Saturday, November 17, 2007

Starbucks taste and culture

I went to Starbucks today, something I don't normally do, mostly because I don't drink coffee and not because I am so high-minded or anti-corporate as to only purchase locally produced non-globalized products.

In part I went in reaction to an email forwarded on to me promoting an urban legend stating that Starbucks refused to send coffee to troops in Iraq because it refused to support anything to do with the war there. (Ironically, this urban legend was originally attributed to the Oscar Meyer company refusing to send hot dogs to troops.) It makes me mad when corporations are instantly considered to be The Bad Guys--especially given the level of military spending. I'm not sure why Starbucks should donate coffee to troops even if they DID support the war.

But I also wanted some hot chocolate and internet access and I figured both would be available there. I was partly right.

There's T-Mobile wifi access at the local Starbucks, but you have to pay for the privilege to use it. A day pass cost $9.99, which seems outrageous to me. I didn't buy it, but I did take a look at the wifi home page, a very clever arrangement upon which you can a) see the artist whose music is playing in the store at the time and then b) purchase the same on iTunes. How about that for integrated marketing!

I was a little disturbed to find that I already owned two of the songs I heard at Starbucks during the time I was there: Diana Krall sang "Peel me a Grape," and Holly Cole sang "I can see clearly now," songs and singers I like immensely. But what does that suggest about me? About my taste in music? Am I really a Starbucks kind of a person? Or does this suggest that I have a rather homogenized taste in music, bland but palatable to a bulk of the population? Or, to be more arrogant, perhaps this shows that I have good taste, and what's more that Starbucks has good taste in music, too. Certainly that could be possible.

But it was a bit disconcerting to hear such familiar songs in that setting, considering myself out of the mainstream as I do. And even more deeply disturbing to have those songs hawked to me almost instantaneously. And there is a sense that everything is for sale at Starbucks. At least there is for me. So perhaps that urban legend, though it is not based in truth, has some basis in experience.

Another disturbing aspect of the place is how hard it is to get an actual mug out of which to drink, even if you are staying there to drink your beverage. I ordered my peppermint hot chocolate, tall, for here, and the barista asked, "What was that last part again?" For. Here. Ah. And she did pull out a very lovely latte mug, heated it, and then stuck the order on with a specially designed post-it note for the drinks person to make for me. And it was lovely, quite frothy, with little red sprinkles on top of the whipped cream.

But as I looked around the place, I realized I was the only person with an actual cup in my hands; everyone else had disposible items as they sat at their tables, sipping slowly, reading the paper. I would hope that would be one part of the Starbucks corporate culture that could be changed.

There's a lot said about how Starbucks creates community. I'm not so sure. I think it creates something all right, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. I'll have to ponder this some more. Over a cup of tea this time.

1 comment:

qoe said...

First of all, you can wi your fi at my house, since now, for some reason, we have it. Not sure why, exactly, but we do. And I am equal opportunity tea and coffee type person. And I have mugs!

Second of all, there is Blossom Deary's version of Peel Me A Grape. I don't know why, but it just tickles the heck out of me.

Third of all, Starbucks is a weird phenomenon to me. I don't shun the place, as they do make a consistently good cup of coffee. But I like to go to Javarama or Julie's or Cross Town; small but homey places. I can drink jet fuel at Javarama or Peet's, if I feel I need the extra boost, and I like the variety of loose teas at Julie's, and occasional evenings of live music. Cafe Central has the cheapest Latte in town, and it's GOOD!

I like living in a small town, so I like cultivating and being in the atmosphere of the small town businesses. I totally agree that Starbucks seems to be all about marketing itself and its products. Hey, coffee drinkers are a captive audience--you don't have to work so hard to SELL.