Thursday, September 07, 2006

Starbucks, Love 'em or Hate 'em

Like most people, I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks.

I hate that their coffee (as opposed to their flavored milk drinks) is so uniformly awful. (Not quite as bad as Peet's burned rubber, but that's another rant.) I hate that they are everywhere, sometimes two or three in the same shopping center. I hate that they really are making it harder for independent coffee shops to get by unless they're in the middle of a large city.

But I love their convenience. It's not just being located in easily accessible areas, it's also that they're open an hour or two later than any of the local independents. I used to love to go out for coffee and dessert after dinner, but by the time we're done eating, everything except Starbucks is closed. I'm sorry, but places I patronize have to be open at hours that are convenient to me. And if the locals want to roll up their sidewalks at 9pm (7pm on Sunday), well, I can't very well buy coffee there at 10pm, when I want it.

I also love their familiarity. Some years ago we were on an Alaskan cruise, stopped at the port of Skagway. As far as I could tell Skagway exists only to separate cruise passengers from their money, and it was a cold, rainy, miserable day on top of that. After sloshing about the town we were gearing ourselves up for the trek back to the ship, and there it was: Starbucks. Rarely has anything tasted so good or been so bracing as the coffee and muffin I ordered there. It was comforting and familiar and I was done with being under attack by the weather and crowds for the day.

(I highly recommend Alaskan cruises, but Skagway was kind of the low point of the trip. Juneau and Ketchikan were both lots more fun.)

I wonder when they're going to reach saturation, though. It's getting to the point where there's less than a mile between Starbucks along Academy, and it's getting that way out on Powers, too. I mean, yes, we're all running on caffeine these days, but how much coffee can people really consume?

(Side note: when the economy goes bad, like it is now, people tend to spend more heavily on the little luxuries that make their lives more pleasant. I'm wondering if this is part of what's behind the Starbucks explosion.)

The coffee I brew at home in my automatic drip pot is still better, though. And cheaper. And available 24 x 7.



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