Joie de McLean
McLean's Caffeine-Fueled Rivalry
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In towns and cities over the United States, locals argue over who makes the best version of the iconic dishes that define their towns. In New York City, Katz’s and Second Avenue Deli are long-term rivals for the best pastrami sandwich. Chicago’s Pizzeria Uno and Lou Malnati's vie for the title of most delicious deep-dish pizza. And its Pat's versus Tony Luke's in Philadelphia that has the city in constant disagreement regarding the supreme cheese steak.
We at Joie know that McLean is not exactly home to a symbolic dish, much less any great culinary scene at all. However, most McLeaners are split on one every crucial issue — the best coffee shop in town.
This week, our local Greenberry’s and its close-neighbor Starbucks (the stand-alone one on Chain Bridge Road) go head-to-head (bean-to-bean?) in five categories, and Joie strives to determine which java giant truly warrants its $5 latte price tag.
Joie has had some less than ideal experiences waiting for a seat at Greenberry’s during peak hours. We also had a recent, unpleasant coffee date at a table near the restrooms, during which hot air from the frozen yogurt machine blew on our fresh blowouts.
But even though the patio overlooks nothing better than a Staybridge Suites and a badly paved road, it’s a patio. With umbrella-shaded tables and topiaries.
Starbucks’ cramped quarters just can’t beat that.
Have you seen the line at Starbucks recently? When the queue is closer to the Old Firehouse than it is to a Frappuccino machine, its time to install another register and a couple more baristas.
Now, we will say this: if the Starbucks located inside the Giant supermarket was in this race, it would take the top prize for service; it is the only place in McLean you can get your Grande Skim Extra-Dry Cappuccino served with a grin and a “God bless you.”
This was close. Out of all the categories, this is perhaps the most ridiculously arbitrary. However, Joie takes its role of judge and jury very seriously. Our Mom desperately wanted us to go to law school, after all.
Starbucks excels in the ice coffee subcategory, especially if you ask for it ‘con leche,’ which Starbuckese for “I want the barista to add plenty of milk and sugar to my ice coffee and shake it like a martini before she hands it over.”
Starbucks also wins, hands down, in the chai latte division. No matter how far and wide we have searched (and believe us, we have searched), not one other java joint can come close to the spicy, sweet and frothy chai texture and flavor of Starbucks.
We know, we know, Starbucks doesn’t use “real” chai tealeaves. That’s probably why we love it so much.
We had to take into consideration both the variety of foods offered, as well as the taste. Starbucks inarguably has the greatest assortment of edibles — everything from dried fruit slices to cheese and cracker plates. We have tasted most of Starbucks’ nibbles (even, yuck, those fondant-covered hail stones they call “cake pops”), and we can say with certainty that Greenberry’s comes out on top in this category.
Specifically, Joie’s verdict came down to the taste bud-boggling deliciousness of two Greenberry’s offerings: their frozen yogurt and crumb coffee cake.
We can count the number of times we’ve been into Greenberry’s and haven’t run into a neighbor, old classmate or a McLean celebrity neighbor. Coffee in hand, we rarely make it out the door in less than 10 minutes. This often is a lovely thing. But sometimes it's not, often when we are in a huge rush, wearing spandex shorts, lacking make-up, or all of the above.
Starbucks is not a place to be highly social. There isn’t a lot of seating, but the seating they do have is out of the way from the door and the queue. This is the spot to go if it is just you, your laptop and a Venti drip.
Clearly, our very rigorous and complicated scoring process has led to a winner: Greenberry’s.
We won’t be offended if you disagree. (OK, maybe a little).
What is your verdict? Let us hear from you.