When I was in college in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I used to buy gourmet coffee from a coffee shop called the Istanbul Express in the Sather Gate Mall in Berkeley. Growing up my parents drank Folger’s and Folger’s instant crystals. Istanbul Express was bohemian, sophisticated but not necessarily great coffee.
Starbuck’s appeared. The brewed coffee tasted great. I could get beans to go. I admired Starbuck’s and even looked forward to getting a fresh hot cup of Starbuck’s. At the time, you could get a small cup of coffee logically called a “short”. Starbucks dropped the short because it didn’t sound good to someone in the marketing department.
Right about the time that I discovered Starbuck’s, I moved to the north side of the UC Berkeley Campus just three blocks from the original Peet’s. Starbuck’s was great, but Peet’s was just a hair better and it was within walking distance. During the time I lived in North Berkeley, I developed an attachment and loyalty to Peet’s.
While living in New Jersey, no Peet’s existed. The Starbuck’s downtown Princeton was so expensive when we first moved there that it was cheaper to get a cup of Starbuck’s coffee at the Chicago O’Hare airport. Peet’s had a discount subscription service for having their beans shipped to my doorstep. The logical option was to have great quality beans delivered to my door at a discount.
I’m glad I did. It seems that over the years, Starbucks has stopped to selling coffee or at least, it has focused on selling something else.
Driving through San Francisco, I have seen a number of billboards for Starbuck’s. Not a single one of these billboards actually sells coffee. No images of a nice tall cup of coffee steaming with some catchy phrase. Instead, Carmel Chocolate Frappucino Blended Creme, Chantico, TazoChai Green Tea Frappuccino Blended Creme with Melon Syrup, and Carmel Affogato.
Last year, my brother, his wife and I spent a weekend down in Ontario moving the last of my grandmother’s belongings out of her house. It was a long day and we were dragging a bit, so we popped into a local Starbuck’s. I wanted to remember the event, so I took a photograph. A Starbuck’s employee whipped out from behind the counter and immediately berated me for taking a photograph. “You can’t take photographs of our store,” she urged. “I’m not taking photos of your store. I’m taking a photo of my brother.” I have also been chastised for not saying Grande or Venti and for generally not fitting into the Starbuck’s culture. All I wanted was a cup of coffee. Apparently, my experience is not unique.
I frequently see patrons leaving Starbuck’s with the coolest new 500 calorie, 16 grams of fat, 66 grams of sugar beverage resembling a green Shamrock shake from McDonald’s on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Anymore, it seems that drinks from Starbuck’s come with a straw, an image, and attitude. Does Starbuck’s still sell coffee?