« Academy Award Nominations | Main | A 3-D Imax Super Bowl »

Adam Greenfield on Starbucks

Via boing boing comes a wonderful Adam Greenfield rant about anti-IKEA and anti-Starbucks attitudes among the would-be hip. After taking on the IKEA haters, Greenfield moves on to those who despise Starbucks:

There's an equally wrongheaded sibling rant, which is the eternal current of complaint lodged against Starbucks Coffee. Although there's probably more truth in the notion that Starbucks has made it difficult for independent local alternatives to survive -- mmmmmmmaybe -- most critiques directed at the chain strike me as being built on the same shaky armature of self-righteousness, spoiledness, and ahistoricity. Like the blistering Ikea-hatred, there's something wildly out of scale in the tone and tenor of the criticism directed at Starbucks.

To reiterate comments I made on Josh Ellis' site last month, in the wake of a perhaps representative rant of this type: I drink Starbucks coffee on a fairly regular basis and am generally quite satisfied. The chain provides a highly reliable, reasonably high-quality beverage -- high-octane drip coffee, in my case -- at a not-absurd price point. I am rarely more than a block or two away from one. I get much less attitude from the people behind the counter than I do at the one indie coffeehouse I frequent -- I mean, they'll actually say hi, remember me and my drink from yesterday, refrain from chatting with each other while I'm standing there waiting to order. And their bathrooms tend to the clean.

More importantly, I am also old enough to remember the swill that Americans drank and were pleased to call "coffee" before Howard Schultz swept down out of his damp PNW redoubt and clusterbombed us with franchises. It tasted like soggy cardboard, it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere. There simply was no alternative, let alone an entire alternative venue that also provided comfortable seating. At sixty or seventy-five cents, too, this "coffee" was no bargain -- far better to my mind to pay twice that and get something consistently worth drinking.

Finally, for those of you who seem to be so incensed with the musical selections on offer at Starbucks: god forbid we should enjoy some Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra from time to time. You don't like it, bring an iPod.

Can you see that I'm really, really tired of people whining and complaining about the horrible, evil, monocultural, hegemonizing, bland, MOR grafted devil that is Starbucks? I mean, you try and find another place in Beijing, or on I-40 in the ass-end of nowhere, that rocks coffee this good.

(What's that? You can't? Or if you can, it is solely because Starbucks tutored the mass audience in what to demand of coffee? Yeah, I thought so.)

Now, as it happens, a dear friend of mine is a Starbucks hater (though I don't know if she'd describe herself that way). But her experience is borne out of her time living in San Francisco, where the perception among many is that good local indie coffeehouses existed prior to Starbucks' arrival, and that Starbucks has relentlessly targeted them for elimination. Is that true? I don't know. It could be. But for the vast majority of Starbucks locations, I would argue that good, high-end coffee was probably not to be found before their arrival.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


I missed the definition of "indie" is it indigenous or independent or ???

Should you ever get the opportunity, I recommend you try Java Jack's coffee house (www.javajacks.com) in Nacogdoches, TX. Good coffee, atmosphere, and often good music.


DK, who are you? E-mail me -- I'm curious! It's frank at boosman dot com.

Done. Spam usually keeps me quiet as well as anonymous.

In one of your Starbucks posts, you mention the Italian inspiration for the chain. During my first trip to Germany in 1977 I encountered Tchibo, another prototypical chain. Same business model, small stand-up tables, specialty coffees that are even now sold in grocery stores -- even sometimes in the U.S.

Subsequent trips to Europe exposed me to Belgian, French, and Italian Cafe's. Together they spoiled me for what we used to call coffee. I agree with Greenfield about the general rise in U.S. standards, but I'd hate to credit it entirely to Starbucks. I was taken to a great coffee house in Denver in about 1985 when I visited my sister there. Regretfully, I can't remember the name. Similar places I've visited elsewhere in this country claimed some form of descent from 50's jazz/poetry spots in Greenwich village. Others (in Louisiana for instance,) claimed connections with French cafe's and 100-year histories. I needn't originally have traveled so far.

From what little history I've read (and the little of such I remember), coffee houses were a gathering point for inteligensia in Moorish Spain ca 1100, and the occasional mullah preached against the free flow of ideas that occurred there as well as the ill effect of caffeine on one's soul!

Ah, progress.

I take a double shot of espresso in the strongest available 16 oz brew at Mona's (http://www.bealeservices.com/dining/monas.htm). Grind and make my own in my "dual head" Krups filter + espresso machine on the weekends. Metal cloth filters, no paper.


Post a comment