Category Archives: Coffee Connection

Soulless Starbucks

Yesterday morning, as I was struggling to wake up, I heard a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about Starbucks. Apparently founder Howard Shultz fears that his megacorporation is losing its soul. The story featured two ardent defenders of Starbucks, including a minister who compared the sameness of Starbucks to taking the Eucharist—one can take it anywhere. Needless to say, I woke up pissed off.

This story reminded me of everything that is wrong with America. While I’m glad that the founder of Starbucks has realized that the sterile sameness he has foisted on the world is indeed soulless, I am not convinced that Starbucks ever had a soul. And minister guy, with that logic, you should just go to McDonald’s—apparently their coffee (Newman’s Own) was ranked higher in taste tests than Starbucks coffee. You could have a Big Mac and a large coffee and call it communion.

I hate Starbucks. I hate their coffee; I hate the “atmosphere.” I hate their paper cups. I hate what they’ve done to music and to literature. I hate that people think that hanging out in a Starbucks is an authentic coffee shop experience. Starbuck would be pissed to see his good name so misused.

My hatred of Starbucks goes back to when the company took over Boston’s Coffee Connection in the mid-nineties. Coffee Connection was a local roaster with a number of small coffee shops in Boston. Dark and delicious, Coffee Connection coffee came in real mugs if you had your coffee in the shop. All was wonderful in Beantown until Starbucks came along and took over my beloved Coffee Connection. Bastards.

You can’t see the Coffee Connection label anymore,
but this is a Coffee Connection travel mug

When I got into organic and Fair Trade, my hatred of Starbucks intensified. Although the company has made strides in recent years to incorporate organic and fairly traded coffee into their line (though I’ve never seen organic brewed coffee offered at a store), Starbucks dragged its feet on the issue for a long, long time. When a Starbucks opened up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (a town with its own coffee roaster, Breaking New Grounds), a bunch of us teamed up with the Organic Consumer Association and handed out leaflets to the tourists going into Starbucks.

The thing was that while we wanted Starbucks to start carrying Fair Trade organic coffee, we also wanted the store out of our community. To this day, no self-respecting local sets foot in the place. Why have coffee in a place virally replicated throughout the world when you can experience a place unique in all the world (and that has better coffee)?

For the love of God, if you want a real coffee experience—one with soul—go and find your local coffee shop. Try Caffé Sicilia in Gloucester, Massachusetts, if you’re ever on the North Shore. Try 1369 in Cambridge. Go to Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth. Find your shop and support it. That’s how you put soul into your cup.