A Starbucks Holiday Tale of Woe (A Blast from the Past)

Jumping into the Way Back Machine. The House Guest requested I publish an old favorite Christmas story where Starbucks did it’s best to kill my holiday spirit. I’ve expanded on it and polished it up a bit. Enjoy!

So, 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 and I couldn’t think of a better way to get into the spirit of things; I had had one a couple of weeks before and it was delicious. I had tried to order one that morning when my coworkers and I made a coffee run, but they’d been out of salt and couldn’t make the drink. 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 one 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 in two locations especially when it’s one of the crucial ingredients in the drink? Not only is it in the title, it’s batting leadoff. Surely Starbucks, a multi-billion dollar company, had their sourcing and supply chain act together? Naively, I asked her 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. If they would have asked me, 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 fortnightly.

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.

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

As I waited impatiently in line, I could almost taste the delicious sweet and salty concoction. In a cheerful mood, I got up to the counter to pay and laughingly told the register guy my tale of woe about the other Starbucks being out of salt. And as he handed me my change, he nodded in understanding and told me it wasn’t just that Starbucks — all the Starbucks were out of salt. I gave him a bemused look — did I just hear him correctly? So, if they were out of the magic salt, I asked him how they planned on making the drink I had 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 felt like my barista was messing with me, well beyond the normal misspelling of my name.

“They aren’t being sold anymore — they’re a holiday drink.”

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

“A grande Caramel Mocha.” He looked at me like I was obtuse.

Okay, what the fuck was going on here? Was I in some weird alternate universe?

“But I didn’t order a Caramel Mocha. Look,” I said pointing at the words Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate emblazoned boldly on the menu. “How can you not be selling it? It’s still on the menu!”

He glanced over his shoulder at the menu and shrugged apologetically. “We were only selling them for the holidays,” he explained.

Being nonconfrontational by nature, I normally let this stuff slide, but I had been so close to fulfilling my mission only to realize now it had been sabotaged from the very beginning. I was approaching a low boil. How was a week before Christmas not the holidays? What did Starbucks do, just pole vault right past Christmas and go straight to Presidents Day? I wanted answers. I needed my world to make sense.

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

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

* head exploded *

I’m sure the Caramel Mocha was a fine drink, but I wanted that salty goodness. So, I got a refund to prove a point to Starbucks: They could not toy with me! Naturally, my barista didn’t give a rat’s ass.  Finally, defeated, I went home to sulk and wait for next year.

The following day I went to work and bitched about my experience. One of my coworkers had seen other Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate aficionados bitching about the salt travesty online. I wasn’t alone as people nationwide were pissed off about being given a story about the salt not being available. I figured it was probably a story concocted by the marketing people to appease the angry masses until they forgot about it.

But Sean D. Layton never forgets an injustice! (Well, usually).



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