Only in It for the Gold Stars

I still get emails from Starbucks almost every day. It’s my own fault: I developed an obsession with their gold star system during my last semester in college. I downloaded the app. Scrounged up old gift-cards. Calculated how much money I’d save. Rushed to and fro between classes. I’d get as many gold stars as possible. Their coffee may be basic, but racking up points is a lifestyle.

In Charleston where I attended school, there are independent coffee shops everywhere: small businesses with French presses showcasing groomed beards and more Apple products than a Genius Bar. A personal favorite, Black Tap, runs a weekly CSA with the local flower shop. Once, Aziz Ansari stopped in while I was editing poems for class. He ordered a lavender cortada and treated the barista like an old friend.

These local spots care about product sourcing, composting, and the overall experience that comes with drinking caffeinated beverages. They host community events. They remember your name. It’s like Cheers without the beers.

But during my gold star months, humanity in porcelain mugs stopped mattering. Fair trade? Later dude. House-made syrup? Nah, chemicals are fine. Freshly baked gluten free muffins? No thanks. I’ll grab a Cake Pop.

I had an incentive for this: “Rewards,” they said. “A free drink on your birthday,” they said. I did it quickly — hoarded the stars. Got the double-shot gratis. Scored two-for-one Frappuccino deals. I used my cellphone to pay a company that has enough money to design their own barcode-scanning payment method. I fell into that statistic.

Then suddenly, I fell out. “To hell with the stars,” I declared. It was liberating. I realized there were some benefits, yes, but mostly, just a lot of emails. I’m fine with Starbucks. I don’t judge their customers. When Starbucks is offered to me, I’m elated. But it’s not my go-to, per se, not when the shop across the street practically sings to each bean.

But does my brief star-studded blindness matter? Not really. But it caused me to be mindful of similar situations — flash sales, convincing advertisements, suspiciously cheap miracle-products — that make us consumers reconsider our motives, what we actually want in the first place. Why is it so hard to just say no to things we don’t really need? Potato chips. Unreliable friends. A mutant mermaid with two tails who has the monopoly on convenient iced coffee.

I broke up with Starbucks right before the relationship got too toxic. We both knew we were using each other, but I like to think we started out with pure intentions. They say you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take. What they don’t tell you is that you also receive 100% of the emails you don’t unsubscribe from.

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  • Carly

    Yes! Brilliant. This is so good. My breakup has been coming slowly but surely… time to cut the final cord

  • Emily Love

    round of applause, I 100% relate to this!

  • The struggle is very real.

  • Good job! I used to love Starbucks and then went elsewhere and found out their coffee isn’t the best. My new fav – homebrewing Community Coffee with a french press and a dash of cinnamon. I’m so obsessed with CC’s New Orleans blend (it has chicory in it) that I got a free mug with my last order. It’s so big it reminds me of the “Friends” style mugs of the 90s. This picture is of my coffee today – so delicious!

  • I’m still 100% addicted to Starbucks (K. I do only get the regular espresso and never syrups) but…OMG someone else that lives/lived in Charleston, SC on Manrepeller!!!!!!!!! Groundbreaking.

  • Guest

    True. I work at a non-Starbucks cafe and we make such an effort to be part of the regs lives. We talk about the New Yorker. We talk about family, and jobs, and Obama, all while making a large skim latte to go. Because routine matters.

  • This post describes my relationship with Starbucks perfectly. I started going because of the convenience and because my leg was in a cast, I was unhappy and coffee brought my happiness. My love of coffee has continued but I’ve also broken up with Starbucks – preferring independent coffee shops.

    It was so easy to rack up the gold stars in the beginning though!

    average adventures

  • just thinking about the same thing the other day. as i drink more coffee, now i prefer a for more “genuinely handmade coffee”

    style frontier

  • Last year, I became a part of the Starbucks Gold Star System Nation. As an A-student for most of my childhood, gold stars are kinda my thing and it seems like a good excuse to drink more coffee.

    Recently, a Starbucks opened right next to an independent coffee shop that I used to go to. There was a brief moment of hesitation where I struggled to enter the Starbucks. It hurts, and I feel bad but coffee is good. I stopped going to that Starbucks when the barista complained about HIS day while I was just starting mine.

  • My Gold membership rewards card has served me well as nifty gunk remover from underneath my nails.

  • I never even knew they had gold stars, that’s how much I go there

  • BK

    Starbucks tricking Americans into firstly thinking that their coffee is good and secondly drinking it is a swindle of equivalent magnitude to the heists that George Clooney & Friends pulled off in Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Thirteen (but not Ocean’s Twelve. That film was convoluted and boring and I can’t even remember what they stole)

  • hahahaha the struggle IS real!!


  • Haha, I can seriously always count on your blog for the best posts!
    Love from Dubai,

  • Eurgh – I can so relate. I’m a sucker for the old “loyalty program” scheme. Starbucks however is a no brainer as here in NZ it is considerably more expensive for an inferior product. But their gingerbread lattes… na, Local cafe all the way!

    ♥ Paula Shoe Fiend.

  • Ashley Alt

    Just. So good.

  • Alejandra

    Every time I try to breakup with starbucks a little gold card that takes up very valuable(valued by me) real estate in my wallet reminds me that we’ve been together for three years… My card states “Member since December 2011”

  • mary

    i too was a star buck’sfreak back in the day which is funny as the last thing I consumed from them was coffee, started out with the frapuccinos….caramel…its addictive but started cleaning my diet…all of sudden it felt to hear overly sweet, then went to green tea lemonade – would have 2-3 a day large treat size —it was my crack until one nite it was too much left on dresser and looked like a science experiment …like out of aliens what was in the cup the next afternoon…never drank them again! stars be damned!