These days you risk getting run out of hip society for admitting a fondness for the Seattle giant. Even Starbucks is shunning its own brand with the opening of 15th Ave. Coffee and Tea. From the coffee cups to the store fixtures, Starbucks’ ownership is nowhere in evidence. 15th Ave. can’t even be found on the Starbucks website, instead answering to the screen name of streetlevelcoffee.com.
Try to remember life before Starbucks.
Home-brewed coffee bubbled away in a percolator or turned bitter and brackish parked on a burner in a glass carafe. Road trips became interstate scavenger hunts as we scoured the exits looking for drinkable coffee and a serviceable bathroom. If you were lucky there was an Italian community nearby where you could find a coffee roaster and a cafe or bakery making espresso.
Starbucks created a specialty coffee movement in this country. In a span of 20 years we went from fewer than 600 coffee retailers to around 24,000 mostly independent retailers today. When one of their outlets came to town, it was the highest quality coffee (and often the most stylish surroundings) most people had ever seen. Starbucks elevated our taste levels and fueled our craving for fresher, better coffee than we ever knew existed.
The ubiquitous brand is plastered all over our downtowns and our Main Streets. The mega-corporation rolls over the authentic, mom-and-pops struggling for market share. And the coffee isn’t all that good.
As an empire built on quality, has Starbucks lost its footing?
The coffee is over-roasted. The scale of the business does not lend itself to product freshness. Starbucks has drifted away from the high-quality coffee that made it a sensation, focusing instead on higher-margin, milk and sugar pablum. Even McDonald’s coffee recently bested Starbucks in a Consumer Reports taste test. But they still deserve the nickname Fivebucks for their stratospheric pricing.
It pioneered an industry, revitalized countless downtowns, and broke new ground for thousands of independent businesses. It’s a generic fuel stop as we go about our busy day. Its a lifestyle of watered-down hipness and lite-green environmentalism.
We have a love-hate relationship with Starbucks.
some lovers and some haters:
Follow one man on a mission to visit every Starbucks on the planet.
See why Starbucks made the list of Stuff Hipsters Hate.
Explore the history of the brand and its many missteps at Brand Autopsy.