Over spring break, I made a long-awaited roadtrip to Seattle. Once there, I was greeted by crisp breezes, handlebar mustaches and a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Also: a lot of Starbucks.
There are 50 Starbucks locations in Seattle, a city with a land area of just under 84 square miles. According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, there are 23 Starbucks stores for every 100,000 Seattleites, or one store per 4,000 people. Compare that to the whopping total of four locations in Manhattan.
I really, really dislike Starbucks. As an employee of a local coffee shop, that’s not very surprising, but I disliked the company long before I became a barista.
My mild contempt for “Charbucks” goes beyond the taste of its drinks, which taste like the beans were roasted within an inch of their little bean lives. Seriously, even the hot chocolate tastes like a bad shot of espresso spilled into the pitcher of steamed milk.
But taste is subjective. My personal tastes are not representative of almost anything (Exhibit A: I don’t like chocolate). As an incredibly successful company, millions of people savor their frappuccinos, lattes and mochas on a daily basis.
The bone that I would like to pick lies within what Starbucks is at its core.
Howard Schultz, former CEO and current executive chairman of Starbucks, once traveled to Italy where he “became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience.” He wanted to bring the “coffeehouse tradition” to America. I’m sure that Starbucks accomplished that at one point, but not anymore.
Coffee is an art. Barista-ing is a science. A lot of technique goes into roasting coffee beans, pulling shots of espresso, steaming milk and pouring drinks. The littlest thing can bitter a whole drink.
As a mega-huge corporation, Starbucks cannot possibly pay attention to all these details. The product and style is churned out on a massive scale. The stores are made of interchangeable parts. While this may be excellent for maintaining consistency, it’s not great for coffee.
I also bristle at the proliferation of Starbucks culture. Most people are socialized in the world of coffee through Starbucks. It has set the bar and created a popular idea of what coffee and espresso drinks are, and while that idea may have some positive qualities to it, it is incredibly limited.
In some ways, it’s even incorrect. It’s picky and relatively insignificant, but Starbucks has made macchiatos incredibly awkward for me and other baristas. Traditionally, a macchiato is a shot of espresso with a little bit of foamed milk, but the ‘Bucks has turned it into some sort of latte.
I rest my case.
Starbucks is not the end-all-be-all of coffee. While their retail whole bean, ground and brewed coffees boast names from across the globe, Starbucks occupies an incredibly small area in the world of coffee.
Rachel Hogan is the news and features editor for the Collegian and a junior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.