Food & Drink

Wichita woman wins free ‘Starbucks for Life’

Wichita woman wins free "Starbucks For Life"

Wichita's Kristen Coleman is one of five people in the country to win the big prize. Video by Denise Neil/The Wichita Eagle/Sept. 20, 2016
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Wichita's Kristen Coleman is one of five people in the country to win the big prize. Video by Denise Neil/The Wichita Eagle/Sept. 20, 2016

In Wichita, Kristen Coleman is coffee royalty.

Any time she visits a local Starbucks – which these days is once a day – the baristas gasp, stare and pepper her with questions. Her friends and relatives are more eager than usual to join her for a coffee date.

Coleman, a 33-year-old hairstylist and mother of three, is one of five people nationwide to win “Starbucks for Life” as part of a recent promotion by the Seattle-based coffee chain.

Her prize entitles her to one free Starbucks beverage or food item every day for the next 30 years. (Though Coleman hopes to live past age 63.)

“It doesn’t seem real,” she said on Tuesday morning, sipping a pumpkin spice latte at her neighborhood Starbucks. “But then every day, it is real.”

The contest, which launched in early August and concluded on Sept. 12, was open to Starbucks Rewards loyalty members. It invited players to collect virtual game pieces each time they bought a beverage. The first person to collect the right game pieces would be eligible to win one of the grand prizes – free Starbucks for a week, for a month, for a year or for life. Only five “Starbucks for Life” prizes were given out in the United States.

Coleman, a fan of Starbucks’ mochas and pumpkin spice lattes, had been a member of the loyalty club since 2010 and decided to play. She stopped in at Starbucks generally two or three times a week for a treat, sometimes after picking her kids up from school.

At 4 a.m. on Sept. 1, her alarm went off so she could go meet her running club for a pre-dawn workout. While she woke up, she grabbed her phone and checked on the game. The rare game piece she’d been searching for, a little cartoon character called a “mochanut,” popped up. Her Starbucks Rewards app immediately alerted her that she’d won “Starbucks for Life.”

She popped up in bed, her heart racing. She didn’t want to wake up her husband, Chevis, sleeping next to her. So she began frantically texting her mother, who at 4 a.m. was not responding to text messages.

Coleman said she tried to keep quiet at her running club but couldn’t help herself and told her friends. But she told no one else while she waited for official confirmation.

“What if I really didn’t win? What if it was a hoax?” she said. “When I got the e-mail, I was able to celebrate out loud.”

The e-mail arrived on the day the contest ended. It said that Coleman would be receiving a custom-made Starbucks card that was just for commemorative purposes and that the real prize would be loaded onto her rewards card daily. So far, she’s been taking a tour of the menu, trying something different every day.

“I thought ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to have to start drinking real, grown-up coffee now instead of my regular coffee that has all that sugar,’ ” she said.

The estimated value of Coleman’s prize is $54,000. Her husband, once he woke up, was happy for her but wondered what the heck he was supposed to buy her for Mother’s Day from now on. Starbucks gift cards had been his go-to gift.

Coleman said she’s going to try to visit Starbucks every day from now on, even if she’s not in the mood for coffee.

“I might still go through the drive-through to get something for the person in line behind me,” she said. “Why not?

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

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