Me and Chairman Mao
  Of Starbucks and Eggrolls.
Since Starbucks has been in the news lately--both because of the three-hour training shutdown and, a few months ago, the tragic closing of the Forbidden City Starbucks (covered on my blog here, among other places)--I thought I'd post the following article. Not just because I don't really have anything else to post, having been gone from China for over a year at this point (although I really don't have much to post right now), but also because I want to and/or feel like it, which is pretty much the best reason for doing anything, don't you think?

(My favorite part about closing the Forbidden City Starbucks was--at least from what I read--not because having a coffee stand in an ancient palace that was the historical center of China makes about as much sense as having a McDonald's in the Washington Monument, but because it was low-class/cheap Western food. So what, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse would have been okay? It's even better because, of all the big tourist attractions around Beijing--naturally, I hit them all in my time there, generally more than once--the Forbidden City has by far the most disgusting food. I mean, there is literally not one thing there I would eat. At least the Summer Palace has some baozi, which I would describe as sort of like Chinese humbao. Last time I was at the Forbidden City, I was starving and I couldn't even find a Snicker's bar--which I hear really satisfies--or anything comparable. Luckily for me, I just went to Starbucks and grabbed a croissant ...)

Anyway--which I say for the howevermanypoststhereareinthisblog time--here's the Starbucks "story" I was talking about, which I wrote for a different blog a long time ago, where they apparently are stupid (that means they didn't like it) so they took it down long ago. Now I put it back up, to give it its rightful place online where it can be seen by tens of tens of people, if not more. But probably less.

Whatever. Here it is. Enjoy!

Starbucks Eggrolls: Stick to the Coffee.

Let me start by getting right to the point: Starbucks Eggrolls are bad. Really bad. I know that I probably should have led up to that a little better, maybe buried it somewhere in the third or fourth paragraph to suck you into the story first, but I thought I’d do a service to those of you who, like myself, never seem to have enough time to read everything you want to on the Internet while at work and just put it out there. In that same spirit, I'll also add that as far as I know Starbucks Eggrolls are only sold at Starbucks stores in China and Taiwan--I'll leave it up to you to decide if that counts as one or two countries--so unless you plan on hitting the Far East in the near future, this probably won't affect you. However, for those of you who either don't have much to do at work today, already have your plane tickets in hand, or are simply really interested in what I have to say (and really, who could blame you?), I'll elaborate.

Still with me? Good. The first time I walked into my local Shanghai Starbucks and saw the Starbucks Eggrolls, boxed up in a red-and-white cardboard sleeve with a group of Edward Gorey-esque Christmas Carolers on the front, I wanted them. And yes, I did want them solely because of the packaging: like most Americans, I've been raised to value things based almost exclusively on the way they look, and I'm fine with that. Once I figured out they only cost about twelve dollars and came with a coupon for a free cup of coffee, my decision was made. This despite the fact that I had no idea what the egg rolls were made out of, although I assumed chocolate was involved somehow since I believe chocolate should be involved in most things. Either way, five minutes later I was on my way home with both the egg rolls and a tall toffee nut latte in hand because, hey, it's Christmastime even in China, right?

Once I was back in the relative warmth of my apartment, I sat down, slid off the aforementioned sleeve, and discovered a squat, square, silver Starbucks tin with no hint anywhere about what was inside. Well, no hint in English: there was some nutritional information on the bottom in Chinese that I couldn't read, but since I guessed it would translate roughly as "this will make you fat" I ignored it, which always seems safest when dealing with desserts. Flipping the tin back over, I pried open the lid, ripped off the layer of wax paper separating me from the sugary goodness inside, and finally laid my eyes on the egg rolls themselves.

I was disappointed. Why? Because the egg rolls were nothing more than cinnamon-colored hollow tubes, like somebody had added brown food coloring--if there is such a thing--to a batch of Scandinavian Krumkake cookies. Ergo, the egg rolls were neither made of nor filled with anything that looked remotely like chocolate. I grabbed one anyway. It was light and flaky and crumbled into pieces almost immediately, and I began to wonder if buying the egg rolls simply because I liked the box might have been a mistake. Then again, based on the coloring they could be chocolate flavored, so hope remained. I picked a piece out of my hand and ate it.

It was disgusting--so much for hope--with a taste that made me immediately think of a burnt sugar cone. Which is odd, because I don't know that I've ever tasted a burnt sugar cone or if sugar cones can even be burnt, but the mind is mysterious thing. However, just to make sure I wasn't out of mine, I ate some more. After all, I reasoned, the first egg roll might have been a bad one, a mistake. I was wrong: it was just as terrible. Slow learner that I apparently am, I had one more, since I couldn't believe that Starbucks could make such a gross misstep. Needless to say, I was wrong yet again, although at least the third time I had the good sense to only take a small bite.

I put the lid back on and gave up. Honestly, I was a bit confused. After all, I'd really liked the Green Tea Frappuccino, the last Asian-inspired item Starbucks had dreamed up, so what had gone wrong with the egg rolls? Then I realized that maybe nothing had gone wrong, that the egg rolls might have been designed to appeal to Chinese tastes. Other big companies did it, after all--Cadbury, for example, makes their chocolate sweeter in China--so why wouldn't Starbucks?

To test my theory, I brought the egg rolls into work the next day and forced everyone I could to try one. And guess what? My Chinese coworkers loved them. In fact, when I admitted that I didn't like them, I got a lot of confused looks and, depending on the taster's English proficiency, comments ranging from "You not like?" to "Dude, are you crazy?" To which I now respond, no, because I had my wife--who, like me and Bruce Springsteen, was born in the US--try a couple, and she thought they were just as bad as I did.

So obviously, I would recommend that if you happen to be somewhere in Asia and see Starbucks Eggrolls for sale (with or without Christmas-themed packaging), you should avoid them at all costs. But then again, every Chinese person I offered them to thought the opposite, so clearly someone at Starbucks knows what they're doing. Actually, someone at Starbucks really knows what they're doing, since they seem to have convinced everyone in Shanghai--a city where the official minimum wage is around seventy-five cents an hour and having a good job means you might take home a thousand dollars a month--that paying three bucks for a cup of what is basically just flavored is reasonable. The moral of the story? Buy stock in Starbucks while you can ... just avoid the egg rolls.
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