Where it all began – The Caramel Brulée Latte

2021 Starbucks Holiday Cup

Earlier this month, Starbucks sent me a notification for my free birthday drink. It had been a while since I was there. So long, that I couldn’t remember the last time I went. Well, I’m sure I could find out by looking at the purchase history in their app, but you get my point. I don’t spend a lot of time at Starbucks. But since they were offering, who am I to pass up a free drink?

For nostalgic purposes, I treated myself to a Caramel Brulée Latte. Why a Caramel Brulée Latte you ask? Good question, and one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

What follows is the story of my relationship with the Starbucks Caramel Brulée Latte, and how it led me into drinking and making my own coffee.

For most of my life, I wasn’t a coffee drinker. I made it a point to avoid drinking the stuff for the reasons I mentioned in this post. I didn’t start regularly drinking coffee until 10 years ago.

At the time, my office was in Huntington Beach. I would go into the office 2 or 3 times a month on Mondays. I would leave Camarillo around 5 in the morning, workout at the 24 Hour Fitness just off the 405 freeway in Bella Terra, and then head over to the Starbucks to grab a tea latte and oatmeal for breakfast before heading into the office.

On one trip, around the holidays, I was feeling like something different. The tea lattes were getting old, and I felt like changing things up a bit. I saw the Caramel Brulée Latte on the menu and figured I would give it a try. It was love at first taste.

Over the next few trips, the Caramel Brulée became my go to breakfast drink. I looked forward to every trip to Starbucks. And if I’m being totally honest, I may have even snuck in a couple of Starbucks runs between trips to the office to get my fix.

Then, when I made my first trip to the office that January, imagine my disappointment. I couldn’t find the Caramel Brulée Latte anywhere on the menu. I was devastated. Since I wasn’t a regular coffee drinker, I had no idea it was a limited time holiday drink. I begged the barista to make me something similar, and the best they could offer up was a Caramel Macchiato. It wasn’t the same, but it was close enough. It became my go to drink until the holidays returned.

A year or two later, we moved the office to Camarillo, and I hired someone who was a true coffee aficionado. When I explained to him how I drank my coffee, he simply shook his head and chuckled. I’m not sure the exact words he used, but the general message was Starbucks is not real coffee.

Over the next few years, he would introduce me to “real” coffee. He would take me to coffee shops who prided themselves on the quality of their coffee. He shared coffee making techniques and methods. None of these involved Caramel Brulée, none were lattes, and none contained artificial flavorings. He introduced me to the nuance of coffee and how to enjoy it straight up, i.e., black.

That transformation in my coffee experience took place about 6 or 7 years ago. Since then, a cup of coffee has become part of my morning routine. Unless I’m traveling, part of that routine is making my own coffee. There’s something about the process of measuring, grinding, pouring the water, waiting, and enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Every cup is subtly different, even when it comes from the same bag of beans.

Through the transition to making my own coffee, I slowly stopped visiting Starbucks. In a pinch, I’ll visit to get my fix. Otherwise, it’s just not the same nor as good as what I make on my own.

Even though I prefer my coffee straight up these days, there’s something about indulging in a Caramel Brulée Latte during the holidays. The taste brings back fond memories and reminds me where it all started. Without the Caramel Brulée Latte, I doubt I would have developed my coffee ritual. So while I may have outgrown Starbucks and flavored coffees, the Caramel Brulée Latte will always occupy a special place in this man’s heart.

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