MANILA, MARCH 7, 2008 (STAR) YOUTH SPEAK By Monique Buensalido - A lot of people berate me about my passion for coffee ó more particularly, my fondness for visiting Starbucks. They question my willingness to buy a cup of coffee 10 times more expensive than a cup of instant, my craving for certain brews or blends, or my willingness to lounge around in a Starbucks for hours. I donít exactly blame them for being skeptical. When Starbucks arrived on Philippine shores, people embraced it despite our tropical weather and the premium prices. People ask me what the big deal is, and if itís worth all the time and cash that I spend there. They wonder if Iím truly there for coffee, or for the couches, the whole wheat croissants, or (God forbid) the social status.

To all those haters and cynics, let me reassure you that I truly, madly, deeply love coffee, and I mean all coffee, whether itís 3-in-1 mixes, regular brewed coffee, double iced shaken espressos, or coffee-flavored ice cream. Coffee is a major part of my life, and part of the reason why is because I sincerely enjoy drinking it. I started drinking coffee in college because I wanted to stay awake in a math class in college. After putting loose change in a vending machine, I got back a steaming cup of hot coffee with sugar and creamer. Not only did it make me think clearer, straighter and better, it was absolutely delicious. Itís been keeping me wide awake and extra cheerful since that fateful day with the vending machine.

Youíd think that with the number of branches sprouting all over, Starbucks is simply out to caffeinate the metro (especially Ayala Avenue in Makati). However, coffee is not simply a shot-in-the-arm drink. Coffee is meant to be savored and enjoyed, and Starbucks is passionate about sharing the goodness of coffee with its customers. They truly want to make drinking coffee an experience. In fact, Starbucks has played a major role in teaching me how to fully realize and enjoy the potential of coffee. They have a diverse range of drinks, from regular brewed coffee to espresso-based drinks to their famous Frappuccinos, to cater to every type of coffee craving. They customize your coffee ó iced, with non-fat milk, with additional raspberry syrup, with one and a half Splendas, no whipped cream ó to any style you want, serve them up quickly, then send you off with white paper cups or clear plastic glasses, all with the familiar logo of the Starbucks siren. Thereís a world of difference in the different drinks, and so drinking my coffee never feels like a routine. Theyíre deeply committed to providing quality and experience in your cup, and they rigorously take measures to ensure that you get nothing but the best coffee.

Beyond simply serving coffee, Starbucks passes on their mastery on coffee by holding small coffee seminars in their branches and having educational coffee sampling. Their baristas are incredibly knowledgeable about coffee, and some are even certified coffee masters (youíll know them by their black aprons). Youíre free to ask them anything you like about coffee, from the way coffee is manufactured, or the origins of a particular brew, to what exactly is a macchiato. You can even ask them what pastries are good for your coffee of choice. Believe it or not, each different drink has a complementary flavor, and you can ask coffee masters to help you in selecting which food can highlight your coffeeís flavor the best. Iíve tried it before, and itís really amazing how much better your coffee is. For example, one of my favorite blends in Starbucks is House Blend. I learned that the complementary flavors are nuts, apples and blueberries, so the next time I took a cup of House Blend, I tried their reduced fat blueberry loaf, which had both nuts and blueberries. Both are good individually, but taken together they highlight each other amazingly. You donít even have to put sugar or anything, because pastries provide the sweetness already.

Iíve always wanted to buy books or take classes about coffee to learn about it, but Iíve learned so much from coffee just from going to Starbucks. I recently attended one of their mini coffee seminars, and I learned how to use a coffee press, which is the best way to brew coffee. I thought that brewed was the purest form of coffee I could get, but pressed coffee is prepared by placing the coffee into the French press (you may not know what a French press is, but youíve surely seen it around ó itís a glass or plastic cylindrical mug with a lid and a plunger with a mesh filter that fits right into the cylinder) and pouring hot water into it. After putting the lid on, you have to wait exactly four minutes before pressing down on the plunger to separate the coffee grounds at the bottom of the mug. Here the coffee is in direct contact with the water, thus pressed coffee contains more of the natural oils and flavor. A typical coffee machine would capture these in its filters. Pressed coffee is seriously the most flavorful and delicious brew. I used to take coffee with milk, but after tasting pressed, I started taking it without anything so I could taste the full flavour of the coffee. Starbucks now has tumblers with its built-in coffee press, which is pretty brilliant. The baristas also taught me the four steps of drinking coffee: smell, slurp, locate the sensation on your tongue, and describe the experience. If wine tasters have their methods, then so do coffee drinkers. The four steps really allow you to taste and experience the coffee and differentiate it from other brews and blends. Youíll never look at or taste coffee in the same way again.

Starbucks allow you to bring with you the experience by teaching you all about the geography and the descriptions of their different blends (using body to balance). While Iím still no coffee master, I have a better understanding of their coffees and of what I like. They also teach you how to brew at home (whatever the method) and explain the four fundamentals of brewing coffee ó proportion, grind, water and freshness ó so that you can recreate the experience yourself. You can approach your baristas and ask them when their next coffee tasting or coffee seminar is, or just go ahead and ask them your question!

I have truly learned how to enjoy and love coffee because of everything Iíve absorbed (literally and figuratively) from Starbucks. It has become an experience for me to smell and slurp that cup of coffee, to really sit down and enjoy the taste, to feel it rushing down your throat and sloshing around in your sleepy stomach. It has become an adventure to see how flavors mix with espresso and milk, to discover the difference between iced and hot, and to find your favorite blends and drinks. You may be content to drink coffee solely to keep your eyes peeled open during the drowsy moments of the day, but you are depriving yourself of the magic and wonder that you can get from a cup.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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