The buzz begins when Starbucks moves in across the street
When I’m in Denver, there’s a coffee shop near Denver University that I visit from time to time. The place is stereotypical to an extreme – the coffee is all organic and fair trade, the mugs are a motley collection of castoffs, the patrons wear lots of cotton and wool, and not a tie is to be seen. The conversation is lively and opinionated, and never more so than when the subject of the Starbucks opening across the street comes up.I don’t go there anymore. Oh, I still drink coffee. Indeed, my day does not start without it. I get up, move carefully into the kitchen, grind some beans, pour in the bottled water (I’m a tap water drinker most of the time, but for coffee I’ll make an exception), and wait humbly for the brew to finish. When it is, I pour a mug and sit, staring out a window watching the day’s light come up. With my coffee in hand you can talk to me, but not before. I never go out for coffee. I just cannot imagine getting up, shaving, showering, getting dressed, groping blindly out into the cold, ultimately to stand in line and pay good money to sit with strangers or half-acquaintances.
That is a thoroughly unpleasant scenario, made worse by the fact that I can’t even get a decent cup of coffee. These so-called coffee shops, full of burlap sacks and the smell of beans, they don’t sell coffee, not really. Coffee, to me, is black; it is strong; it is hot to a point where you’d best be careful. The variables are the beans and the grind, and you certainly don’t pollute the result with shovels of sugar or liquids best left in the cereal bowl (what is “half-and-half” anyway?).At “coffee” shops these days, they serve food, and honestly, coffee (good coffee at least) is not meant to be wasted around a bite of egg or an onion bagel. At “coffee” shops, they sell a lot of espressos, a product whose sole purpose is the delivery of caffeine. And cappuccinos and lattes? Candy in a cup. Here’s my rule: Anything with foam on top, which would, if allowed to harden, look like a Milky Way bar, is not coffee. That’s kids’ stuff.And for the real coffee drinker, the guy like me, there’ll be a couple of choices, but not my choices. I can’t get a fresh cup of Kenya AA or Blue Mountain on demand. I have to make do with their choices, selections waiting for me in, shudder, a hot pot, getting cooler and cooler and less appetizing every second. Oh, it’s true I’ll nuke the coffee I drink at work in the afternoon, but that’s social coffee. But in the morning at a coffee shop – chain or independent – I’m the lowest form of life behind the candy drinker and the caffeine fiend and the folks in search of breakfast. After all, I just want a cup of coffee.
And I want to enjoy it. At the independent place in Denver, the talk has turned ugly with the advent of the Starbucks across the street. I drink coffee for pleasure, not out of spite, certainly not because “friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” For me, Starbucks is just another coffee shop that allows only limited choices in actual coffee, and then only from a hot pot. The prices at Starbucks are similar to those of any locally owned shop, so I don’t have the same problem with them as I do with Wal-Mart, for example, which uses its purchasing power and pricing to beat the hell out of the competition. If the prices are the same and the products are similar and the locations are identical, doesn’t the advantage go to the locally owned shop, with years, even decades of opportunity to win the loyalty of its customers? At least the loyalty of its bagel-buying, caffeine-craving, candy-drinking customers?
As for me, when I get underway early and don’t have time to enjoy coffee at home, I go to the 7-11 or the Loaf ‘n Jug. There’s always a selection, in pots, on burners. The cups are still plastic, but the product is strong and it’s hot, and I’m happy, as happy as I can be in the morning in public before I’ve had a sip or two. And if I want a Snickers, or a bagel, I can have those as well, after, definitely after, I have my coffee.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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