Cheating on the Local Coffee Shop

Two coffee shops, both alike in dignity.
On fair Houston Street, where we lay our scene.

Okay, well maybe this isn’t quite like Romeo and Juliet. There really is no epic battle between these two, but this is in fact the story of two coffee houses and the choice I make every day to have one or the other.

If you happen to visit Houston Street in wonderful downtown San Antonio and find yourself upon a certain corner of Houston Street, you will find 2 wonderful establishments: Starbucks and Sip. Both serve coffee, baked goods and other various treats and both have some of the nicest baristas I have encountered. Both are in the same “too damn high but I’m willing to pay for it.” -range when it comes to coffee houses. Both are speedy, relatively speaking. But there’s a key difference: One is a big corporation, the other is the local coffeehouse of legend.

This isn’t a review of either establishment, I honestly visit both with varying frequency depending on how I feel. For instance Sip sometimes will have these heavenly glazed croissants and I will visit them more often to get my fix. At times Starbucks will be running a promotion and I will visit them more often. I’m not exactly a brand loyalist when it comes to my coffee. I’m a writer. This is fuel and unlike a car’s fickle engine, I’m not always the most particular. Lately I’ve been on a kick of visiting Sip more often, but I’m not sure this post has anything to do with that.

But there are some mornings when I choose Starbucks, that I can’t help but look over across the street to Sip. I see their often times empty lines, open doors and welcoming, eclectic staff and wonder Why am I here? I could have gone across the street.

As a writer and general gourmand, the local coffee shop is a Holy Grail. A place to be treasured, a place to flock, to gather, to see and be seen. So why was I in the line of the big corporate monster?

The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t notice how conflicted I was about the whole ordeal until I was standing in line at Starbucks realizing how lucky I am to have a local coffee shop to call my own. Sadly, as the art of coffee becomes easier and easier to master at home, the local coffee house is likely going to become a wonderful but trendy relic.

As much as I love cafes, I just don’t have the time I used to for them. I’m now one of the rushed masses I railed against in my youth. I don’t have time to just sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee, which is what Sip wants you to do. I can grab and go at Starbucks, as much as I hate it. I’ve even seen the manager of Sip at Starbucks occasionally. That’s basically like if you saw the owner of Sprinkles visiting H-E-B to pick up a party tray of mini cupcakes.

What I didn’t expect out of this whole adventure was the immense feeling of guilt I had when I visited Starbucks over Sip. I felt like my lack of business would in the end be what put the final nail in Sip’s coffin if it were to ever fail (which I hope it doesn’t). It’d be my fault. I felt bad because this local coffee house had it all. And I should cherish it, but here I was in the line waiting to pay my homage to the PSL Goddess. 

I want to see Sip last and I think it will. It has a great staff and a San Antonio favorite running the show. They specialize in exactly what I miss at Starbucks, great espresso drinks; while Starbucks has exactly what I’m still missing from Sip, sweeter drinks that I feel shameful about later. Sip excels in espresso, an art and mastery I adore and came to appreciate further watching the baristas in Rome, though I prefer my barista to actually look me in the eye and not mutter “American” after each painful sip of tar-like espresso. Starbucks still has far superior drip coffee, something I came to love in Seattle all with the summer I learned of a magical pastry known as a Butter Horn. Drip coffee is something I often need more than I like admitting. Like two pieces of the exact same coin that is my heady addiction to caffeine, I need them both. 

So I’m in a complex relationship with the local coffee house. Hopefully they won’t catch me cheating. 

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