I’ve had many conversations about the quality of Starbucks. Ironically, most of these conversations occurred inside a Starbucks. There are people that are unhappy with the quality of Starbucks coffee. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they suck. It’s true that I’m not happy with the quality of their coffee. There are also some elements of their business practices that I’m not happy with either. However, I am very thankful for what they have done for the world of coffee. They’ve actually done a lot of good!
The history of Starbucks is long but I’ll make it very brief. Three friends got together to start a specialty coffee store. They wanted to sell good quality coffee beans to the public. Yes, they started out as a coffee roaster. The premise of their business was to sell the best coffee to the public. They wanted people to know that artisan coffee was good and that it was available.
This is an incredibly simplistic version of their roots but you get the point. Their history is actually very fascinating. I have recommended a book on the history of coffee called “Uncommon Grounds” in a previous post. No B.S., this book is literally everything you wanted to know about the history of coffee including the history of Starbucks. You can see Starbucks’s humble beginnings and their role in the Second Wave of coffee. But I digress.
Starbucks wanted people to have great coffee. They took a lot of care in the roasting process. They were one of the leaders during the second wave of coffee that exposed the public to the artisan craft. Starbucks helped the public to realize that good coffee existed.
Words like Café latte, macchiato, cappuccino, caffe breve, ristretto, and café au lait are now part of the American coffee lexicon. People know what these drinks are. At the very least, they understand them to be coffee. Again, Starbucks helped make this possible.
Coffee houses are nothing new. The first coffee house opened in the 1500s. They were the social gathering places for all types of people regardless of their socio/economic status. That concept became eroded in American culture, especially after the Second World War when we progressively became a society that was always on the move. There was “no time” to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Starbucks and other second wave coffee roasters led the charge to revive the spirit of the coffee house. That spirit is to provide a place for social gathering and community.
Starbucks calls the coffee house the “third place.” In short, they viewed the coffee house as a place for people to gather and relax as an alternative to going home or going to a bar after work.
A lot of coffee houses follow the third place model. Coffee houses are now recognized as having a comfortable environment for social gathering. They are also recognized as a place for convenient solitude (i.e. a place where you can be left alone with your laptop). Starbucks helped re-establish the spirit of the coffee house.
Finally, for all the entrepreneurs out there, Starbucks made it possible for you to charge $4.50 for a latte. Seriously! Americans were drinking bad coffee for many years. Our country valued convenience and quantity over quality. Starbucks and the rest of the Second Wave coffee showed people that it’s worth paying more for good coffee.
In summation, I believe that Starbucks does not suck. They have done so much for the coffee culture and played a big role in coffee history. I’m thankful for their contribution. I am however disappointed with some of their business practices. This is primarily because I don’t like what they have become and that is a corporate leviathan that emphasizes convenience and quantity. I prefer that they return to their roots of connecting the public with the coffee community by providing good quality artisan coffee. However, I must admit, I think those Frappuccinos are delicious! I don’t think Starbucks suck. I just wish they would go back to their roots.