Quit picking on Starbucks.

I like the concept of a coffee culture. Caffeine is my vice of choice and Starbucks enhances the experience. Starbucks didn’t take away any independent coffee shops around here. They were already mostly gone. We have a couple of small, family-run restaurants left, but we didn’t really have a meet-me-for-coffee place until Starbucks built several.

Of the four Starbucks locations close to me, one is so popular that my only complaint is it’s tough to find a seat. I love the idea of being comfortable hanging around with your latte for as long as you want, until the concept means I can’t find a table. One location in my small town has become a satellite office, with every surface covered with laptops, simultaneous cell phone conversations, and meetings large enough to occupy several tables pushed together.

So now I avoid peak times. Early mornings and mid-afternoons are best. That’s when my favorite Starbucks resembles exactly the kind of coffee-shop-as-small-town-microcosm their critics claim they eroded. At one of the long wooden tables there’s a moms’ group with strollers tucked into a nearby corner. Another couple of tables hosts knitters. Knitters who chat. Very early in the morning, a phalanx of uniformed peace officers waits to order. Arriving mid-afternoon, with walkers and canes, here come the rabble-rousing residents of the senior community across the road.

There’s moaning about Starbucks being such a chain operation. I’m personally comforted by the consistency of their look and feel, the clean restrooms, and even the music they play. Critics scoff at the “pretension” of their coffee language – completely made up to impart the aura of a never-did-exist European coffee experience. Clever marketing, I say.

But I’m not objective, because I have a small entrepreneurial crush on Howard Schultz, who put a group together to buy out the originators of the Starbucks brand in Seattle and personally became involved (some say too involved) in every aspect of every cup of coffee sold. Everything about the building of the company interests me, its ups and downs and adjustments, and Schultz’ buck-stops-here recent comeback after closing many stores.

If you have a welcoming, independent local coffee shop that serves all your needs, you’re lucky, and I will never demean the efficiency of a roadside McDonald’s for coffee and a baked apple pie, but for everyday caffeine ingestion in pleasant circumstances, Starbucks is just fine.

7 thoughts on “Quit picking on Starbucks.”

  1. I like Starbucks coffee even if it is expensive. Of course, I know that going in so it’s a deal I made without negotiating. The only thing I despise about the place is trying to figure out how to order the size of mocha I want. Venti? Grande? Hey, what’s wrong with “small, medium and large”?!

  2. Now they have an even bigger than Grande size. It’s called Trenta. I had to try it. Oh yes I did.

  3. I agree with your philosophy of finding the place where you can be comfortable hanging around with your latte as long as you want. I yearn for those places.

    I just had this conversation with a friend on Saturday as we lamented the lack of finding just such a place (though with better coffee — sorry, not a “Bucks” fan myself) in our little burb. I do recall so many of those coffeehouses when I was younger both in the midwest and in SF, and they hardly exist at all nowadays. For that, I appreciate Starbucks setting exactly that locale; I just wish the coffee was better.

  4. Even though the East Coast is dominated by Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks does
    have a presence and I am glad for it. In the town I live in, there is still the
    Dunkin Donuts and the small Muffin Place directly across from where
    DD set up. Everyone still goes to the family-owned place which has the
    best coffee in town. No donuts but they bake the best muffins starting
    about 3:00 AM. They only have seating for six or seven people though
    and that is often a real problem as people love to visit and gossip.
    No big tables of laptop/conference calls/knitters that you have for sure.
    When you come to MA, we will go there!

  5. You and I have found some charming out-of-the-way coffee shops in New England. Remember one day during a storm we ducked inside a tiny coffee shop in Kennebunkport and shared a giant cookie and some delicious coffee, with a great view of the water? But then everything in Kennebunkport has great water views. Yes, we’re due for more New England coffee adventures.

  6. Maybe I’m just a little too “old school”, but I still prefer the small town feel of the kind of places my buddies and I used to hang out at when it was late in the evening and all we wanted was a basic bench to sit on, a cup hot coffee in a cardboard cup and some good chatter over a bag full of “donut holes.”

    Anyone remember donut holes? Those were the left-overs from the punched-out-middle after a donut was made. A few shops, rather than toss them out, sold them by the bag for the spare change in your front pocket. And many times that’s about all we had left after a weeknight of cruisin’ around town and checking out the locals.

    The spot we went to was called “Mr. Donut.” It was a basic and unpretentious joint and actually kind of chilly if we decided to sit outside on one of those old wood picnic tables near the parking lot. But … it was kind of homey.

    Yep, that was a nifty slice of the Americana I grew up enjoying. These days I tend to avoid any coffee shop that takes credit cards. When I see that sticker on the front door it usually tells me all I need to know about the current state of inflation. Or, how far the dough has risen.

    I don’t know if I’m too slow or simply unwilling to change with the times. Then again maybe I’m just too da-m cheap to put a cup of coffee on my credit card. (uhh), Probably a little of both.

    Meanwhile, if you’d like to drop by for a visit sometime, I’m not all that hard to find. I’ll be the one next to the Pterodactyl display at the City Museum.

  7. Well darlin’ that little coffee shop exists for me too, but only in memory. Sadly, there’s nothing like that anywhere near where I live. Donut holes? I still heart them a bunch.

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