August 30, 2007
A friend of mine and I were having a discussion about God-awful Starbucks and how unlike the Europeans, we are stuck with this or watered-down Sanka at roadside diners. He sent me this rant and I resonated with it so much, I had to post it here.
When I began traveling in Europe in the early nineties, it was Coca-Cola that made me most chagrined about being an American abroad. A corner grocer in Cetinje, Montenegro, had no fresh fruit on offer but stocked ample supplies of Coca-Cola at half the price of the local bottled water.
Starbucks is the current Coca-Cola. WalMart, who we also love to complain about, is too big for Europe. But imagine a WalMart diced into a hundred squares and seeded across all of London, settling on every third corner and stamping each neighborhood with an American seal. That is Starbucks in London and other parts of Europe.
Perhaps you enjoy their coffee. Perhaps you think $4-5 a cup is good value for a coffee chain.
Everything is becoming the same everywhere. Even New York, which - except for 9/11 - was always imperturbable to outside forces, looks in many places like a high-end suburban shopping strip with a few floors of flats plonked atop. If you have an interest in heterogeneity, uncertainty and variety in what you eat, who you speak with and where you lay your head when you leave home, could you please tell your British friends to buy their cup of Joe elsewhere?
Starbucks is the latest Stamp Act. Let's inspire our former colonial oppressors to have a London Coffee Party, tossing shipments into the Thames, casting a vote for difference everywhere. As Patrick Henry would have said, "I know not what course other shoppers may take, but as for me, give me local merchandise, or give me death."
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It's funny -- I remember showing up in London in 1989, and also in the early 90's and I couldn't get a decent cup of coffee to save my life. Then, in 1999 when I popped in, there was aStarbucks on Oxford Street, and I could finally get a reasonable cup of coffee there. Your rose colored hindsight glasses of your time in the UK most not have focused on the *awful* quality of everthing ingestible with the exceptions of fish and chips, beer and curry.
What Starbucks and Coca Cola are competing with are *other* international brands. As an American, I'm rooting for McDonalds and Starbucks instead of Wimpy's and some ghastly Finnish coffee chain
Sure, support your local coffee roaster (and resteraunteur, and pizzeria and farmer)...but if someone's going to create a giant international chain of coffee emporia, it might as well be American.
Posted by: Chris Tolles | Aug 30, 2007 3:57:36 PM
We've homogonized the suburbs, moved on to the urban bastions, and now onto the rest of the world...
Posted by: Jim S | Aug 30, 2007 6:53:01 PM
It's not so much the spread of the Starbucks, as let's face it, they dd introduce 'real' coffee to the USA. No - it's the appalling quality of that coffee that gets me. The coffee is overcooked (burnt) so that the 'best' way to have it is with expensive fat-laden milky additions, which absorb the flavor.
In New Zealand and Australia Starbucks' expansion has been limited, as we already have good coffee.
Posted by: lance Wiggs | Sep 2, 2007 3:29:16 PM
Chris: Rooting for McDonald's? Now that's just plain wrong. I'll have to take your word on Starbucks (I don't drink coffee), but McDonald's makes the fourth worst hamburgers I've ever eaten anywhere in the world.
I might go with the theory that Starbucks forced other coffee chains to make better coffee, but McDonald's seems to have convinced the other burger chains that they can get away with serving marginal food.
Posted by: Emru | Sep 8, 2007 12:53:04 PM
Results of informal research of Brits and others who lived in London in the 90s does not support the claim that Starbucks introduced good coffee to the UK. Perhaps it's a matter of personal taste, or familiarity with the Starbucks standard, along with some economic patriotism. Everyone does agree that the quality of food in London has increased dramatically in the past 15 years. Credit was given to an invasion of ethnic foods from around the world and a new interest in fresh cooking techniques, including those from California. That is an American export I can get excited about -- something excellent that is absorbed into an existing culture rather than stamping out what was already there. Oh, and for what it's worth, in the food survey McDonald's was not mentioned. Nor Wimpy's. Nor anything Finnish.
Finally, to say that the competition is only between international brands based in different countries doesn't match at all my experience of how neighborhoods and business districts have changed as a result of a new large-chain presence. They tend to wipe out the little guys while they are battling with each other. Books, diners, hardware, to a lesser extent clothing and home furnishings.
Posted by: Ray Lewis | Sep 10, 2007 1:36:30 PM
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