literally just me going to get coffee

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This morning, like many mornings lately, I had to have my java. As the dictatorial head of my household, there are strict regulations in place prohibiting talking to me before I’ve had my java. (My roommate, a dog who always wants breakfast, usually does not adhere to these regulations.) Sometimes I make coffee myself, sometimes I go out and treat myself to an overpriced chai latte. This morning — a nice almost-fall day in Brooklyn hovering in the high 60s — I opted to do something a little different. Yes, I decided to go order The Charli.

The Charli, as we all know, is the go-to Dunkin’ Donuts order of Charli D’Amelio, the most-followed person on TikTok. Earlier this month, Dunkin’ announced in a press release that:

For a limited time, Charli's go-to coffee order, a Dunkin' Cold Brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl, will officially be named on Dunkin's menu nationwide as "The Charli."

Here she is making one of her signature drinks.

I will confess that I do not entirely understand Ms. D’Amelio’s appeal, but at the same time, I very much understand why D’Amelio is famous. Social networks rely on network effects, and those effects often take the form of fandom. It’s fun to like the same things other people like — you feel like part of the in-crowd. If everyone is talking about the same thing (e.g., an influencer like D’Amelio), then you are incentivized to also talk about them. It leads to a snowball effect, growing popularity through sheer inertia.

This week, I finished reading Pilgrim in the Microworld, an ahead-of-its-time, book-length analysis of the Atari video game Breakout. It was first published in 1983. In one chapter, author David Sudnow ponders trying to master the game and develop a winning strategy while playing as a middle-age adult:

Would any kid who’d been around these games long enough have sized up this situation right off the bat? Look at the setup, consider fast slams, think out an overview of pitfalls and traps at the end, and map strategy. No, probably only real decision-making freaks do that. But then again maybe average teenage brains were now problem-solving their way through much of the day, arcades filled with hint heeding, leaving only us older folks, the kind who go out and buy a microworld and muddle our way through the ambiguity of events, even cherish that ambiguity, shunning formulas and staying with rough guidelines, maxims, hunches, and a whole lot of improvisation. Only now and then do circumstances arise making it worth a try at enumerating, ordering, tightly scripting sequences of steps toward some particular goal.

As has been true throughout all time, kids raised on certain systems are always more adept at leveraging them than adults who constantly have to break habits and learn new ones in order to adapt. Where kids see systems of cause and effect, adults see gobbledigook. Even in 1983, while learning a game as simple (sorry, David!) as Breakout, the generational gap was apparent. TikTok is like that for me: I can learn it, and study it, and work to understand the appeal, but I will never quite have the natural instinct to use that platform to maximum effect as either a creator or a consumer. YouTube is the same way — my brain just isn’t wired to watch that stuff and I don’t feel like rewiring.

The obvious reason for me not groking D’Amelio is because I (29) am old and washed-up, and D’Amelio (16) is trendy and cool. She does dances, according to what I’ve read? That’s neat. I can’t dance; I am, as Sudnow said, “shunning formulas and staying with rough guidelines, maxims, hunches, and a whole lot of improvisation.”

But I can still enjoy a Dunkin’ Cold Brew.

I took a walk to the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s about a ten-minute walk, and on the way there, I envisioned how I would order my drink at the counter. (I could’ve ordered ahead on the mobile app but I am not a coward.) “Hi, can I get The Charli?” is probably what I’d say. Or would that be embarrassing, to say that out loud? Maybe I’d just point at it on the menu behind the counter and say “Can I get that?” in the same way I’d order a foreign dish when I don’t want to mangle the pronunciation. I was a block away when I had the nightmarish thought of “Oh christ, what if they’re one of those non-participating Dunkins?”

So I get to Dunkin’ and, thank goodness, they are participating.

Like Sudnow playing Breakout, I was ready. I had my strategy. I’d practiced my line in my head so that I could order it with confidence but not a disconcerting amount of excitement. “Hey, can I just get The Charli?” I told the nice man behind the counter.

“What?” he said.

Oh no. My plan was going all wrong. I had not accounted for the fact that I would be wearing a face mask muffling my voice, and that we would separated by a clear plastic barrier. “The Charli?” I said again. In my mind, I was like, “Shit, am I going to have to list the ingredients?” I hadn’t memorized them. Why hadn’t I memorized the simple list of a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel???

And then, before our mutual confusion could get any worse, a gift from the heavens: the display behind the counter, which was rotating through new menu additions, landed on Charli again. I pointed: “Oh, that.”

“Ah, the Charli,” he said. I paid my $3.99 plus tax and as my card was being processed, he asked… “Is it good?”

I shrugged! “No idea.” It was the most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t know if I gave off some sort of vibe, but how embarrassing for me that the nice Dunkin’ man thinks that this is not the first time I’ve ordered the Charli. Mortifying.

Anyway, I got my drink. According to the official press release:

Dunkin' is also giving fans an opportunity to enjoy "The Charli" with the star herself. The Charli x Dunkin' contest launches September 9, inviting fans to post a photo on Instagram recreating an iconic Charli x Dunkin' moment using #CharliXDunkinContest. On September 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners will be selected for the exclusive opportunity to hang out with Charli virtually and get a few pointers from the digital superstar on how to make viral and engaging videos.

My Instagram is private and I have no interest in meeting Charli D’Amelio, but if I did, here’s what my #CharliXDunkinContest submission would look like.

(Many have asked me if I need a haircut. The answer is: I need a lobotomy.)

But is it any good? The answer is: yeah. The Charli is how I like my Dunkin’ iced coffee — loaded with dairy and artifical sweeteners. As someone whose go-to Frappuccino is caramel, I immediately recognized what I was drinking. It tasted very refreshing at first, and then sickly sweet for a little bit, and then you power through that by drinking more and it goes back to tasting good. Much like the bottled caramel Frappuccinos you can buy in convenience stores occasionally do, it also caused me to have a BM. I don’t take pleasure in reporting this but I am committed to sharing my experience fully and accurately, and this is also a way of confirming that I was not paid to do this. In fact, I lost money on this blog post.

The Charli is at participating Dunkin’ Donuts locations now for a limited time. You could do worse.

One of the tricks of meme blogging is that when you’re out of ideas or, hypothetically, you spend all of Friday playing Gears Tactics instead of drafting the next BNet, you can just look up a funny food thing and do the food thing and that counts as a blog.


Thank you for reading BNet. My go-to Dunkin’ order is the coffee/two donuts combo — one jelly and one chocolate-frosted (with sprinkles).