Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Greatly Exaggerated Explanation for Starbucks’ Kosher Issues

Note: For reasons of writer's boredom, the following blog post blows the political importance of Starbucks Frappuccinos completely out of all proportion. It probably does the same thing with pretty much everything else while we're at it.

A little while ago, when Starbucks had just released a new holiday flavor, I decided I wanted to try this new drink and made my way to one of the many coffee shops in Manhattan. I had no idea whether this drink was Kosher or not, and the handy-dandy informative website hadn’t yet formed an opinion either way on this particular flavor. So, left to my devices, I chose my remaining option and asked to see the syrup bottle.

I didn't actually say that, but I did want to. I don't think he would have gotten the joke, anyway. But it seems simple, almost comically so, for the barista to bring over the bottle of artificial flavoring for inspection. Sometimes this will happen. This time, it didn’t.

Instead, the barista thought this was something a higher power had to decide and left the counter to get the manager, who (thank you, merciful Hashem) not only knew what I was talking about but also knew the answer to my query. In this particular case, the flavor WAS Kosher, as I was able to determine when the barista at long last let me see the label.

Now was that so difficult?

I’m sure others have endured similar experiences. This type of soul-sucking exchange with underpaid baristas has the added bonus of almost always happening during Starbucks’ busiest hours, so that all the impatient caffeine junkies on line now know for certain that they are being held up by some Jew who insists on seeing a little mark on a label. And why, dear caffeine junkies, are we holding you up with such a trivial request? Not because we want to, believe it. This time, it’s not our fault. It is a long and sad tale.

Once upon a time, not so long ago (I think I was starting college), Frappuccinos were in every New Yorker’s hand, no matter their background, no matter their level of conspiracy theorism. Remember that?

The blended 5,000 calorie slurp/dessert/beverage was the great uniter of the nations. The creamy, cold, over-caffeinated, occasionally chunky treat we were all ashamed to pay four dollars to drink (not that this ever stopped anyone).

And then last winter the news came from the Rabbis of Kosher Land, “We can no longer recommend Frappuccinos as Kosher”. The base, apparently, had been changed to include lard, animal rennet, and chicken blood. Or it must have been, because I don’t know why else it should randomly have joined the Religious Jew’s “Dead to me” list.

Naturally, not a month later Starbucks launched its “make your own Frappuccino” campaign, and caffeine-starved Jews everywhere could only look on with their noses pressed to the window of their nearest Starbucks until they were chased away by broom-wielding baristas.

Going back further, Pumpkin Spice Lattes were all the rage come autumn. As a certified fall-flavor nut, I also clambered to the green- and –white marked watering hole the moment I heard this flavor was back in production. And then that too was treif-listed. The same story goes with White Chocolate Mocha, my sister’s personal favorite, and Java Chip, and many other Starbucks Staples.

Every time this occurs, you can hear a thousand Jewish college students scream. And after the collective cry of anguish, there comes a lull, followed by one delayed-reaction screech when Mr. Last-To-Hear walks in with a steaming cup of flavored Joe, only to be told by everyone in the room, “Dude, that stuff’s treif”. Heartbreak and the embarrassment which comes with having just committed a Kashrut snafu in front of everyone ensue.

This has happened at least once to I’m pretty sure everyone, myself included. And it is just awful.

So why does Starbucks seem to possess the insatiable need to take away our favorite treats?For the sake of humor and making myself feel better, I have devised a thoroughly nonsensical but nonetheless borderline amusing reason for Starbucks’ sudden change in Kashrut stance. If this somehow turned out to be something other than total fiction, I would laugh and laugh and tell everyone I called it, then call animal control. Oh big coffee giants, do not be offended by my little joke. It’s called a consolation quip.

I am told I can look at this one of two ways: either the company is sadistic and just hates us (but enough people are like that and this is not the view I choose to follow), or the universe is trying to teach us something.

And on that note, Starbucks’ cruel removal of my Kosher latte flavor made me, for the first time, appreciate something I had until then taken for granted and resented often: college.

You see, the Starbucks on my campus seems to have not gotten the memo. Its ingredients are generic brand, and I’m not entirely sure why they’re considered a Starbucks at all, but they are, and their pumpkin spice flavor syrup by generic company A is KOSHER! So for the first time, I have grown to appreciate the existence of my particular college (not college in general, which I acknowledge is a good thing).

So there we have it. By depriving and frustrating us, this large and caffeine-pumped franchise is really trying to teach us a lesson.

Fellow Kosher-keepers, enjoy life. Never take anything for granted, and take pleasure in the little things while you can, because someday, Starbucks is going to get bored and take it away from you.


  1. Once upon a time, like 16 or 17 years ago, a Frap was made instore, on demand with just espresso, milk and sugar. Those were the days...

  2. Aliza, you are very talented. Your cartoons are really impressive...keep it up!

  3. They have Starbucks here (duh), and I'm too afraid to use them, as my grasp of how the flavors/coffee/kashrut work is not very good.

    And I only REALLY like the Frappuccinos anyway. :(

  4. its even harder to find anything kosher in the starbucks in toronto. i loved your cartoons! so funny aliza!


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