Sunday, December 16, 2007

Coffee and Capitalism

When I was in China this past summer, I saw in Chengdu only two American restaurants, KFC and Starbucks. No Mickey D, no Wendy's. The Starbucks was very crowded. Since coffee was offered at no Chinese restaurants that our Merry Band of Writers visited (although it was present in the breakfast room at our hotel), I was interested in this phenomenon. Why Starbucks?

I never found out, but today the New York Times Book Review reviewed a book about all things Starbuck, which perhaps might answer my question. The book, Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture, by one Taylor Clark, sounds interesting. From the review alone I learned that:

-- in 1989 there were 585 coffee houses in America and now there are over 24,000

-- that 80% of Starbucks employees quit within a year

-- that Starbucks buys only "Fair Trade" coffee at fair prices, but although this benefits coffee growers, it may actually hurt the poorest, non-owning laborers in coffee countries, since even hiring day laborers on a coffee farm will disqualify it from being a Starbucks supplier.

The most interesting thing about the review, however, was that it seems to be better written than the book. The reviewer is the hilarious P.J. O'Rourke, and reading his review made me want to buy his books, not Clark's. That's not the way it's supposed to work.

But, then, I don't really like Starbucks coffee, either, unless it's tarted up with gingerbread or pumpkin or something. The coffee alone is too strong. I drink a mild instant. Don't shoot me, Seattle.


Unknown said...

Here in Seattle we generally like the smaller independents rather than the big chains like Starbucks and Tully's. At least when we have the option.

Also, good coffee isn't really heavy and thick.

No approbations from Seattle.

Mike Toot said...

What King Rat said. Starbucks coffee is over-roasted, which means the only way to drink it is to dump tons of other stuff into it -- turning "coffee" a mochafrappelattechino. Smaller shops are much better; they understand what makes coffee good, rather than what can be sold by the container shipload.

If you haven't already, I heartily recommend finding a local tea shop. Tea is much more approachable than coffee, it tastes good without dumping other stuff in it, and the small shops will let you sip and savor to find the blend you like. Go, tea!

(From Seattle, the home of the next big wave -- tea.)

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none said...

I don't drink coffee (nobody shoot me!), but I did notice last time I was in the major town that's nearest us that it now has two Starbucks, where previously there was only one.

They breed, right?

James A. Ritchie said...

I understand not liking Starbucks, but instant "coffee." ohmygod.

cd said...

> I drink a mild instant.

Unclean spirit, I cast thee out!