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I'll have a double decaf half-caf on the rocks with a twist of lemon.
January 30, 2004 6:33 AM   Subscribe

In Defense of Ikea and Starbucks. "[If] you're so desperate for your own soixante-huit moment that you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that you're being oppressed by flat-packable pine furniture with goofy pseudo-Scandinavian names, I'd advise you to spend a few days working with child slaves in the Sudan, or something." MeFite adamgreenfield pleads for "a little sense of scale."
posted by Vidiot (85 comments total)

 
Very nice. I checked that thread out a few days a go and thought it was silly... glad adamgreenfield summed it up so well.

Further - the "sense of scale" argument isn't heard enough on issues of lifestyle. It's so easy to bitch about Starbucks, reality TV or yuppies... but at the end of the day perhaps they really don't fucking matter.
posted by wfrgms at 7:04 AM on January 30, 2004


I too am old enough to remember the swill that passed for coffee before Starbucks arrived on the scene. The service is good and so is the product, and the company even makes a few nods at social responsibility.

When I was a kid, we had to hang out at McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts, and they wouldn't let you sit there all day.
Living in NYC, these places are oases, a warm place to stop between appointments and hang out (many with comfy chairs, reading materials and a variety of snacks to go with the buzz). They are reliably good places to find a clean bathroom. With a few exceptions, the staff is eager to please and seems to like their work. I've often been given a free cup if I've been waiting too long or, in the stores where I'm a regular , just because. Now, if I have a choice between a Starbucks and a quirky little indie cafe, I'd give the indie place a shot, but I would judge it on the basis of coffee quality and service. Any nose-ring attitude & I'm across the street at *$. It's not the best coffee ... when I'm on the west coast, I much prefer Peet's. But it's the best widely available coffee.
posted by Slagman at 7:10 AM on January 30, 2004


I don't go to Starbucks because their coffee is too bitter compared to most good coffee I've had. Having had fresh espresso in Brazil and Costa Rica, where they grow the stuff, I'm no dilettante. Starbucks coffee is just not quality to my palate in any way shape or form.
posted by jester69 at 7:11 AM on January 30, 2004


Here's an excerpt from my response to Adam's blog post:
Now this may just be a matter of aesthetic differences between Adam and me, but I don't hate Starbucks because they're evil...I hate them because their coffee sucks. Every cup of coffee I've ever had at a Starbucks (particularly the regular drip stuff, but also the espresso-based drinks) tastes scorched, bitter, and foul. My theory? They buy cheap crappy beans to save money, over-roast the ever-livin' bejesus out of them to disguise their skinflint ways, and pass it off as Grade A Number One Supremo java. Starbucks is indeed more consistent than your average indie coffeehouse...but that doesn't help when their product is consistently awful.


They've also brainwashed the American public into thinking that it actually is really good coffee, and for that I resent them...but yes, what Starbucks and Ikea do is pretty small potatoes compared with the real outrages in this world.
posted by Vidiot at 7:13 AM on January 30, 2004


Shrug. If people think Starbuck's is good coffee, then it is good coffee to them.
posted by kindall at 7:16 AM on January 30, 2004


I actually prefer Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks, and I [self-link] have written about why extensively. I have never been inside an ikea, simply because I'm happy with the thrift-store/dorm-room/landfill design scheme I got going now.

But I agree that we should lay off Starbucks and Ikea, so we can fight the real enemy, the two headed hydra that is the Gap and Old Navy.
posted by jonmc at 7:19 AM on January 30, 2004


Starbucks may be "bitter" and "burnt" and all that, but for the generations of us that suffered through "light and sweet" NYC deli coffee, it is indeed a godsend.



Also, Starbucks has had a major impact in that public urination in the city has gone done significantly since its ascendance. All good, from where I sit.
posted by psmealey at 7:20 AM on January 30, 2004


As I just said [self link] on my blog, I'm not sure the issue is homogenisation or whether the damn coffee tastes good. I'd be more concerned about union-squashing, unfair prices paid to coffee growers and that sort of thing.
posted by bwerdmuller at 7:21 AM on January 30, 2004


I like that old deli coffee, psmealy. I like the hightone shit too, but sometimes I get a crave for the swill. Gas station coffee (which my girlfriend calls "gaspresso," was my poor man's cocaine back in my retail days.
posted by jonmc at 7:23 AM on January 30, 2004


Meh, just cuz something sucks more in a different part of the world doesn't make all local problems, no matter how insignificant, worth ignoring.
posted by jon_kill at 7:24 AM on January 30, 2004


But I agree that we should lay off Starbucks and Ikea, so we can fight the real enemy, the two headed hydra that is the Gap and Old Navy.

Amen Jon, Amen.

I like Starbucks just fine. It is not the best, nor the worst. My local indie coffeeshop can be much better, but it can also be much worse. The quality is really hit or miss, and it doesn't seem to be the barista's fault, as the same one can serve up nectar or swill depending on the day.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:27 AM on January 30, 2004


I love IKEA. I really do. So there.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:27 AM on January 30, 2004


Seriously though... IKEA and Starbucks are doing good buisness... even during the economy's downfall...

Obviously not everyone hates them... and obviously there is a reason for that.

Hell, in my city, Starbucks can get away with having one across the street from another... and they both do good buisness.

As far as the GAP... fuck them for ruining Bannana Republic.
posted by LoopSouth at 7:29 AM on January 30, 2004


The dynamic at work in both cases is one many of us might recognize from bad relationships: when a deeply wounded person suffering from low self-esteem finally fights back against the various agents of their distress, very often it's the closest, most sympathetic soft target they lash out at first, in defiance of all logic (or justice).

Clear thinking, brilliant writing. Great post.

I'm not a coffee drinker and have only a few Ikea items, but I'm at my local Target almost weekly. Clean, convenient, reliable, efficient, well-stocked, adequately staffed. I do love little indie shops and places with more character -- when I'm on vacation and have time to mess around.
posted by Tubes at 7:33 AM on January 30, 2004


Slagman - not sure where you are, but Peet's has been quietly opening locations out east (in Boston at least). It's become our favorite coffee (I also find Starbucks over-roasted).

And I love IKEA too...
posted by jalexei at 7:58 AM on January 30, 2004


Off topic: In defense of the Gap and Old Navy - they are the only stores where I have consistently been able to find decently priced, ACTUALLY long jeans (36" inseam and I'm female - you try to find that anywhere else for less than $50). But, that's all I generally buy at either store.

Back on topic - I hate Starbucks coffee, for all the reasons already so eloquently stated. It's not the company's philosophy, or music, or prices, it's the fact that their coffee is quick roasted to near burnt. It's nasty. As with anything else, though, that's a personal opinion, and most of my friends seem to mainline the stuff, and they aren't sheep that just follow every trend. So there must be something redeeming in it for someone.

And I flat out love Ikea. Sure, it's annoying what with the parking and the crowds and the cunning little maze they make you walk through (unless you look for the shortcut signs), but the stuff is generally quality, the staff are usually helpful, and they serve Swedish meatballs not quite as good as my mom's. Like going home, if home was a warehouse with signs in a strange language on all the furtniture.
posted by jennaratrix at 8:00 AM on January 30, 2004


Dammit, *furniture. Stupid extra T.
posted by jennaratrix at 8:01 AM on January 30, 2004


Great post indeed, and absolutely true. I too remember the days of "soggy cardboard... served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap," and I am deeply grateful to Starbucks for providing a reliable alternative.

Vidiot, and everybody else constantly slagging it for its "scorched, bitter" taste: does it ever occur to you that it's a matter of taste? I'm perfectly willing to accept that you genuinely don't like it and are not simply parroting pseudo-lefty bullshit; why don't you do me the courtesy of accepting that I 1) am a genuine coffee lover, who grinds my own at home, and 2) genuinely like Starbucks? I don't like fish, but I don't accuse everyone who does of being deluded tools of the seafood industry. Jesus.
posted by languagehat at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2004


Fight Club contained a very nicely-produced CG sequence that essentially laid the blame for all that is fake, mediocre and generic in contemporary life at the company's blue-and-yellow feet.

It seems like both the author and the people he's talking about missed some of the irony in that little sequence. I'm pretty sure the movie didn't mean to blame the furniture for anyone's fetishising of brand names and the shopping experience. The ubiquitous, homogenous, anonymous experience of chain store shopping is exactly what people seem to want, so it's only to be expected that their desires will be fulfilled. Interpreting even such a clear statement of that as an attack on the purveyor of shelving units shows a remarkable lack of critical thought.

Oh, and I'll have a Tazo chai latte on ice, please. Venti.
posted by sfenders at 8:08 AM on January 30, 2004


I also think Starbuck's is too bitter (and way too expensive--but I never use the place as a rental office/time killer like others)...and I like my 50 cent deli coffee (Dunkin Donuts too). You can rant about it, but don't lump all Starbucks haters in with people trying to be indie or have some kind of cred.

And Ikea's fine for what it is--affordable stuff. Now Old Navy is another story--I find it to be bad quality and really inconsistent size-wise (3 pairs of jeans labelled the same will all fit differently on me)...but if I had kids, that would be the best place to get their clothes I think. If people didn't go, they wouldn't stay in business.
posted by amberglow at 8:10 AM on January 30, 2004


I have no problems with Starbucks or Ikea. They offer me services and items that I can't get anywhere else, such as the aforementioned comfy seating and reading material at Starbucks, or the inexpensive and often quirky-but-cool furniture and housewares available at Ikea. I have no reason to hate them. Unfortunately Starbucks probably has killed off local competition, but that's probably because the market decided that Starbucks is better - if the local coffee shops want to keep up, they have to either offer better coffee and/or comfier or cooler surroundings.

I'm going to go one step further and add that the Gap is also okay. They offer well-made clothing for a relatively good price tag. I don't find that the Gap is all that interested in trend-setting in the clothing department (altho if they can get away with it, they'll try) and I find their commercials to be hip enough and with interesting enough music that I've actually gone out and bought not just Gap clothing (which I would do anyway) but the music that they feature.

Dare I mention Chapters? Yeah, Chapters has driven out local booksellers, but most local booksellers can't compete with comfortable chairs, a vast selection, food and drink, and a music area. It saddens me, but once again, that's the market demand saying that that's what the public wants and now expects. And some local booksellers are following suit. There's a place nearby that sells used books, cd's, coffee and pastries. It's a cozy, homey little place that I'm really looking forward to hanging out in come summer. In effect, it's a mini-Chapters.

As far as I'm concerned, these places do it bigger, better, faster and seem to have their finger on the pulse of the people. That's simply good business and if people don't like it, or can't handle the success and the ensuing buzz over these places, then they might need to take a look at themselves and wonder if they simply haven't jumped on the bandwagon like the sheep they are.
posted by ashbury at 8:14 AM on January 30, 2004


No, Starbucks and Ikea are not the greatest evils on earth but I and many others will continue to despise them. Particularly Starbucks. Here (London) Starbucks are using their corporate muscle to force out all independent competition. Their coffee is overpriced and mediocre, the environment irritatingly bland. And I loathe the paper cups. The last one I went to was in New York where the toilets were filthy, the drinks luke warm and the staff incompetent and rude. Never again. I think the real reason they anger so many people is the dull uniformity they impose on every high street and every city. The fuckers are everywhere. They're there and they're easy but they're not good.
Ikea can be useful, I've found some bargains there, but there is something very depressing about going to a house or office where everything has been bought at Ikea. And by the time you've fought to find the stuff and queued for hours and spent a day or so putting the stuff together it doesn't seem such a bargain. Ever get the feeling you've been had? I think there are better ways to live. Of course these are trivial matters compared to war and starvation and poverty and the numerous forms of exploitation of the poor by the rich. But most of the things we bitch about in our day to day life are trivial in comparison.
posted by rolo at 8:17 AM on January 30, 2004


Off topic: In defense of the Gap and Old Navy - they are the only stores where I have consistently been able to find decently priced, ACTUALLY long jeans (36" inseam and I'm female - you try to find that anywhere else for less than $50).

Word. I used to live near a GAP outlet it was the first time I could afford to buy women's jeans in my life.

Starbucks irritates me becasue I used to live on the West Coast in the land of cheap and good inide coffeeshops. Think $1 for a tall mocha in a town with 20 coffeeshops. Then Starbucks came along and they all realised that they could get away with charging umptybillion dollars for coffee. Within a year or two prices had skyrocketed. Damn them for that.
posted by maggie at 8:31 AM on January 30, 2004


Well... at least in my city, we have a fairly large antique furnature district... and man, will those guys cut you a deal... nothing is standardly priced so you can haggle with everything and get something completely unique.

The selection rivals ikea... but just not the quantity. I mean, it's all unique, so rarely will you find matching peices or such unless it's chairs... it's not hard to find matching chairs, and maybe endtables... I found a nice matching pair that fit my decor precicely.

And if it isn't exactly in the best condition... it will be alot cheaper and put a little muscle into it and refinish it. You will end up with a unique something you can be proud of.
posted by LoopSouth at 8:40 AM on January 30, 2004


don't lump all Starbucks haters in with people trying to be indie

I don't mind people hating Starbucks. Not everything is for everyone. Tastes differ. I mind people implying, or outright claiming, that anyone who differs from them on this matter either has no taste or is a tool of corporate America. As far as I'm concerned, Starbucks provides a good cup of coffee at a somewhat inflated price that I'm often willing to pay. Their espresso in particular beats almost all the competition, even those quaint old super-Italian places in the Village. It's not easy to produce a good cup of espresso, and they do it consistently. And Ikea's a great resource; I just wish there were one closer to my house.

rolo: I'm sorry you ran into that crummy Starbucks, but I assure you that it was an anomaly. I happened on one like that (in Grand Central), complained to Starbucks Central, and got an apology and a couple of free coupons.
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on January 30, 2004


It's amazing how much of the common culture you miss out on when you don't drink coffee. Starbucks are blind spots in the landscape to me. When I do go to one (usually because someone else needs coffee), I typically have the hot chocolate. It's not notably better or worse than hot chocolate in other places.

Re: Ikea -- The issue in Fight Club as I see it was not the furniture, but the fact that people replaced the actual process of having a life with the acquisition of things. People who realize that buying a bookshelf will not make you happier (except to the extent that you now have a place to put your books) are allowed to have has much Ikea as they want.
posted by jscalzi at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2004


SHEEP! BaaaAAA!!! BaaaaAAA!!!
posted by Stan Chin at 8:48 AM on January 30, 2004


Vidiot, and everybody else constantly slagging it for its "scorched, bitter" taste: does it ever occur to you that it's a matter of taste?

I don't go to Starbucks because their coffee is too bitter.... Having had fresh espresso in Brazil and Costa Rica, where they grow the stuff, I'm no dilettante.


Not just taste, but psyschology, too. A manager-friend-of-mine at a Starbucks told me once of their roast process, which involved chemicals that they wouldn't even tell her about. Roasting coffee (sans flavour) is quite literally just baking the beans. As most people have never had a "specality coffee drink" pre-Starbucks, the taste (and price) of Starbucks became the measuring stick. When something didn't have the distinctive (bitter) taste, it somehow wasn't Starbucks, wasn't as good.

If you'd like to try good Italian espresso, try a brand like Illy, Lavazza, or Segafredo. They are one reason why Starbucks is having such a hard time getting a foothold in Europe.

(If you were wondering, the proper way to take espresso in Italy is with sugar, and a miniature chocolate and soda water on the side. I've only found this de rigeur in the States at the very few and far-between Segafredo franchisees.)
posted by danbeckmann at 8:53 AM on January 30, 2004


rolo - just curious, what part of NYC did you visit? There is some variation in courtesty/bathroom cleanliness/comfort/sterility from store to store. Some are better than others. Downtown tends to be filthier and worse service because that's the way downtown is. Midtown tends to have more uncomfortable chairs cause they get crowded with tourists and they don't want you lingering for long. But a good neighborhood starbucks often has the personality of an indie cafe, which I would frequent if it was convenient. As for the bitter taste, I've found that the so-called "lightnote" drips are not bitter (they always offer one). I know some people swear by the double roasting and some people really hate it. But it really does matter which particular bean they are serving as the coffee of the day... if I'm not familiar with it I'll take the lightnote variety, because I know it'll be smoother and less bitter.
It is a matter of taste, though.

The other thing I like about *$, and I guess this is a disclosure issue... While all my other stocks were tanking in the last few years, it more than doubled.

On the other companies... I don't really care for Ikea stuff, but all my clothes are from the Gap, because I am a middle aged white guy with a big butt. It's what you do!
posted by Slagman at 8:59 AM on January 30, 2004


Are people really complaining that excessively about Starbucks and Ikea or are they just stating their preferences for or against them as I see in this thread?
posted by orange swan at 9:08 AM on January 30, 2004


try a brand like Illy, Lavazza, or Segafredo.

I'll second that. I dunno much about coffee, but discovering that I can get Illy espresso to fuel my little moka pot has definately improved my life. Its output tastes a lot better to me than anything Starbucks can provide.

People who realize that buying a bookshelf will not make you happier are allowed to have has much Ikea as they want.

Indeed. But then, Ikea wouldn't exist (or would be a tiny fraction of its current size) without all those people who don't realize that.
posted by sfenders at 9:11 AM on January 30, 2004


[If] you're so desperate for your own soixante-huit moment that you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that you're being oppressed by flat-packable pine furniture with goofy pseudo-Scandinavian names, I'd advise you to spend a few days working with child slaves in the Sudan

.... where, most likely, they're all making your reasonably-priced Gap and Old Navy jeans.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:14 AM on January 30, 2004


it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere

I call a massive steaming pile of bullshit on this. I went to high school in Kalamazoo fucking Michigan and we had real coffee shops with real coffee (including espresso and capuccino) long before Starbucks ever appeared on the scene. If you don't care enough about your town to wander around and find out what treasure it contains then you deserve the burnt bitter coffee you have to drink at Starbucks.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I hate Starbucks and love Ikea. The homogenization argument does indeed apply to Starbucks, as this author clearyly demonstrates with his "chipped diner porcelain" bullshit. Ikea hasn't homogenized anything. It's only equivalent is Target. Yes, you shouldn't build an entire living space on Ikea, hence the Fight Club rant. But, if you give a shite about design, you can buy a cheap skeleton of basics from there or from Target, and then you can include "real" things - art, locally built furniture, etc... on top of that. Rich dot commer web designers aren't the only people with an aesthetic.
posted by badstone at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2004


badstone

just curious. what year were you in high school in kalamazoo?
posted by Slagman at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2004


I think the original post was aimed more at the sort of folks who smash Starbucks windows in anti-free trade demonstrations and the like, or who condone such behavior, or who boycott it out of righteousness rather than personal taste.
posted by Slagman at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2004


Kindall: If people think Starbuck's is good coffee, then it is good coffee to them.

So true.

Now if I could just get my hands on a bottle of Coke made with sugar rather than HFCS...
posted by trharlan at 9:27 AM on January 30, 2004


Collapse into cool
posted by clavdivs at 9:28 AM on January 30, 2004


I'm officially queer for Adam Greenfield. Couldn't have said it better although I've tried many times.

..the toilets were filthy, the drinks luke warm and the staff incompetent and rude...

And this never happens at an "indie" coffee shop. Ever.

Chicago's "indie" coffee shops could stand to learn a few lessons from Starbucks. I've been to a few of them and quite frankly my collective experience has been nothing short of annoying. From aloof baristas to restrooms fit for rats, it's a wonder people even bother unless they have a few clove cigarettes to smoke. There is comfort in ritual and the Starbucks experience (whatever that may be) offers consistency. It's all I want, really being the old fuck that I am.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:30 AM on January 30, 2004


Now if I could just get my hands on a bottle of Coke made with sugar rather than HFCS...

Is Mexican Coke made with sugar instead of HFCS?
If so, El Burrito on the West Side in St. Paul can hook you up. And their burritos are top-notch, too. End Twin Citiesfilter.
posted by COBRA! at 9:32 AM on January 30, 2004


Slagman - I graduated in '93. (I moved there in '87.)
posted by badstone at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2004


Vidiot, and everybody else constantly slagging it for its "scorched, bitter" taste: does it ever occur to you that it's a matter of taste?

Of course, languagehat, and that's why I prefaced my comments above with the phrase "Now this may just be a matter of aesthetic differences between Adam and me. . ."
posted by Vidiot at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2004


the sort of folks who smash Starbucks windows in anti-free trade demonstrations

Incidentally, at the one big protest day I attended (mostly just out of curiosity,) the Starbucks-window-smashers were the subject of some ridicule among the crowd. When we passed a Starbucks, there were a lot more half-joking remarks about stopping in for a coffee than there were scowls of hatred.
posted by sfenders at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2004


Chicago's "indie" coffee shops could stand to learn a few lessons from Starbucks.

Amen. The worst coffee I've ever had was in pre-Starbucks Chicago.

Vidiot: The effect of that disclaimer was pretty much voided by every single thing you said afterwards. "...their coffee sucks... scorched, bitter, and foul. My theory? They buy cheap crappy beans to save money... consistently awful... They've also brainwashed the American public into thinking that it actually is really good coffee..." Somehow I don't think you really believe it's a matter of aesthetic differences.
posted by languagehat at 9:58 AM on January 30, 2004


I don't like Starbucks coffee, but as a known quantity in hostile or unknown territory, it works. And it's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks their coffee is close to awful.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:59 AM on January 30, 2004


amen, trharlan. (i never thought i'd say that)

a few others have already debunked the ridiculous fight-club-IKEA exegesis as well as i could, but i felt i needed to echo badstone's call of "massive steaming pile of bullshit"

i grew up in Louisville KY, and when i was in high school ('87-'90) there were lots of local, independent places where you could sit and drink good coffee for as long as you wanted. my choice was the megacorporate Krispy Kreme (when donuts and coffee were still both a quarter). i live in SF now, and there are obviously tons of places to get good coffee.

i used to work at a place that got Starbuck's coffee, so i drank it b/c it was free, but i'd never pay for it. (i actually did once, b/c i was forced to meet a potential landlord there and my credit sucked ass, and i was *desperate* to find a place to live). if i wanted "gourmet" coffee, i'd buy some beans from a local deli and grind them myself. i don't pay for coffee, unless it's at a rare breakfast out.

(imo, coffee is a tool of the corporate establishment, and thus should be free. so should cigarettes.)

all in all, i thought the essay was pretty weak. it's an old, obvious argument. of course Starbuck's and IKEA are not the problem. institutional corporatism is the problem. those guys and Nike are just the most visible targets. keep breaking those windows, fellas. i'm with you in spirit (if not in jail - i got's no real principles no more).

Corporations are Insane
posted by mrgrimm at 10:09 AM on January 30, 2004


languagehat, I can only express my own opinion. It's a strong one, and I've given it some thought, and it all came flooding out in that post. But it is still only my opinion and my theory, no matter how strongly I expressed it. Should I start adding the words "I think" to the beginning of every sentence I type?

I am willing to stipulate that you are a genuine coffee lover who grinds your own and genuinely likes Starbucks.
posted by Vidiot at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2004


I don't go to Starbucks ever since I discovered the concept of a thermos. It's this little thing they have that makes coffee cheap and good. Man, I can't afford no three dollars for a mocha. Swiss Miss, man!

But I don't hate Starbucks. I have very little opinion about Starbucks, except that they are not a horrible corporation as corporations go. I pick my battles. WALMART I hate, Starbucks I could give a shit about.

And IKEA is incredible. I'm in awe of the genius of their concept. I have several pieces of IKEA furniture. Ironically, I like IKEA more than I like Fight Club. Do not let Brad Pitt determine your identity.
posted by Hildago at 10:20 AM on January 30, 2004


Vidiot: Sorry, didn't mean to sound so cranky! I'm just awfully tired of the Starbucks = Devil meme, and depressed because on other matters I generally agree with those who propagate it.
posted by languagehat at 10:38 AM on January 30, 2004


Slagman - the Starbucks in question was somewhere in the Village, just the east of Washington Square. It really was foul.

Britain, like the U.S., suffers from the chain store phenomenon which is making every town almost identical in its parade of shops, bars and cafés. Continental Europe is very different. Starbucks, to me, is just part of this trend and seems little different from McDonalds. But then I guess I'm just an aging European liberal.
posted by rolo at 10:41 AM on January 30, 2004


No problem. See you at 71 Irving Place.
posted by Vidiot at 10:47 AM on January 30, 2004


right on, rolo. i'm with you, and i think that's where the real disdain for Starbuck's, McDonalds, etc. comes into play.

whenever i go to mid-Michigan or even Louisville now, it could be almost anywhere in the U.S. everything looks the same.

i guess the big question is: are you willing to sacrifice diversity in the name of (albeit questionable) quality and cheap prices? i'd say no.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2004


my ektorp sofa and i have just developed a crush on adamgreenfield.

i like the way ikea's simple designs compliment my bonafide antiques and other unique pieces of furniture, and i've never been to starbucks before, 'cause no one makes better coffee or lattes than i do. long live the thermos!
posted by t r a c y at 11:23 AM on January 30, 2004


and man, will those guys cut you a deal... nothing is standardly priced

Mix & match antique furniture is great, but I hate places like that. Just let me know what the damn thing costs, so I can decide whether to buy it or not. Standing around all day arguing about prices with a total stranger who thinks I'm a sucker is embarassing and not at all fun. I doubt Ikea is putting places like that out of business, but if so, good for them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2004


Vidiot: said Irving coffee place was better when it was on 17th, N'est-ce pas? I loved that place in that little space!

Can anyone offer a list of places in NYC (Brooklyn included!) which offer good, non-Starbucks style coffee?

And finally, coffee, or at least non-dark roast coffee always smells 10% better than it tastes. WHY IS THAT?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:39 AM on January 30, 2004


er....10X better!
posted by ParisParamus at 11:42 AM on January 30, 2004


ps: in the category Best Concept for a Cafe/Tea Salon, the 2004 winner in Park Slope's Tea Lounge on Union St.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:46 AM on January 30, 2004


mrgrimm: you mean an old, obvious argument that nobody's bothered to make before, right?

; . )
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:50 AM on January 30, 2004


adamgreenfield: ...I'd advise you to spend a few days working with child slaves in the Sudan

XQUZYPHYR: where, most likely, they're all making your reasonably-priced Gap and Old Navy jeans.

Just out of curiousity, do you buy any produce? Since large segments of the US economy are based on exploiting workers, it's difficult to avoid products that aren't made by exploited workers.

Ironically, I like IKEA more than I like Fight Club. Do not let Brad Pitt determine your identity.

People that make $20,000,000 per movie don't get to lecture people about consumerism. Nice discussion of this—and how you shouldn't pay to see the movie or buy it on DVD if you agree with its anti-corporate message—at Identity Theory.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:21 PM on January 30, 2004


right on, rolo. i'm with you, and i think that's where the real disdain for Starbuck's, McDonalds, etc. comes into play.

*fist in the air*

One Tin Soldier rides away....
posted by jonmc at 12:31 PM on January 30, 2004


I don't hate Starbucks but I personally avoid it like the plague — partially because their coffee is foul, but mostly because it doesn't do anything for me. When I go to my local coffeeshop, where I've been going damn near every day for the past three years, I know that I will know the barista and most of the customers personally, that people will actually talk to each other even if they didn't arrive together, that if I'm broke I can sit for six hours without buying anything and I won't get so much as a nasty look (hell, I could even run a tab for a few days if I were so inclined — try that at Starbucks). And I know that I'll get decent coffee and free 802.11g and that they'll be open till midnight or later. While I don't begrudge Starbucks for being what it is, I can't imagine why I would choose it over a local coffeeshop.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:34 PM on January 30, 2004


If I personally bought tons of vitamin E or weapons systems, I’d avoid ADM and General Dynamics. But I don’t buy those things. I buy coffee and furniture. So what’s so wrong with choosing goods and services that make my community more vibrant and less homogenized? I’m uncomfortable putting my personal pleasure and satisfaction above the good of the city as a whole, so when I have a choice, I opt for a local alternative to corporate coffee. And I don’t have a particular beef with Ikea, but even the world’s best couch still isn’t important.
posted by spork at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2004


adamgreenfield, no offense intended. the article is not bad, and i think a lot of people *could* benefit from the message that Starbucks/IKEA != evil. i just think (hope) that MeFites already realized that. (i must have missed the offending thread that wfrgms mentions ...)

and while i may not have thought the original post was that great, i think the resulting thread has been pretty good.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2004


Sense of scale?

So, what, we only get to bitch about the worst thing out there, or else we're total hypocrites, disconnected from the true pain of Third World famine?

I call bullshit.

If ragging on IKEA for its mind-fucking display maze and Starbucks for its faux-communal spaces and homogenizing presence constitutes a lack of "sense of scale," I can only imagine what kind of horrendous loss of said sense must be experienced by those who bitch about those who bitch about such things. Or maybe, just maybe, it's crap logic and we aren't limited to complaining about the worst thing.

Total red herring.
posted by Coda at 1:13 PM on January 30, 2004


No problem. See you at 71 Irving Place.

Yeah, when hell freezes over. That's a great one because with a pretty good pitching arm you stand at that one and throw a brick through the window of the other one two blocks away! Both of which used to be independently owned, mind you. New York used to be the place where you came to get away from suburban strip mall life now it's indistinguishable. I don't want every place I go to look alike, sound alike, taste alike. I'd like some local variation if only for a reason to travel.

Look, I'm happy for you people who like that burnt crap, I am. And I'm not about to go burning them down or anything, but I just wish they didn't have to have everywhere. Couldn't we have somewhere without them?

Oh and all of you defending Gap and Old Navy, read No Logo, watch Life and Debt. You're supporting slavery.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:27 PM on January 30, 2004


lumpenprole, you're thinking of Astor Place. 71 irving place is an independent coffee outlet, and a damned good one.

Check your adresses, other wise you'll have to throw a brick marked "disregard previous brick."
posted by jonmc at 1:45 PM on January 30, 2004


Nice discussion of this—and how you shouldn't pay to see the movie or buy it on DVD if you agree with its anti-corporate message—at Identity Theory.

That review is a perfect example of someone totally missing the point of Fight Club. I mean, it could possibly be argued that the senseless destruction inherent in the particular form of anti-corporate conspiracy portrayed therein is an inevitable phase that any successful resistance must go through, but it isn't meant to be taken as a desirable end in itself. "Tyler" gets destroyed in the end for a reason, you see. Mindless conformity-based revolutionary activism is just as much the target of scorn as mindless consumerism. Or so it seems to me.

Man turns to consumerism for relief from his crushing despair; it doesn't work out. He turns to testicular cancer support groups; it doesn't work out. He turns to violent revolutionary action; it doesn't work out. What's left after all that? It's almost like a zen koan.

Of course, all of it can be taken as a metaphor for personal psychological change, and that it's intended that way is made obvious by the identity of the lead antagonist.

hehe.. anyway, yeah, I liked the movie.
posted by sfenders at 2:00 PM on January 30, 2004


mrgrimm - none taken!

I like the thread, too: after all, it's highly reliable, reasonably high-quality, and delivered at a not-absurd price point.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:05 PM on January 30, 2004


Shrug. If people think Starbuck's is good coffee, then it is good coffee to them.

*shrug*

I guess that different people have different tastes; I think that the people at Common Dreams and the Family Policy Network need to know this too!
posted by Bag Man at 2:10 PM on January 30, 2004


I've had people have a go at me, because I've admitted to having quite a bit of IKEA furniture. The extent of their arguments was pretty much; "didn't you see Fight Club?"

There was quite a high correlation between that one, and them holding the opinion that, "Americans don't understand irony."
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:38 PM on January 30, 2004


Oh, and I liked Fight Club, and thought the Ikea sequence was brilliant.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2004


Starbucks in the DC area are usually disgusting, especially around the 'milkery'. And try getting one of them to put milk in your (regular) coffee for you.

Their coffee's also overpriced, no matter what you think it tastes like. The real genius of Starbucks was to convince people that they *deserve* a little luxury every morning - that spending 3.50 on a Latte is something they can and should have. Starbucks invented a whole new business and thrived through the recession (when you would think people would be cutting out stuff like Starbucks.)

Yes, there were good coffee shops (esp. in NYC of all places, but also in small towns) before Starbucks. Starbucks just taught America to settle for nothing less then a two dollar 'Grande'.

Not going to Starbucks seems like a perfectly easy way to actually have an affect on the livelihood of your neighbors - the owners of the mom/pop store. It's fine to care about *Real* causes too, but you can really make a difference by being careful where you shop.

If you're sick of people complaining about them I would counter that the bandwagon of irattionally devoted Starbucks zombies in line every morning for their 'daily fix' is far more annoying.
posted by drobot at 2:47 PM on January 30, 2004


Hate Starbucks if you want, but they don't drive out independents.

Apparently the reason is that nobody wants to be the sort of jerk who patronizes Starbucks instead of the independent, so the independent does just fine.
posted by ednopantz at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2004


drobot, they're only overpriced if you're buying lattes. Coffee's, what, a buck five? Something like that. Certainly not out of the realm of reasonableness, for me anyway.

I'd set some misperceptions of the piece, and my actual stance, straight, but in the scheme of things, it's not that important if (say) starchy old reactionaries think I was flipping off the left. At the end of the day it's just a rant I had fun writing, and the response to which I've by and large enjoyed greatly.

Thanks for playing, everyone.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2004


You guys are all tools of the man. I'm posting this on a handcrafted computer I made myself, powered by a stationart bicycle, in my adobe hut in the wilds of Oregon. As for clothes., I only wear a loincloth that I wove myself and my tea is made of leaves that have fallen naturally-- picking leaves is MURDER, man!

Kill whitey! Down with The Man! Power to people!
posted by keswick at 3:37 PM on January 30, 2004


Founder of Ikea store haunted by Nazi past

(...)
But not many will know about the founder's past: As a teenager, he attended Nazi Party meetings in Sweden in the three years after the end of World War II.
Ingvar Kamprad, 73, owned up to his old Nazi leanings 5-1/2 years ago after a Swedish newspaper exposed him.
He issued a letter of apology to Ikea employees worldwide, calling himself a "naive" youth who was driven by a fascination with his family's German roots.
"I've apologized. I've apologized to my staff and to everyone," the reclusive Kamprad said in a Reuters interview two years ago. "It was terrible, but now I want to put it all behind me."

posted by matteo at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2004


I love Adam and his writing, but I disagree pretty strongly with the content and spirit of this essay. A counter-rant of my own may be forthcoming, if I get up the energy...('cause I know you're all just breathless with anticipation!)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:42 PM on January 30, 2004


ParisParamus, I've only been to 71 Irving Place once, and not before it moved. (have only lived in NYC for a year and a half...but I can point you to good places in Atlanta and the Research Triangle area.)

Aside from that, Zabar's makes an okay cup, and I've gotten great coffee at various Dean & DeLuca locations around town. However, the only "God shot" I've had in New York was at the Dean & DeLuca inside the Borders bookstore on Wall Street. (how much of a lefty can I be if I've been to the Borders on Wall Street?)

And for the smell vs. taste question, I'm guessing some sort of chemical compounds in the coffee probably translate better into smell and some translate better into taste. (Not sure, though -- any caffeine-addicted chemists out there?)

(on preview: Can't wait to see your counter-rant, Stav.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:45 PM on January 30, 2004


Meeeee either, stav.

Dean & DeLuca does indeed rock the good stuff. I buy their House Blend by the pound.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:58 PM on January 30, 2004


This is not a troll, but from my experience it's extremely difficult to get genuinely good (by world standards) coffee in the US, no matter where you go.
posted by jedro at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2004


It's not a troll, it's just the self-centeredness typical of Homo sapiens. "Americans drink different coffee than I'm used to back home: therefore 1) American coffee is no good (by my [= world] standards), and 2) Americans have no taste in coffee." Don't tell me—your local beer just happens to be the best in the world, right? And the music you loved when you were 13 just happens to be the best music there ever was.
posted by languagehat at 2:44 PM on February 1, 2004


That's not it at all, it's just my experience. So many places I went to in the US seemed to serve horrible drip filter stuff. I don't think that can be considered genuinely good coffee by any objective standards.

It was difficult for me to find anything other than that, and even when I did find places serving espresso, it didn't seem all that well made.

No, I won't tell you that my local beer is the best. Belgian, Czech or German beer is much better. And I'm sure my musical taste at 13 was quite bad.
posted by jedro at 5:09 PM on February 1, 2004


I've seen Starbuck's prices referred to a couple of times in this thread as "not absurd", or "reasonable." WTF? How is a minimum price of $3.25 for a cup of coffee not absurd? You used to get crap coffee for 50 cents, and very decent stuff for 2 bucks.

I'd like to see a breakdown of just how much of their price goes to the actual coffee, and how much goes to interior remodeling, advertising, profit, etc. I had a couple of friends running a coffee place on 2nd & 9th (NYC) about 10 years ago - and they managed to sell excellent Illy based drinks for much less than Starbucks, until 3 three starbuck's within 2 blocks siphoned off a good percentage of their walk-in customers.

That said - I still drink the stuff, because it's not bad, and living in Japan has desensitized me to absurd prices.
posted by bashos_frog at 3:45 PM on February 2, 2004


The iconoclast bar moves one notch higher.

"More importantly [...] the swill that Americans drank and were pleased to call "coffee" before [overly hip "Starckbuck expanded"] and clusterbombed us with franchises. It tasted like soggy cardboard, it was served in chipped diner porcelain that itself generally tasted of soap, and most importantly, with a very few exceptions, it was all you could get anywhere."

More importantly, its still all you can get most places, even those now "proudly" serving whatever hipster beans you want. While Starbucks is part of a larger coffee phenomenon, it is hard to argue that one lived in a blighted land where one was unable to find coffee and now we live in a caffinated utopia -- coffee still sucks many places and you could always get good coffee if you knew where to look.

I don't think its wrong to dislike Starbucks just because there are wrong-er things out there for us to be alledgly disliking. The argument is in itself invalid (e.g. "shouldn't YOU be harshing our buzz about something more meaningful than our anti-corporate positions?")

I find the fact that there is a Starbucks on every damned corner distateful for the very fact that they are on every damned corner and more than a few of 'em have drive throughs.

What was so wrong with a cup-o-joe at home?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:44 PM on February 2, 2004


bashos_frog, I pay a little north of a dollar for a tall Starbucks coffee here in NYC. As of last July, the same cup was 252 yen at the Starbucks in Ebisu (Tokyo), which is around $2.39. There's still a long way between that and "a minimum price of $3.25 for a cup of coffee."
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:32 PM on February 2, 2004


bashos

actually, a drip coffee at starbucks is about $1.56, not 3.25.
and it's typically twice as much coffe as what you get at a deli for 60 or 70 cents, usually crap.

the $3 plus drinks are fancy espresso deals.
here are recent links with that address your questions
about drink prices, sales, profit margins etc.

"Forty cents of your retail dollar goes to cover operating expenses at the store level. A slightly bigger chunk is consumed by the cost of sales and related occupancy expenses. Ultimately, just a dime trickles down as operating profit for the company -- and that's before the taxman starts to nibble, eaving just $0.06 to $0.07 of actual net income on the dollar.
Still, Starbucks stacked those nickels to the tune of $4.1 billion in net revenues last year."

and this estimate based on 18 visits per customer per month, with lattes the most popular drink: "I am coming up with something around $60 a month for the average Starbucks customer."

posted by Slagman at 9:58 PM on February 4, 2004


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