Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oatmeal #12: Caribou Coffee

This post will reference neither Justin Bieber nor Willow Smith. Merry Christmas.

OK, so, yeah, you've never gotten busy and not had time to do completely superfluous things like write about oatmeal? Cause, I mean, you know...I have. It's completely inexcusable, I know, but I do have my excuses. I 1) went on vacation (that is an on-location shot), 2) moved (still in Chicago, however, so the name of the blog is not in danger), 3) got promoted, 4) had a baby named after me, 5) got some sort of bizarre virus that meant I could only eat bland food for several days (reason#753 why oatmeal is awesome--I could still eat oatmeal), 6) worked a lot, 7) went to Cedar Point (obviously life-changing) and went from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds (If you don't scream, your lung will burst. I am not making that up.), 8) worked some more, 9) painted my new kitchen, 10) bought a ticket to Spain to visit my friends MG and CM (The astute among you have surely deduced that frequent blog star CM has moved to Espana), 11) reached that point in the year where I just cease to get out of bed, 12) actually went to Spain, which is a lovely place, excepting the fact that they DON'T EAT OATMEAL there (Let's all silently judge the Spanish.), and 13) purchased a new computer, because the power cord (inside joke, loser) on my old one was frayed (bahaha) and it couldn't charge. Therefore, I am stuck attempting to review an oatmeal I ate on July 20th. This is an unfortunate trend, but so is The Jersey Shore, and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. (The fact that a Google image search for "Jersey Shore" actually turns of pictures of the Jersey Shore and not The Orange People gives me hope for mankind. A little.)*

*I would like to note that during my busy period of blog inactivity, this little blog celebrated its one year anniversary. I honestly had no idea what I was doing when I started this thing, and I definitely didn't really expect anyone to read and/or care, so thanks for sticking it out and helping me develop the Strangest Thing About Me.

Anyway, this quarter's oatmeal is from Caribou Coffee, a friendly coffee chain that is the second largest in the nation, after the Bucks. I had never had it prior to moving to Chicago, because, as it was founded in Minnesota, it is only available in more northern areas (and I think fifteen states in total). Keeping with the Minnesota theme, the interior is always quite log-y and fireplace-y, and their drinks have names like "Northern Lites" and "Reindeer Drinks". (Stupid.) I've honestly never been a huge fan of Caribou, and not just because of their slightly crackpot logo. (I mean, how is that animal going to remain upright with such a huge antler on its head, much less merrily prance through the snow. Kind of reminds me of that part in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch ties the huge stick on the dog, and his head sinks to the ground while his back rises like a see-saw. That caribou in that logo should be floored. But what do I know about anatomically correct caribou. Nothing, I'll admit. Because further research has show that apparently they do have pretty big antler horns. Shut up.) Anyway, back to why I don't like this place. Sometimes I do actually have legitimate reasons. I always feel like it is slightly overpriced and that their espresso drinks taste a bit funny. Plus, their drink sizes are just weird. For some things, there is nothing smaller than 16 ounces, which can be quite husky for a coffee drink. A minor point, you say? Well, resume feeling stupid! Nothing is minor when it comes to oatmeal. The main reason I go here, frankly, is they have $1 coffee on Mondays, so I go pretty much every Monday, because their drip coffee is good. They also just started a promotion for $2 oatmeal on Mondays, so, even if what I have to say about it isn't great (true), at least you can try it yourself rather cheaply.

Well, moving past whatever personal vendettas I may have against Caribou, they introduced oatmeal at the beginning of the year (probably as a direct result of feeling left out of this blog), and I have had it several times since then. I actually tried more toppings here than anywhere else, I guess hoping that ONE of them would be really good, because I thought there was a lot of promise. But people keep repeatedly trying to invade Russia in the winter, and that never ends well either, so I don't know why I won't learn. Stupid freezing winters (That's what a Google image search gave me, ok? Sometimes you must lean with it and also rock with it.) and gelatinous breakfast cereal toppings. Equally as horrific.
  • Price: $2.45. Daaaaaaang, boy.* That is cheap. Plus, with their bundle-age dealness, my coffee was only $1. So my total was $3.87. I think this sets some sort of Best Price Record. (9. Not a 10 because there is still the possibility that some place will just give it to me for free.)
  • Size: Standard 10-ish ounces. Boring. But not even close to full. I hate them. (3.)
  • Toppings: They are a bit weird with their toppings. Instead of giving you a choice of ten (or however many) things to pick and choose as you please, they have preset "flavors," I guess you could call them, that involve some sort of crazy mixing of about 12 different things that makes the barista look like they are creating some sort of Snape-tastic potion. Choices are: classic (also known as "bland" to those of us not in the marketing business), blueberry almond, banana walnut, maple brown sugar crunch, apple cinnamon, and very berry. They used to have a couple of others (cranberry orange and something else) that I guess were discontinued. I have tried them all except blueberry almond, but this review will be based on the very berry flavor. I couldn't exactly tell what goodies they were mixing into my oatmeal, but it seemed like they had some sort of strawberry compote, various dried fruits, and almonds. A good idea, in theory, I suppose (as so many oatmeal-related things are). However, the execution was rather flawed. First, they use WAY too many of the toppings, and the compote was WAY too sweet. The toppings only served to overpower the oatmeal itself. It's also disappointing that so much of the fruit is dried (the banana walnut uses dried banana chips) and the strawberries in the compote were like slimy vampire eyeballs exploding in my mouth. Gross. It's nice to have so many flavor options, but I wish a) I had more control over what went into each flavor, b) that the toppings could be a bit simpler and used less liberally, c) that they weren't all a combination of a dried fruit and a jelly. Initially, it SEEMS like there are a lot of choices, but essentially it boils down to the Curse of the Sub-Par Italian Restaurant--a seemingly varied menu that you suddenly realize is four different kinds of pasta, a mediocre marinara sauce, and a couple of different types of cheese (mozzarella and Parmesan, mayhaps) combined in every way imaginable, making everything taste basically the same. You can tell that their oatmeal is structured around the ability to ship everything to the stores in bulk, and that's really unfortunate. This was just a word vomit about toppings. Goodness sakes. (3)
  • Texture/Appearance: I think there was birdseed in mine. Or something very much like it. You can choose between "whole grain" or "classic" oats, and I have always gotten whole grain, which apparently is taken quite seriously, because it really does look like your friendly Little Robin Red Breast's Christmas feast. Also, because it doesn't get hot enough, I don't think the oats fully cook, so they're still pretty crunchy and raw. In the words of Kenneth Parcell, "No, thank you, sir!" And in the picture above, it looks like the toppings are trying to drown in the lukewarm milk just to end their miserable existence. (3)
  • Temperature: Frigid. (What?) Cold as a dead fish.** I want to kick these people so hard their eyebrows fall off. Seriously. I have watched them make this oatmeal several times, and the methodology definitely includes steaming real milk with real heat and adding it to the oats. Now, I don't know much anymore about osmosis or reverse osmosis or diffusion or homeostasis or any of that scientific balderdashery, but I DO know that when milk is steamed to a very warm temperature, combined with oats and toppings, inserted into a brown bag, and literally carried next door, it should NOT get cold, even when combining it with the oats and toppings appears to be some 37-step process. Gosh, I am SO ANGRY. (2)
  • Taste: Well, if you can slog past the basically freezing globs getting stuck in your throat and the vampire eyeball toppings exploding in your mouth, you may actually think about how it tastes. That would be a mistake. As I mentioned, it was way too sweet. I do like that it's made with milk, but really, who cares? I think maybe just the regular oatmeal with no toppings might actually be good (well, if you took a blow torch to it first), because I do like that they use the multi-grain oats, despite the unfortunate birdseed side effect. The last time I went here to get coffee, there was a "build your own" oatmeal option that I feel has a great deal of potential. But I have been burned enough! Sometimes you just have to give up on fitting a really round and really big peg into a less round much much smaller hole. (4)
  • Calories: Think of the maximum number of golf balls you can fit in a Volkswagen Beetle
    and then DOUBLE it. There aren't that many calories in this oatmeal, but there are still a LOT. 480, to be exact. COME ON. That's basically two candy bars! That alone is enough to make me never get this stuff again. Fools. That's just terrible. I mean, come on. You think you're ordering something sort of healthy, and instead you might as well get the Sausage McGriddle wrapped in bacon and then covered with gravy or something. No excuse. I could not have been more offended if this oatmeal had called my mother names. In fact, I am pretty sure it did call my mother names.
  • Intangible: They do have that $1 coffee on Mondays. I guess is the best thing they've got going for them, because if it that offer didn't exist, I would never go there. Most of their staff at the location I frequent are quite friendly. When you leave, they say things like "see you tomorrow!" which, admittedly, does make me want to come back tomorrow. But I pride myself for not falling for cheap marketing ploys! I will NOT come back tomorrow, thank you! However, one thing they do really have going for them is they got free wireless at every location a long time ago, while most other coffee shops were busy being stuck in 2002 (I'm looking at you, *$. I mean, yeah, the 2002 Olympics were totally freakin' awes, and the Olympics may be the one thing I love more than oatmeal, but let's all grow up here.). Obviously, this means everyone brings their computers here, and they also were one of the first places to realize that this means they should have tons of electrical outlets. So bravo to Caribou for realizing the obvious. However, I did a great deal of CPA exam studying here, so the wireless internet was a detrimental distraction then. This place can't win. I refuse to let it parade in my rain. (4)
*Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, I cannot love this more.
**I doubt it.

TOTAL: 9+3+3+3+2+4+4=28

Whatever. "Caribou Coffee" is a stupid name anyway. Plus, this oatmeal makes me cranky. I think it just has so much sugar and fake stuff that I don't get the nutrition one needs for the active, rough-and-tumble life of editing spreadsheets, so my blood sugar gets low, and that makes me an unpleasantly raging work companion by 10 a.m.

Also, look out. It's hittin' the wall, folks.

Finally, because it's almost the end of the year, I feel like I should present some sort of a list. It's just what you do. Last year I gave you some of my favorite books of the year, but I didn't read as much this year (For Whom the Bell Tolls was really good though, if you're curious, as was The Corrections and Running With Scissors), so instead I will provide you with some of my favorite blogs. Despite what this blog might imply, I generally go for the very short and to-the-point Tumblr sort of blog. I also go for funny over serious or provocative, because obviously this blog fulfills any Serious Blog Needs I might have.

When Parents Text
I Love Charts
STFU Parents

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And always remember--having fun isn't hard when you have a library card!

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