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The “I Love Lisa” episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons

How is everyone’s Valentine’s Day? Or I guess I should also ask how Single’s Awareness Day is going for everyone else. Remember, overdosing on chocolate is an equal opportunity for all of us.

Personally, I eschew Valentine’s Day. I mean, I have trouble “getting” it. I know there was a Saint Valentine in there and then somehow some winged cupids manhandling bows and arrows got mixed in there too. But along with such icons as leprechauns and witches, I am not a fan of Hallmark Holidays. After passing through primary school and collecting cut-out Valentines from my classmates — did anyone else experience one their first socially insecure moments like I did back then? — I stopped paying attention to this date. Even as a person happily coupled in a relationship, I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I apologize if this sounds like vitriol I am spewing, as I recognize that I may sound like the Valentine Grinch. I think that one of the reasons why I felt ambivalent about Valentine’s Day was that I always worked on this date. While I was doing my undergraduate studies, I waited tables part-time and of course Valentine’s Day is a huge day in the restaurant business. The restaurant layout would need to be revised so that all tables can seat two, and then romantic props like flower petals, pink ribbons and mandatory candles would be arranged in the space. I was always a very polite and competent server so there was never too much of a difference in the way I dealt with customers, though it was an odd feeling being entrapped in a room surrounded by lovey dovey couples.

PDA, as long as it is not explicit (!), is not something that I frown upon at all. That is, until I moved to Montréal. I know they say that Paris is for lovers, but Montréal? Well, let us say it is also for touchy feely types.

In one of my first memories of when I initially moved to the city, I was sitting at a diner with a friend for a lazy weekend breakfast in the francophone dominated neighbourhood of the Plateau. There was a couple sitting in a booth across from us, with their hands intertwined on the table between each other, their bedroom eyes locked together. Each of them would take turns and stand up and reach across the table to lay very passionate kisses. Eventually, they moved to sit on the same side of the booth and continued a full-on makeout session while my friend I am uncomfortably tried to eat our toast and eggs.

It was during the summer that I moved to Montréal, and as I love exploring a new area by walking all over the city, I of course made regular visits to the mountain, Mont Royal, and the encompassing park. Montréal is a hilly island, and Montréalers like to sit on grassy hills to picnic, play games, or just relax. But, as I said, the city is for touchy feely types and when you look at the people sitting on the grassy hills on a beautiful day in summer, I would say about a quarter of those people in the park are sucking face. I swear, I am not kidding; try visiting la belle province, especially during the warmer months.

Montréalers just love to engage in PDA all around the city. On the mountain, by the canal, on a sidewalk bench spotlighted by a street lamp. My first visit to La Petite Italie (Little Italy) involved my friends and I dropping in to a popular pizzeria late at night while a sixty-something couple were mindlessly engaged in a hot and heavy embrace outside the restaurant. This never happens in Toronto.

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This is John Lewis’s 2012 Christmas TV advert. Their 2011 enjoyed much success, and this year they have kept within the theme of tugging at consumers’ heartstrings. If you find the song as beautiful as I do — a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love — you can find the full track here.

[Iced Starbucks Green Tea Lattes. Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons]

I have a profound distaste for Starbucks coffee, and I know many others feel the same way. I find most of their coffee-based products thoroughly revolting, and I broadcast this opinion to as many people as possible, or commiserate with them, depending on my audience. I have even taken it upon myself to devise creative tweets about the company. Indeed, a friend and I collectively decided that a new Starbucks coffee slogan could be “Starbucks coffee: tastes like ashes, roasting on a fire, in the deepest pits of a Dantean hell”, and that the Internet deserves, and needs to know this.

My disdain for Starbucks isn’t noble — it has less to do with the fact that they have sucked the soul out of neighborhoods by putting mom and pop cafes out of business and turning consumers into robots, and everything to do with their crummy coffee. I do not consider myself a “coffee snob”. I have heard people proudly declaring themselves as coffee snobs, whatever that means. I am not one. In fact, I don’t drink it all that often, and am more of a tea drinker myself. I suppose then that it may seem bizarre that I harbour such strong and negative feelings towards the company. I think it stems from a naive belief that if you’re that big, with such a devoted client base, you should be delivering, at the very least, a satisfactory product, which I believe Starbucks fails to do for the most part.

This brings me to the green tea latte. I first discovered this beverage some time ago as a student in Montreal.  I am of the loud, blaring music, crowds of people, school of studying – I have always tried my best to avoid libraries.  I therefore often found myself in downtown cafes, and while the city centre is populated by a fair variety of coffee chains, Starbucks is by far the most prominent of them in terms of numbers and popularity (at least amongst my friends and classmates). I’ve spent hours and hours at Starbucks in various parts of town, and finding a tolerable beverage has always been a challenge.  It was my friend who introduced me to the green tea latte, and while I strongly object to the current trend of food glamourisation/veneration, I have to say that this drink brings me a special joy.  I usually order it with soy milk, and it’s frothy, creamy, flavourful yet comfortingly mild. Indeed, everything one looks for in a hot beverage.

It therefore saddens me that the one drink I can stomach at Starbucks is unavailable in the United Kingdom. Other novelty beverages seem to have enjoyed success in the UK – I noticed this fall, to my horror, that pumpkin spice lattes have made it to London. I mistakenly thought that the pumpkin-flavoured product craze was reserved to North America. Starbucks’s seasonally-themed drinks aren’t the only non-coffee based items to have successfully made it onto the UK menu. Frappuccinno, in their many varieties are on offer, and from my unscientific observations, seem to enjoy good sales. So why is it that the green tea latte has not made it over? Is it too wild and unconventional for the UK consumer? I wonder whether Starbucks has made a conscious decision to exclude it from the British product mix, or whether it has been altogether neglected across EMEA, which I expect it is, given that the UK is the most US-like in consumer tastes as compared to the rest of Europe.

To get to the bottom of this I did a bit of investigating over the Internet. My research led me to the “Green Tea Latte for U.K. Starbucks” community on Facebook, which consists of a small but powerful group of 22 Likes. A member wrote in to Starbucks to inquire about the absence of the GTL on their British menu. Jessica, a Customer Care Specialist, thanked “Alec” for his feedback, and reassured him that the company regularly reviews its range to ensure a varied selection. She also pledged to share his comments with the development team.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand the absence of this drink in the UK, but I find Starbucks’s response to Alec inadequate, much like their espresso. Despite Starbucks’s unclear and mysterious motivations to exclude GTLs from the UK, other chains have seen its appeal. EAT now includes the GTL on their menu, and I have even noticed small local coffee shops, like the Missing Bean in Oxford, serving it.  Hopefully, Starbucks, as a global chain that has all but monopolized consumers’ coffee and hot beverage consumption, will eventually deliver a menu that is up-to-date with changing habits and tastes.  In the mean time, I have discovered a few handy Youtube videos, and may try my hand at making a latte myself one of these days.