Starbucks' Midlife Crisis

The coffee giant can't quite accept its own customers' tastes.


Last summer in Seattle, Starbucks opened 15th Avenue and Tea, an unbranded café featuring "small batch coffees sourced from individually owned farms" and a variety of fussy brewing methods designed to appeal to those connoisseurs who believe a cup of $4 coffee ought to be at least as complicated to make as a Big Mac. Live music is provided by a small-batch indie rock piano band sourced from a tiny town in Wisconsin. There's an in-house "tea master," and occasional outbreaks of poetry. Starbucks is 39 years old now, and like a lot of 39-year-olds, especially those who've experienced great success in their salad years but are beginning to wonder if they've lost their touch, it's having a bit of an identity crisis.

In 2008, Starbucks closed 661 under-performing locations. In 2009 it shuttered an additional 300 stores and laid off 6,700 employees. In an attempt to position itself against newer, hipper rivals, the company started talking up its "heritage." It resurrected a less polished version of its logo for use in certain branding situations. Presumably, its coffee is still brewed from coffee beans, but everything else in its new stores seems to have made a radical career switch. The bar at a London Starbucks is upholstered with scraps from an Italian shoe factory. The countertop at the Paris Starbucks is made out of recycled cell phones.

For all their ostensible authenticity, such  adventures in interior design cannot match the truly radical act of installing espresso machines in bank lobbies. Like Seattle's other great cultural export from the early 1990s, Nirvana, Starbucks has always been most vital, most interesting, most revolutionary when at its most commercial.

Granted, not everyone thinks of the chain as radical. Take Bryant Simon, a historian at Temple University. In his 2009 meditation on Starbucks, Everything But the Coffee, he offers the usual critiques of the company. It says it sells coffee, but it doesn't. It says it's a venue for conversation and civic discourse, but it isn't. It sells overpriced coffee-like beverages and a safe, predictable, environment. It preys on needy, status-seeking consumers by offering them clean bathrooms, innovative products, and a soothing ambiance in myriad convenient locations. For Simon, Starbucks was designed to be an exclusive, elitist institution: When CEO Howard Schultz began adding locations in the late 1980s, he "made sure to put his stores in the direct path of lawyers and doctors, artists on trust funds and writers with day jobs as junk bond traders."

If you're thinking to yourself, damn, that's totally unfair to writers with day jobs as unemployed writers, well, yes, that was Schultz's evil scheme! He wanted to introduce fancy coffee to people who weren't already drinking fancy coffee. So, Simon reports, "unlike an owner of one of the beat coffee shops in the 1950s, he didn't set up in transitional neighborhoods or fringe places like, for instance, Chicago's neobohemian Wicker Park."

In the late 1980s, of course, there weren't many cafés serving high-quality coffee anywhere. Coffee consumption per capita was at its lowest point since 1962, soft drinks had recently surpassed hot caffeine as the nation's favorite beverage, and Coke was in the midst of a campaign advertising its utility as a breakfast drink. The few cafés that were selling espressos and capuccinos, however, were located precisely in places like Wicker Park.

In choosing to locate his outlets in busy downtown locations, Schultz was expanding the world of high-end coffee—diversifying it, in fact, by taking it beyond its insular, self-conscious subculture. The décor of his stores amplified this process. They had the clean and slick streamlining of a fast food restaurant but were more comfortably appointed. Instead of walls lined with old books, there were gleaming espresso machines for sale, packages of whole beans, ceramic cups. They felt a little like a Williams-Sonoma store crossed with an unusually tasteful airport lounge. They were cafés for people who would never set foot in a bohemian coffeehouse, people traditional coffeehouse entrepreneurs had completely ignored.

For less than the price of a Whopper, you could hang out in a sophisticated middlebrow lounge/office for hours on end. And they were popping up everywhere. Exclusive, elitist? Starbucks was exactly the opposite, introducing millions of people who didn't know their arabica from their robusto to the pleasures of double espressos. Finally, good coffee had been liberated from the proprietary clutches of hipsters, campus intellectuals, and proto-foodies and shared with bank managers and real estate agents. In offices across America, it suddenly smelled like 'ffeine spirit.

For Schultz, this mainstream customer base was both a boon and a curse. In Pour Your Heart Into It, his 1997 account of Starbucks' rise to global behemoth, he reveals a preoccupation with authenticity that echoed Kurt Cobain's. In 1989, he initially balked at providing non-fat milk for customers—it wasn't how the Italians did it. When word trickled up to him that rival stores in Santa Monica were doing big business in the summer months selling blended iced coffee drinks, he initially dismissed the idea as something that "sounded more like a fast-food shake than something a true coffee lover would enjoy."

Eventually, Schultz relented. And really, what greater punk-rock middle finger is there to purist prescriptions about what constitutes a true coffee drink than a blended ice beverage flavored with Pumpkin Spice powder?

Simon recounts the birth of the Frappuccino in Everything But the Coffee too, but while he acknowledges the grassroots origins, he quickly positions it as an item the chain is "pushing" on "caffeine-dependent women and men." In his estimation, the company's "consumer persuaders" and "mythmakers" are the ones with real power. They're constantly selling false promises, implanting "subliminal messages" in store décor, and otherwise manipulating hapless consumers.

In reality, the chain's customers have played a substantial role in determining the Starbucks experience. They asked for non-fat milk, and they got it. They asked for Frappuccino, and they got it. What they haven't been so interested in is Starbucks' efforts to carry on the European coffeehouse tradition of creative interaction and spirited public discourse.

Over the years, Starbucks has tried various ways to foster an intellectual environment. In 1996 it tried selling a paper version of Slate and failed. In 1999 it introduced its own magazine, Joe. "Life is interesting. Discuss," its tagline encouraged, but whatever discussions Joe prompted could sustain only three issues. In 2000 Starbucks opened Circadia, an upscale venue in San Francisco that Fortune described as an attempt to "resurrect the feel of the 1960s coffee shops of Greenwich Village." The poetry readings didn't work because customers weren't sure if they were allowed to chat during the proceedings. The majority of Starbucks patrons, it seems, are happy to leave the European coffeehouse tradition to other retailers.

At 15th Avenue and Tea, the quest to cultivate highbrow customers continues. There's a wall covered with excerpts from Plato's dialogues. Blended drinks are banned from the premises, and you can safely assume that Bearista Bears, the highly sought-after plush toys that Starbucks has been selling since 1997, won't ever appear here either.

But if Starbucks really hopes to re-establish its authority as an innovative, forward-thinking trailblazer, it should perhaps use its next experimental venue to honor its heritage as the first chain to take gourmet coffee culture beyond the narrow boundaries of traditional coffeehouse values and aesthetics. Imagine a place with matching chairs, clean tables, beverages that look like ice cream sundaes, Norah Jones on the sound system, and absolutely no horrid paintings from local artists decorating the walls. A place, that is, exactly like Starbucks! 

Because despite its ubiquity, despite its advancing years, Starbucks is still the most radical thing to hit the coffeehouse universe in the last 50 years.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato ( writes from San Francisco. 

NEXT: As Bernard-Henri Levy Could Tell You, The French Word For Schadenfreude is Schadenfreude[*]

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  1. “[O]ther great cultural export?” Egad.

    The real Seattle sound is a dude named Jimi Hendrix.

        1. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

          1. JUST DO IT ALL FOR ME

    1. Time for you to take your pill, grandpa.

  2. I dated a barrista once. Nothing like quad shot mochas four times a day.

    I haven’t stopped buzzing yet

  3. I often use the Starbuck’s drive thru window. Seems to me I’m just buying coffee. Of course in the Northeast we’ve always had blue collar working class neighborhoods with coffee shops that served real coffee – we called them “Italian” neighborhoods, so maybe the bohemian connection isn’t as strong as it is on the West coast.

    I do applaud Schultz’ initial resistance to non-fat milk though. Any non-fat dairy product is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.

    1. I say no dairy product should come into contact with coffee. Drink it straight.

      1. You said it… I definitely love it plain.

    2. There was an association with blue collar Italian neighborhoods on the west coast originally too. There were originally espresso places in San Francisco’s North Beach because it was an Italian neighborhood. In the 50s it became a favorite gathering place of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and other beats and the cafes became more bohemian. It was actually San Francisco’s coffee culture that gave rise to Starbucks indirectly as the founders of Starbucks learned their trade from Mr. Peet of Peet’s coffee. But until Starbucks started spreading like wildfire, espresso was mostly something you found in arty, collegy, hipstery neighborhoods.

  4. Everyone knows the key to success in a highly competitive market is to stand still.

    1. I am amazed that Apple is still in business, considering the number of business mistakes they’ve made. I suspect it’s the fact that they are still willing to take huge risks and introduce “game-changing” new products that has kept them alive.

      1. For Mac users it’s a perverted sexual preference,not a rational consumer product choice.

      2. It’s the cult, man.

        1. Sure. But it’s risky adventures into new markets that keep the cult growing.

          1. No, it’s just the cult. They could start selling TRS-80s with cool cabinets, and the cultists would rave over them.

  5. I’m curious what Beato’s source is for his assertion–repeated numerous times in the article above–that Starbucks serves high-quality coffee. I’ve always felt that Starbucks is the Amstel Light of coffee… it’s good at tricking people who don’t know better into thinking they’re drinking a premium product.

    1. I don’t drink coffee, but my friends that do don’t view Starbucks as particularly good. And that’s taking into account any mass-market snobbery.

      Come to think of it, I heard quite a bit of negative commentary about Starbucks in Seattle. I got the impression that locals preferred other local or non-chain alternatives.

      1. I drink Turkish coffee (ground as fine as powdered sugar). But I use Starbucks Guatemalan. I have tried many, other brands and varieties (Caribou, Blue Mountain, etc.), but nothing else comes close.

        Turkish Coffee:

        Put 3 cups cold water in sauce pan.

        1/2 cup coffee
        1/4 cup sugar
        9-12 green cardamom pods

        Heat to just before a boil


        1. I thought you had to boil Turkish coffee twice.
          Incidentally, I’ve had Turkish coffee in Turkey. Honestly, it wasn’t all that different from what you can get in any Middle Eastern restaurant.
          But yes, Turkish coffee is good stuff. I only wish I could find Cafe Cubano outside of Southern Florida.

          1. When I worked in Syrian restaurant during uni, I made the turkish coffee and we used ground cardamom rather than pods. We didn’t boil it twice, though. I live in South Florida. I am addicted to cafe con leche, and it costs about $1.50.

        2. You really should be using a copper Ibrik rather than a saucepan. But the main factor in how good your coffee will be is the quality of the bean and the freshness of the roast. Roasting it yourself or purchasing from a local vendor that roasts on premises and guarantees freshness will get you better results than anything Starbucks has to offer.

      2. From what I’ve seen, Seattle’s rep for being a coffee capital is totally unwarranted. Just because Starbuck’s started here doesn’t really mean anything. Granted, I haven’t been sampling the local wares, but the coffee talk I would expect from coffee “experts” is completely lacking here. And by “experts” I mean Spaniards and Italians.

        1. They drink a lot of it, but I’m inclined to agree. Not the variety you’d expect from a true coffee town.

          I’ve had Cuban coffee and Greek coffee a few times. I imagine heroin is a similar experience. Sounds like that’s true of most Mediterranean coffees.

          1. I think “meth is a similar experience” is what you mean. Heroin makes people sleepy.

            My father went to Panama, and he said the coffee there was almost like soup. My Puerto Rican ex-GF also used to make coffee almost like expresso.

            1. I don’t doubt that you are correct. I’m the token non-drug user among the libertarian population, so what do I know? I should’ve cleared the analogy with Episiarch.

              1. You should be clearing everything with me, ProL. You know this.

                1. Well, everything drug, prostitution, or perversion related, anyway. Though SugarFree disputes your authority on the last one.

                  1. I like to think our skills sets are complementary.

                  2. In my job, I ran across a journal article entitled “The Use of Neuroleptics in the Treatment of Paraphilias”. I wasn’t sure if it better suited Episiarch or SugarFree…

              2. There are two tokens. Whether you want to be in that boat with me, I don’t know, but I also am a drug-free body zone, or something like that…

            2. In northern Canada thats how they brew tea; thick like roofing tar.

        2. Starbucks’ iced coffees are far better than the Italians’. While I am admittedly a coffee parvenu, I went to Cafe Nero and a couple other Italian coffee shops in London, and they turned any iced coffees into frothy, undrinkable messes.

          Fittingly, though, while I was in London, all the clerks at the coffee shops were Italian.

          1. Of course, I drink iced Americanos, so that was likely the problem…

        3. I lived in Sevilla, Spain for 1 1/2 years. The coffee is not great, except for the brand Delta, which is hard to find. Spainards serve their coffee muy fuerte (very strong). The best way is get it is ‘cafe con leche’ which is 3/4 coffe and 1/4 hot milk. yummy! BTW, Europeans know how to serve their coffe the correct way. You will never see a pitcher of cold milk on the counter for pouring into your coffee.

      3. Your friends are ridiculous snobs. The point is Starbucks’ coffee, in most parts of the country, is better than your other options, especially if you’re travelling. It’s much better coffee than the watered down swill at Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ve also been to many “independent” coffee houses where the “baristas” had no idea how to make a decent espresso. Starbucks also kicks ass over the Keurig machine in my office. If there’s a choice between Peets and Starbucks, of course I’ll take Peets, but that choice isn’t always available.

    2. Starbucks has always charred the crap out of their coffee beans (which is what you do to hide inferior beans). I find their brewed coffee undrinkable. I like their milkshakes, though.

      And yes, I am a coffee snob – I even roast my own.

      1. It’s the milkshake that is the secret to their success. Hey, I’m not drinking a 800 calorie milkshake every day; I’m drinking coffee. Brilliant marketing.

        1. Bingo. You want a milkshake? Get a milkshake. But don’t call a milkshake coffee and then complain about your weight.

      2. Yes, Starbucks always tastes burned. Starbucks (like so many high end type franchises)has always been about yuppies and branding and little else. Thankfully, I think era is fading away.

        1. The secret to Starbucks success is very simple–their drip coffee has about 50% more caffeine content than their competitors. I suspect that’s why it tastes burnt–it’s intensely heated to elicit the caffeine (My guess–I am not all that knowledgable about the coffee roasting process) It’s all about the dosage. They’re giving the addicts what they want.

          1. Actually the darker you roast the beans, the more you burn off the caffeine. It’s sort of counter-intuitive but more lightly-roasted beans are more potent. Places like Starbucks char their beans because it allows them to blend good beans with cheaper, inferior ones by masking the flavor with the burnt taste. And because many people mistakenly believe strong tasting coffee is actually stronger caffeine-wise.

      3. “And yes, I am a coffee snob – I even roast my own.”

        What kind of roaster do you use? And can you roast indoors without triggering smoke detectors?

        1. An air roaster – an I-Roast 2, if memory serves. I roast on the porch (fortunately, I live in a warm climate).

          Sweet Maria’s (google it) is the place to go for roasters and green beans.

          1. I’ve got a FreshRoast Plus8, which was the cheapest option and is okay for small batches, but doesn’t seem to get hot enough for dark roasts.

            Also, it routinely sets off my smoke detector. I’d roast on my balcony, but it’s darn cold in Toronto this time of year.

            So now it mostly sits in the kitchen cupboard, and I just buy roasted beans instead of green.

            Okay, I admit it… I’m a failed coffee-snob.

            1. I started with a fresh roast 8 until it broke. But really that thing is just a modified air popcorn popper that you can build yourself with a little effort.

              I know use a “turbo-crazy”. A combination of a turbo oven and a stirring popcorn popper. I can do about a pound at a time if i want and it produces very even roasts. It cost less than a hundred bucks to build. You can find many web pages dedicated to making one.

              Smoke is only an issue if you go to a full french roast, for me anyway.

              I also get my supplies from Sweet Marias.

    3. It’s high quality compared to the Folgers, Maxwell House, etc. that non-coffee snobs drank before there was a Starbucks on every corner.

      1. Exactly. Starbucks is overpriced and inferior to what you will find at many a good local cafe, but it is better quality than the swill most Americans were drinking before they came to town. And it’s still probably the best coffee you will get if you don’t live in a large enough city.

  6. I have only been in starbuck three times in my life. Each time i wanted to punch myself in the face.

    1. It’s a shame you refrained.

  7. I go to Starbucks pretty much everyday. But I always get the same thing: Venti Unsweet Black Iced Tea. I’ve never been served the wrong thing and they usually start making it as soon as I walk in. It’s on campus and they have an amazing track record for hiring the cutest little undergrads. Woo! Starbucks!

  8. It preys on needy, status-seeking consumers by offering them clean bathrooms, innovative products, and a soothing ambiance in myriad convenient locations.

    Unless your shop has an unwashed junkie shooting up in the mens’ room, in a puddle of his own vomit, you are exploiting the working class. Got it.

    1. The clerks must also have faded orange hair, heavy make-up, tattoos ans heroin tracks in order to be non-exploitative.

  9. I prefer Mcdonald’s coffee.

    1. I have a 1.25 block walk to a starbucks or a 1.5 block walk to a 7-11, 7-11 usually gets my coffee money due to the non-dribble cups (and the gritty nonpretentiousness) both occasionally have junkies though due to hippy/yuppy/hipsterishness of the neighbourhood

      1. “1.25 block walk to a starbucks or a 1.5 block walk” How’s the OCD going?

    2. Dunkin Doughnuts! Half the price twice as good as is Starbucks.

      1. I prefer both Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s to Starbucks.

  10. Seems to me that they’re just riding the usual rise and fall of companies – once an innovator that defines a new market with an unmet need, now having to share it with numerious competitors that followed.

    They are also struggling a bit with the fundamental issue of supplying a ‘luxury’ good – once everyone can buy it, it loses its status appeal from its former exclusivity. I think trying to create a separate brand to recapture this is probably the way to go, especially since that concept won’t appeal to everyone (at least not yet).

    I love coffee houses and prefer to patronize the locally owned ones, but I’m pretty much OK with Starbucks being a decent place to get a cup of coffee and I appreciate the fact that, like McDonalds, their product is uniform around the world – a fact I really appreciated in South Korea when I was jonesing for a real cup of coffee instead of that instant crap they like over there.

  11. Never drank coffee, probably never will at this point (I’m 48) – but this gives me a great idea. Set up a place where people can feel free to drink my beverage of choice, Mountain Dew, and target people who don’t normally drink Mountain Dew, and charge a lot, and…

    What? Never work? Hah – that’s what they said about…other things.

    Say hello to Dew de la Montagne, coming soon to a metropolitan corner near you, bitches!

    1. Hi, I’ll have a tall half-Splenda half-turbinado sugar extra cold split quad shot (two shots grenadine, two shots orange syrup) Dew made with mineral water. Thanks.

      1. It’s not the same without the brominated vegetable oil.

      2. Yeah! I order the Diabetics Folly too!

    2. It’ll never work.

      1. Hilarity ensues!

  12. How anyone can enjoy the filtered residue of charred beans is beyond me.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the buzz.

    1. Which is silly considering the darker you roast a bean, the less caffeine it has.

      1. Studies have been done: Starbucks has more caffeine than other coffee houses.

    2. Well, that’s a little silly. It reminds me of Pat Robertson talking about people drinking “rotten water” (beer). Why not – how can people eat bateria infested, coagulated milk? Or how can people drink the mammalian excretions of another species? How can people eat animal corpses? How can people eat fermented cabbage? and on and on. Now, I’m not a real coffee drinker – I use sugar and lots of half and half – but I do love my coffee.

  13. It preys on needy, status-seeking consumers by offering them clean bathrooms, innovative products, and a soothing ambiance in myriad convenient locations.

    He sounds a lot like a status-seeking History professor who preys on the kind of intellectually vacant college students who take innovative courses like Ethnography and seek a soothing ambiance where they can talk of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen nestled together in a conveniently located and clean classroom, reflecting on the travails of the working class while assiduously avoiding becoming members of it.

  14. Like Seattle’s other great cultural export from the early 1990s, Nirvana, Starbucks has always been most vital, most interesting, most revolutionary when at its most commercial.

    That annoyed me for a second.

    But Nirvana at its most commercial was “Come As You Are,” in which they vitally, revolutionarily stole a Killing Joke song and made it into a fratboy angst-along people who don’t care about music would consume by the millions, and defiled a beautiful thing, forever, for everyone. Just like Starbucks.

    Good analogy!

    1. And Killing Joke, while they sued Nirvana, doesn’t play “Eighties” in concert.


    2. Killing Joke stole it from the Damned.

      1. All modern music is stolen from jazz.

  15. You know what I think? 7-11’s coffee is surprisingly good for how cheap it is.

  16. I’m launching a national cha s?ma chain, which will bring the joys of tea made with yak butter and salt to America. Spiritually and commercially uplifting. I’ve already signed the Dalai Lama to a commercial and promotional deal.

    1. The Dalai Lama’s brother owns a Tibetan restuarant in Bloomington, IN. They serve tea with yak butter there. They had to cut the yak butter back because it was too greasy most people.

  17. I’m going to cache in on the vampire craze and start a chain selling drinks laced with human blood. 40 years from now, trendy people will complain that all my blood is farm raised from willing, paid donors and how much better it was when I was abducting prostitutes at 2am for it.

    1. That farm blood is has too many omega 6 fatty acids and not enough antibodies because they aren’t free range and never built up immunties. Plus you feed them corn. Free range blood is the way to go.

  18. I crush you in 2013 when I imply that drinking prostitutes’ blood is a good way to catch HIV.

  19. Less Nirvana, more Microsoft and software, IMO.

  20. It should also be noted that when coffee was first introduced to Europe, there was a great consternation. It was banned in many places, and the old guard worried about the horrible effect this new drugs would have on the young ‘uns.

    One huge coffee fan wrote a Cantata* about it. If you really want to get into coffee snobbery, there you go.

    *(a vocal composition with more than one movement, but not a musical drama like opera)

    1. Pope Clement VIII was going to ban it, then decided that the sweet nectar shouldn’t be left only to the infidels.

      Being pressured by his advisers to declare coffee the “bitter invention of Satan” because of its popularity among Muslims, he instead declared that, “This devil’s drink is so good… we should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”

  21. Nirvana ruined rock with their whiny crapulence. Why do people like that unlistenable tripe? Shorthand I used in the 90’s: Every band from Seattle sucks except Queensryche, and they ain’t even very good.

    1. Alice in Chains was good. But otherwise I agree.

      1. Soundgarden was better than Alice in Chains. Nirvana was better……..

    2. I fail to see how Nirvana was any whinier than the punk that came before them. Of course, maybe you find all punk to be unlistenable, which would explain your opinion.

  22. as a seattlite, and someone that lived in the heart of Roma for 3 years, outside of Roma, starbucks has provided me with the best espresso. i only drink espresso so i can’t comment on anything else though.

  23. A lot of those Starbuck’s loving, Mac using, plastic frame glasses wearing people ARE participating in an “intellectual environment”. It’s just that the engagement is taking place on the internet in a decentralized way.

  24. I’m curious what Beato’s source is for his assertion–repeated numerous times in the article above–that Starbucks serves high-quality coffee. I’ve always felt that Starbucks is the Amstel Light of coffee… it’s good at tricking people who don’t know better into thinking they’re drinking a premium product.

    Th important thing is to compare the Starbucks product to the swill you got at the average retail outlet before Starbucks. It is simply better than that.

    And it is very, very reliable. Step up to the counter, place the same order, get the same perfectly adequate product. Every day, every store, every city in every state. Starbucks is the McDonald’s of coffee.

    In the states I drink almost exclusively brewed coffee (I’m, spending more time in Europe now, so I’m learning to appreciate espresso, but I still prefer drip or press), and I like it dark roasted and very strong, so Starbucks is often the closest match in retails outlets. I mean, sure a Tully’s or a Pete’s would be better, but I live in fly over country, in a town where we complain about having to drive ten minutes to get somewhere “all the way across town”, so that’s not happening.

    I agree that they often overcook their beans, and never buy anything delicate or subtle from them. It takes a robust bean and considerable care to get them expressing oil without burning out all the interesting complexity. But hell, most “neighborhood cafes” aren’t any better. My big problem locally is that we do have a shop that roasts on site and does a fine job. Then they brew a cup of slightly colored water. Grrrrr….

  25. Wow, no Tim Horton’s comments, am I the only northerner who writes on this message board.

    Go Wings!

    1. I’m Canadian, and this may be considered treason, but I prefer Starbucks to Tim Horton’s.

      That said, I’m in the minority here. Tim’s enjoys 62% coffee market share in Canada vs. Starbucks in second-place at 7%. (2006 data)

    2. Holy Spicoli! I had Tim Horton’s in Kandahar, God bless the Canadians. Yum! I thank them for Horton’s and Rush and early Mike Meyers.

    3. I live in Buffalo, NY — I’ve always preferred Tim Hortons’ coffee. Tastes better and much less expensive.

  26. In Seattle, there’s two things you can’t joke about—Bill Gates and Starbucks. Because, at one time or another, everyone’s worked for them.

    The coffee isn’t great, but it’s consistent, and you can be in Sturgis, Sarasota or St. Paul, and you know you’ll be with your own kind. No scary locals.

    1. Can you joke about Washington Mutual? Or is it too soon?

    2. Know what else is consistent? Windex.
      I find when I spray it down my throat I get roughly the same taste sensation as when I’m subjected to Starbucks “coffee.”

    3. Great share I have always been a fan of star bucks!

  27. I once got drafted in to being a barista, at a grocery store Starbucks. Not once in the year and a half that I worked there, did I ever try any of the coffee, although I would occasionally snag some ice tea or make espresso whippits to get high from. I was actually a terrible barista but a lot of the customers knew I was too lazy to ring up their extra espresso or flavor shots.

    1. And they don’t test..

  28. The personal opinions you have derived from your fascinating life are a revellation.

  29. Starbucks made a fatal error when they replaced the Marzoccos with push button machines. They became a fast food chain without the food. That is why McDonalds is taking customers away from them. Peets and Dutch Brothers are your sources for true espresso.

  30. Whatever. I just want their stock prices to rebound to 2005 levels.

    1. Great share I agree with Jacobs post here cause prices will most likely rebound

  31. Does anyone remember a news article about Starbucks from a few years ago were they were complaining about too many customers buying one cup of coffee and then hanging around all day? About the same time I noticed that the big comfortable chairs in Starbucks started to disappear. They were replaced by artistic and uncomfortable furniture in many stores (especially the new ones). I do a lot of traveling by motorcycle and I enjoy taking breaks at coffee houses but now I don’t bother stopping at Starbucks.

  32. Except that straight-up Starbucks coffee is anything but “good.”

  33. Coffee at $4.00 a cup? Yikes,glad I’m in Wisconsin where good beans bring $4.00 /lb.

  34. If you can’t make a proper espresso – that is thick with a golden creamy “schuma” – then everything else that follows is crap. Fundamentals people, fundamentals.

    While I’m ok with Starbuck’s (someone made the good point that if you have nothing else, relatively speaking, then it’s a great option), I find that franchises miss that point – here in Canada it’s Second Cup and a couple of other companies.

    Their workers aren’t real baristas in the Italian sense (I believe the founder of Starbucks was inspired on a trip to Italy), but are “partners” or workers who barely know how to operate an espresso machine. My local SB is run by girls who’d rather be elsewhere. I don’t think they can teach me anything about coffee.

    In Italy, they’re masters. They take serious care to not just food and drink but life. I learned HOW to eat over there.

    Here? Food is a chore. Or in some cases, a god dang fad. Ironic given how much access to everything we have. We’re not as refined. All we care about is the end product. That’s why they come up with all these gimmicks.

    I don’t care for the fucking frapmochajavacarameldarjeelingblastercccino sprinkled with nutmeg.

    Give me a fucken espresso and serve it right.

    That’s why I go to a neighborhood Italian bar. Awesome coffee, for half the price. No frills. Drink, hang out if you want, read a little, argue if you must and get the fuck out. In Italy it’s even more bare bones; sip the sucker and escape.

    None of this catering to Range Rover chicks desperately trying to look like that Spice skank.

    If I were SB, I’d go rustic. Old style. Old country. And teach their “baristas” to make a proper espresso. I’m not saying copy the European way, because we’re different, but don’t flood us with bull shit. People should demand more and if you have a client with sandals asking for sucking low fat soy milk with the espresso kick them out.


    One last note, I don’t know for a fact if the SB is an inferiour quality coffee, but I’ve bought their Verona coffee (whole beans) for my high-end espresso machine and I have to say, it’s not bad. The coffee comes creamy and bold. Dunno why they can’t serve it to me that way on their premises.

    Sometimes I just want to go back there and do it for them.

    Sorry for the length.

    1. Great comment, I couldnt agree with you more!

  35. It’s funny that you’re calling it a midlife crisis because Starbucks is even changing how it looks to deceive people into bringing their sales numbers back up. It doesn’t seem to be working as of yet though.

    I’ve read Simon’s book that you referenced here and I just found his blog where he goes on even more about the trends of Starbucks and just how they are dealing with this midlife crisis.

    Here’s the blog I found for the “disguised coffee shops.”

  36. I blame ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’. The crazy arab holds a coffee-tasting to convince the Imperial Navy he’s a classy guy, millions of impressionable SF fans are warped by Niven and Pournelle-
    1973 book. Starbucks takes off in the 1970s.
    Cleaning the percolator really helps.

  37. Get Americans talking about food and beverages and with a few blessed exceptions, it’ll end with chatter about billion dollar multinationals quoted on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Enjoy your meal, have a nice day and thank you for enjoying our humanity-free environment, in which all attitudes, reactions, greetings, as well as the decor, music and “stuff” are decided by executives in skyscrapers and those serving have name tags and are only doing it to move onto something “better”… and are anyhow, despite the hours put in, either below or hovering over the poverty line.

    Viva la plutocrazia!

    (And then complain about it and you’re called an elitist)

    1. Thanks for the read star bucks is delicious

  38. Has the author visited 15th Ave Coffee?
    I doubt it.
    A cup of coffee does not cost $4

    Otherwise , give it a break. If you don’t like Starbucks, don’t go. But don’t try to gain status by pretending to knock them.

    1. Nice post like others said its not capable of saying it so much..

  39. “In offices across America, it suddenly smelled like ‘ffeine spirit.”


  40. The makeover of the Starbucks on 15’th Ave was an act of desperation. The cafe was always empty and probably the deadest Startbucks I’ve ever been in. It is a few blocks from one of the best cafes in Seattle, Victrola, which is always packed, with the overspill going to Cafe Ladro, also very good if somewhat small.

    The most innovative Starbucks in my experience was the one down the hill in Madison Park. It used to have a restaurant and had a wonderfully buzzy atmosphere and was always full. But the restaurant is gone as are a lot of the customers who seemed to have migrated to the Tullys down the block.

  41. Starbucks wouldn’t be where it is today without Howard Schultz, but he is not the “founder” of Starbucks. He bought a successful company from its three founders (Mssrs. Baldwin, Siegl and Bowker).

    1. Yeah I agree it wouldnt be where it is today with Howard Schultz

  42. I love our local starbucks and the kids who work there. They make every effort to cater to customers’ tastes except when it comes to their consistently stale pastries.

  43. Nah.

    The mythology of Starbucks is that it isn’t Burger King. The reality is more nebulous.

    The genuine, unresolved, internal tension between the desire to be commercial and the desire not be is what allows it to straddle the line so artfully.

    As an Australian, we got espresso decades ago, with mass Italian immigration. Therefore Starbucks is to coffee what McDonalds is to a burgers.

    I was a recent convert to Starbucks though…


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  45. My only Starbucks experiences have been in Australia and Hong Kong. On the basis of these experiences I can confidently say that the future of Starbucks would be more assured if they actually served coffee. Whatever it is, it does NOT taste anything like the real coffee served just around the block in any suburban or city coffee shop in Australia.

  46. There’s a place and time for Starbucks, just like there is for McDonalds and Burgerking. I think that Starbucks needs to re-invente itself though. More and more people can afford and are buying excellent domestic coffee machines. They don’t need to go out for a good coffee anymore.

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  48. It was actually San Francisco’s coffee culture that gave rise to Starbucks indirectly as the founders of Starbucks learned their trade from Mr. Peet of Peet’s coffee.Now more and more people can afford and are buying excellent domestic coffee machines. They don’t need to go out for a good coffee anymore.

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  51. There’s a place and time for Starbucks, just like there is for McDonalds and Burgerking. I think that Starbucks needs to re-invente itself though. More and more people can afford and are buying excellent domestic coffee machines. They don’t need to go out for a good coffee anymore.

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  62. I think that Starbucks needs to slow down and just serve whats it’s been serving for all these years– coffee. No need to get extra fancy.

    I dont need a panic attack

  63. I think that Starbucks needs to re-invente itself though. More and more people can afford and are buying excellent domestic coffee machines.

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  65. I’ve also been to many “independent” coffee houses where the “baristas” had no idea how to make a decent espresso.

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