My first serious boyfriend knew about investing because he’d seen Wall Street a dozen times and had been given a comfortable stock portfolio. I was 19 and thought that qualified for expertise. I pitched him my brilliant idea: There is this company? That, like, sells European coffee drinks, like lattes? And they’re going public? And I totally think, that, like… we should buy some stock or whatever. He snorted- just because me and a few of my prissy high-school friends drove into Seattle from 40 miles away for expresso shots, didn’t mean that everyone on the planet would be scrambling for $3 coffee.
Like Martha Stewart or disco, people feel strongly about Starbucks. Love it or hate it, but I give them snaps for upping the ante, giving everyone a glimpse into life a little more dolce vita, that sitting in a cozy chair gossiping with friends over coffee was quite delightful, that coffee, heretofore resigned to the tin drum with the plastic lid, could be an substantial experience. The dark void that was BC (before coffee) was electrified by what Starbucks was doing. When I visit my family in the mid-west I can go to Starbucks- they’re the only game in town. I haven’t voluntarily been to a Starbucks since before the dotcom bust, but I drink excellent coffee in tidy shops several times a week. Those businesses wouldn’t be there today if not for Starbucks.
But I hate how, after they really blew up, they had ignorant wanna-be hipster baristas that reprimanded you for not ordering in faux-spanitalench but then fumbled the drink order with sloppy extraction. I hate the insanely slow service. I hate how they took reasonable coffee servings off the menu and tarted them up into 700 calorie bombs of caramel swirls and extra whip, and mostly, I think, I just hated their yicky burnt coffee, especially after sampling coffee from other roasterias. But I’ve grown to think of Starbucks as the intro-coffee. Boone’s Farm before merlot. That burnt coffee tastes better with all the extra goodies, making it easier for the novice to approach. I don’t know, honestly, if that’s good or bad. But I do know that it’s hell on the credibility of the product.
Starbucks took their business model of individually hand-crafted espresso drinks and ran it into the ground by having slow, crappy service by bored but attractive high-school kids that didn’t care about what they were producing, among other stumbles. So last year they started taking the dumb-monkey factor out of the equation by having push-button espresso makers rather than those complicated art-form espresso machines. And now they’ve totally gone to the dark side by developing, of all things… instant coffee. Only they’re calling it “soluble coffee”. It’s like they spent 20 years preaching the gospel, and right when everyone started believing, they just laughed, “Nahhhh, I was just yanking your chain.”
I think that sound I just heard was the cackle of Corporate America as yet another Noble Endeavor sold their ideals for a stock option.