Friday, July 18, 2008
There's a Starbucks backlash goin' on and it's not fair.
Yes, Starbucks are absurdly ubiquitous, they have overexpanded, and now they're going to pay the price. The creative destruction of the market is at work. But we should remember some key facts and be grateful.
First, remember what coffee was like before Starbucks. Some of you (though I doubt it, with the readership of this blog) may have cut your teeth on micro-roasted craft coffee shipped straight from Kona or that African critter's butt to your grinding burr in Seattle. But most of us drank the usual American swill to be found in law firm coffee rooms and frat house kitchens. Akk. Dreadful stuff and I know because I drank enough of it. "I just made it" meant it had been sitting there getting foul for less than an hour. "It's OK" meant you could drink and not die immediately. I grew up in a house where my Mom drank 20 cups of coffee a day, not one of them not worth forgetting until, you guessed it, Starbucks came along and taught people about coffee the way everybody discovered wine in the 1970s. So yes, Starbucks is not as good as
PetePeet's. Well, excuse me while I play the grand piano. No it isn't. But the point is, it's not Maxwell House.
Then there is the whole concept of espresso. It's not the same thing, but I discovered good coffee in New Orleans, I think when I went there for my brother's graduation from Tulane Law School. I was never able to recreate it precisely but I tried, scalding milk and using New Orleans style coffee with chicory. Espresso is a similar deal. You get more of the good stuff out of the bean and less of the bad. Americans discovered coffee did not have to taste like year old battery acid. They began to explore. In many instances this led to vice, such as caramel mocha fraps and chai tea in any form. But this is inevitable. There will always be those who take a good thing too far.
A common meme is this idea that Starbucks is a hotbed of elitism in the bosom of no nonsense, egalitarian America, as opposed to good ol' Dunkin Donuts. This is a lie. Maybe people who live in La Jolla or Coral Gables get sick of elitism, but for the vast majority of us who live out in the great long tail of American mediocrity, a place that has pretensions to upper middle class culture, however transparently self serving and delusional, is more than welcome. The Starbucks I go to is next to a Burger King, a muffler shop, a Chaldean hooka joint, a dirt cheap barber shop you could clear out instantly by shouting "La Migra!" and some sort of store front holy rolling student ministry. On a typical 102 in the shade summer day, with the 18 wheelers rolling by on their way to El Cajon, I can do with the AC blasting and some gal crooning about whatever is troubling her sensitive soul at that moment. It may not be America. I live in America and I want a place I can get away from it for 45 minutes and pretend I'm in Portland or wherever. Dunkin' Donuts is just more of the same. You go into Starbucks, buy the New York Times, listen to jazz, drink your latte, and for a little while, you experience a kind of relief. If you are worried that it's not authentic, then you really do have a problem.
So lay off Starbucks. America needs a big phony retreat from reality into a smug liberal fantasy land, where everything is hip and cool and the coffee is not OMG can you taste the nuttiness in the finish, but not half bad, which is a lot better than most places can manage. A place where nobody knows your name.
HERE'S the Starbucks closure list. San Diego is being hit pretty hard, but I don't see any on mine listed.
SAVE OUR STARBUCKS in the WSJ.
WELCOME Daily Dish readers. Could one of you please tell Andrew it's Tom Smith, not Tim Smith. I know you may think there's not much difference, but when you go through life with a name like Tom Smith, every letter counts. My wife actually changed her name to Smith after we were married but then changed it back to her (frankly, somewhat funny sounding) Austrian name because she said she "felt so, so, anonymous . . . " Just a slightly sensitive point is all. But, thanks for the link. Also, I think of myself as a libertarian, not a conservative. I just happen to exercise my liberty to be mostly conservative, but I think everyone should be free to choose whatever lifestyle they want, however much I may envy it.