of rumors of their existence. I see from the Internet buzz that some Starbucks stores are now offering a Dragon Frappuccino made with green tea and magic and probably also a lot of sugar. I think I’ll pass on that one as well, but perhaps you’d like to try it.

If you tried the Unicorn Frappuccino, I’m curious, what did you think? Should Starbucks bring it back and make it a permanent offering, or did it make you puke rainbows like a unicorn?


Hyperactive Goats, a Pragmatic Pope, and the Bitter Red Cups of Satan

According to legend, sometime in the tenth century or so, Ethiopian goat herder Kaldi made a discovery that would forever change the course of the world. He noticed that his goats were suddenly acting kind of like two-year-olds at bedtime, annoyingly energetic and determined not to sleep.

These guys look like they could use some coffee beans. photo credit: little bobbies via photopin (license)
These guys look like they could use some coffee beans. photo credit: little bobbies via photopin (license)

Kaldi traced the behavior to a berry the goats ingested and alerted the local abbot who decided to try the magic berries himself. The abbot used them to brew a bitter drink that gave him the boost of energy he needed to make it through his evening prayers. Delighted, he passed on his secret.

Soon people (and goats) across the Arabian Peninsula were gathering in cozy coffee houses, discussing politics and the weather while sipping steaming cups of coffee and staying up way past their bedtimes.

By the 17th century, coffee reached Europe and while some rejoiced, adding sugar and cream to make the stuff more palatable, others were suspicious because whereas other popular drinks of the day, like wine and beer, made you sluggish and stupid, this new beverage instead made people thoughtful, productive, and pretentious.

But no way would you have caught Pope Clement VIII drinking coffee from a plain red cup. I bet.

And so coffee was deemed the “bitter invention of Satan,” with the local clergy in Venice condemning the drinking of the dangerous stimulant. But the people weren’t having it, convinced as they were that if they didn’t start their day with a cuppa, then they might commit homicide. So Pope Clement VIII decided to step in and settle the issue once and for all. He hopped into the pope-mobile, headed to the corner Starbucks, and ordered himself a venti Iced Caffé Latte with skim milk. And you know what? He liked it!

With Satan’s drink safely exorcized, it quickly spread to the Americas. Then in December of 1773, a group of liberty-minded men got all hopped up on coffee and dumped a whole lot of tea (which, as far as I am concerned is at least Satan’s second favorite beverage) into Boston Harbor. Thomas Jefferson then boldly declared (among other notable things) that coffee is the “the favorite drink of the civilized world.”

And for many people, it is.  Personally I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker (though I do make the occasional exception for a Starbucks vanilla Frappuccino, but that’s really more milkshake than coffee), so maybe this isn’t my war to wage. But recently, Satan reclaimed the civilized world’s favorite drink.

Because nothing says Jesus like levitating under the mistletoe. photo credit: Starbucks 'Red Cup' 2005 (mistletoe) via photopin (license)
Because nothing says Jesus like levitating under the mistletoe. photo credit: Starbucks ‘Red Cup’ 2005 (mistletoe) via photopin (license)

In case you’re not familiar with the controversy, earlier this week a video went viral of a self-declared “former pastor,” and “disciple of Jesus” explaining how he pranked Starbucks. The company, which has traditionally changed its cup designs to reflect the holiday season with pictures of sleds and snowflakes, revealed that this year its holiday cups (clearly designed by Satan himself) will simply be red with a Starbucks logo.

The “prank,” in which video guy was encouraging Christians to participate, was to tell the barista that his name was “Merry Christmas” so she’d have to write that on his cup. His claim is that by eliminating reindeer from the outside of his coffee cup, Starbucks is somehow persecuting Christians and that it is time to stand up and fight back.

Ha! Take that, Satan!
Ha! Take that, Satan!

I can’t follow the logic either. But there’ve been a surprising number of people who have taken to Twitter with images of Starbucks coffee cups with “Merry Christmas” written on them. (Ha! Take that, Satan!). I think it’s safe to assume, most of these people have had entirely too much coffee because they’re behaving kind of like hyper goats.

Of course, I’m also happy to report that a larger number of Christians have taken to social media to say, “Um…what?”

Still, perhaps it’s time to call on Pope Francis to hop into the pope-mobile and settle this mess once and for all. Because I could sure go for a vanilla Frappuccino. But don’t worry, I’ll get the last laugh. I’m going to tell the barista my name is “Snowman.”