Coffee Life

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I was at the fish market today (Pike’s Market) which houses the first Starbuck’s café and it dawned on me as my lust for a soy chai latte overcame my desire not to stand in line with a bunch of noisy tourists. What a cultural phenomenon coffee shops are! For me it’s something I do on the weekends mostly. I’m usually out doing errands or running around when I see that green Starbucks sign and I’m helpless against it. During a conversation about spending habits last Thanksgiving my brother-in-law (the accountant) forced me to calculate my annual donations to Starbucks and it was surprisingly high. So much so that I am conscious every time I go now. What is it about the high-end coffee shop experience that is so alluring?

I’ve heard this story before. Some people use SBUX (the Starbucks stock symbol) as a market indicator, predicting that expensive coffee is one of the first things to be cut out of a personal budget and one of the last things to return. I used to think that it was an American condition (to want and afford $3 cups of coffee.) But after watching Starbucks open in my native country of Peru, I was sure it would go the way of Tony Roma’s, Taco Bell, and Blockbuster (all of which opened and closed within a year) but, I was surprised to see it grow.

For me this is not an issue of SBUX, rather that of the whole elitist café movement. In fact I’m not convinced that SBUX is really all that great. My favorite coffee shop in the US is Intelligencia in Chicago. It seems that the idea of coffee houses is here to stay but how can that be in this time of economic change? If you listen closely to President Obama you can pick up on the subtle subtext of his message: the days of excess are over. What says excess more than an overpriced ground coffee bean filtered through hot water, garnished, mixed with steamed milk and served for $3 a cup?

Maybe the coffee shop is the new corner bar. I read a story last week about a topless coffee shop opening in Maine. All jokes aside, this is a phenomenon. While it’s unlikely I will be meeting my girlfriends down at the topless coffee shop (ok one joke) or maybe I will, depends on the atmosphere and quality of the beans. It seems too culturally significant not to point out. Either way I’m not likely to give up my SBUX habit any time soon and in my opinion it’s only going to become a global standard of living.


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