A Starbucks Holiday Tale of Woe

Had some requests to post about this. It originally occurred in 2012.

So, one evening, I figured I’d stop by my local Starbucks on the way home from work to get a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate — it’s a fantastic seasonal holiday drink. In fact, I had only just discovered its existence the week before and it was delicious. I couldn’t think of a better way to get into the spirit of things. Just that morning, I had tried to order one during a coffee run with my coworkers, but the barista said they’d were out of salt and couldn’t make the drink. Surprising, but okay.


All day I kept thinking about that drink. I wasn’t going to be denied, hence the trip to Starbucks after work. At the counter, I ordered my Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate with great anticipation, but the girl at the counter quickly deflated my spirits when she said:

“Sorry, we’re out of the salt.”

Okay, wtf was going on? This was weird — I mean, who runs out of salt for a popular specialty drink especially when it’s one of the crucial ingredients? Not only is it in the title, but it’s batting leadoff — Salted Caramel. Running out of it at one location I could see — but in two locations? Surely Starbucks, a multi-billion dollar company, ran a better supply chain than that?

Jokingly (kind of), I asked the barista why they didn’t have someone nip across the street to Fry’s grocery store because I was pretty confident they had boatloads of salt at a reasonable price. Hell, I would have run over there to buy it for them. She smiled and let me in on a company secret — it was a special, flavored salt. Huh? Interesting. Maybe that was the addictive ingredient that had kept me craving it.

However, I was willing to forego the specially flavored salt — after all, regular salt and caramel are a pretty delicious combination already, so my attitude was ‘Let’s make this happen,’ but none of the baristas seemed inclined to settle for second-rate salt. Okay, probably corporate policy, I got it. So, undeterred, I thanked her, hopped in my car and went to the Starbucks two miles down the road on my mission to get my Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

Doing brisk holiday business

The Starbucks on Broadway was unusually busy and the line was so long it stretched almost to the door. A cheerful girl with a headset standing just inside the door took my order for a grande Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate and relayed it to the baristas feverishly making drinks.

long line at Starbucks

The line moved as slowly as Christmas Eve for a hyper kid waiting for Santa. I could almost taste the delicious sweet and salty concoction and the rich whipped cream. In a cheerful mood, I finally got up to the counter to pay and shared my tale of woe with the register guy about the other Starbucks being out of salt. As he handed me my change, he nodded in understanding and told me it wasn’t just those Starbucks that were out — all Starbucks nationwide were out of the magic salt.

I gave him a bemused look. Surely I couldn’t have heard him right. So I asked him how they planned on making the drink I’d just paid for and he replied matter-of-factly:

“Yeah, we’re not making those anymore. That’s why we’re out of the salt.”

Okay, he was doing a really good job of confusing me.

“What do you mean you’re not making them anymore?” I asked in growing alarm.

Surely the counter guy was screwing with me, well beyond the normal misspelling of my name. I kept waiting for the gotcha moment where he admitted it was an ill-conceived hoax.

“They’re a holiday drink. We aren’t selling them anymore.”

“But I just paid for a grande Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate,” I pointed out. “If you’re not selling them anymore — What are you making me?”

“A grande Caramel Mocha,” he replied, looking at me like I was obtuse.

Had I slipped into a Twilight Zone episode?

Okay, what the fuck was going on?

“But I didn’t order a Caramel Mocha.”

I could feel the impatience of the long line behind me approaching critical mass, but I didn’t care. I needed the universe to make sense again.

He gave the slightest apologetic shrug.

“We were only selling them for the holidays,” he explained.

Say what?

Being non-confrontational by nature, I normally let this shit slide but thwarted at every turn, I had been so close to finishing my quest only to realize that Starbucks in the role of Scrooge had doomed me from the start. Bitterness welled up. How was a week before Christmas not considered part of the holidays? Had Starbucks just pole vaulted right past Christmas straight to MLK Day? I wanted answers.

Perry Mason interrogating a man
Perry Mason on the case

“Why is it still on the menu if you’re not selling it?”

I pointed at the words Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate emblazoned boldly on the menu. This was my Perry Mason moment where he confronts the killer with irrefutable evidence.

“Did you not want the Caramel Mocha?” the guy asked blandly.

* head exploded *

So, I got a refund. I’m sure the Caramel Mocha is a fine drink, but I wanted the salty caramel goodness I’d had my heart set on. Plus, I wanted to prove a point to Starbucks they couldn’t toy with me! Naturally, the barista didn’t give a rat’s ass (other than I was personally inconveniencing him) and rang up the next person. Finally, defeated, I went home to sulk and wait for next year.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person annoyed. One of my coworkers had seen other Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate aficionados gnashing their teeth online over this massive travesty.

Poor planning or a marketing gimmick? No one knew, but there were plenty of theories.

But whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. Sean D. Layton never forgets an injustice! (Well, for at least a week.)

Are there any other instances where Starbucks has wronged me? Does a cat knock Christmas ornaments of a shelf?  Read on!

Oh, before you go, speaking of ingredients that make you crave a food product, here’s one of my favorite scenes from the classic So I Married An Axe Murderer.


2 thoughts on “A Starbucks Holiday Tale of Woe

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