Recently, the Starbucks chain of coffee shops announced a series of store closures, indicating an economic retrenchment after many years of rapid growth. In some circles, this stumbling on Starbucks’ part has been met with cheers of satisfaction, as if a hated style of music had fallen on hard times.
One of the phenomena of our popular culture that has amused me over the last ten years or so is the almost religious hatred that some people have for Starbucks. Unwittingly turning the power of successful branding on its head, these people take it upon themselves as a badge of honor to reject Starbucks as a kind of self-awarded validation of their middle-class rootedness. Even some very wealthy people do this. Think Mike Barnicle, for example.
They embrace, say, Dunkin’ Donuts as their coffee source of choice as if to say, “I’m a regular guy, ’cause I hate Starbucks”. But in fact, coffee costs pretty much the same at either shop. So it’s not an economic issue.
So go on with your smug, self-satisfied rejection of Starbucks. Because that has everything to do with your self-image; reject the comfy furniture, the calming wood interiors, the soft lighting, the idiotic substitution of foreign-sounding words for “small, medium or large”, or the availability of wi-fi so that a pretentious doofus can sit at a table for a few hours with their laptop pretending to workfor whatever reason.
The irony is, that no matter where you do enjoy getting your coffee from, that coffee is better because of the existence of Starbucks. In fact, Starbucks is the one core reason why good coffee is available nearly everywhere nowadays. But not too long ago, that was not the case.
Fifteen or more years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts, along with virtually every other place that served coffee, did so from one of those “Bunn-O-Matic” hot plate-heated glass carafes, using some crappy generic ground coffee obtained through a food distributor who probably also provided the napkins and the Sweet-n-Lo. That coffee was made by some disinterested person opening up the store in the morning, and it sat there until it was gone and someone had to make more. Or, if the place wasn’t busy, it would sit there on the burner and get burnt. Or, perhaps someone put in too much water and you drank hot brown water.
I often hear how people who claim to hate Starbucks do so because they don’t like the coffee. “It tastes burnt”. “It’s bitter”. However I’ve found that many of those same people don’t drink their coffee black. Of course, that’s a matter of taste, but if you’re one of those people who dumps three sugars and half a cup of milk into their coffee, then your opinion really doesn’t matter. Because you don’t really care what real coffee tastes like. Or smells like.
But for those who actually like the smell and taste of good coffee, say a big “thank you” to the fact that Starbucks exists. Because they raised the bar for everyone. Before, you couldn’t find a dependably good cup of coffee anywhere. Now, local coffee shops thrive in virtually every town, because people now know what good coffee tastes like, and they demand it. McDonalds has great coffee now because of Starbucks. And yes, Dunkin’ Donuts has great coffee because of Starbucks.
For what it’s worth, I like Starbucks. And Dunkin’ Donuts. And McDonalds. And I’m glad I can get a really good cup of coffee at any of them. But I also know why that is.
And now, so do you.