Sunday, December 9, 2007

the vision of starbucks

August 9, 2006

There are few things comparable to a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks on Pike Place in Seattle. I don't mean just the cup of coffee. I mean the entire experience it takes to actually receive that cup of coffee.

The aura is intoxicating, with rich smells of coffee beans from all corners of the earth filling the air; coffee grown in places like Guatamala, Kenya, and Indonesia, the names of which you only know in text books or by pictures in geography class. The titles of the present blends available, 'Kopi Kampung,' 'Sumatra,' or 'Sulawesi' roll off your tongue as exotic as a midnight in Morocco must be. It is a whirlwind of activity, with people calling out drinks and crowding in and out of the door to catch a glimpse at the Mecca of native Northwesterners. The smart natives however don't get their coffee from this establishment on their way to work every morning. No, they go up the street a block to avoid the often irritating swarm of tourists who pronounce the name 'Starboo-ks' and can't ever decide what the word frappucino really means (it's a blended cup of frozen goodness... why is it so difficult?).

Sometimes, though I've been immersed in this place of madness many times, I return to it again. There is something charming about the chaos that hits me the instant I walk through the door; the cashier expertly tossing the newly designated cups to the baristas waiting behind the counter. It's like a perfectly choreographed dance, people's cravings for both history and coffee being fulfilled while a trio of soulful black men sing a capella outside the front door to a clapping audience on the sidewalk. The refrain from 'My Girl' wafts through the air and the iconic image of a Siren graces the beverage of every satisfied customer.

The truth of the matter is that the rest of the world does not understand our undying love and passion for a steaming cup of coffee brewed by our favorite baristas nor the necessity we have for a Starbucks on every other corner. I will let you in on a secret. I think people go to Starbucks for the ideal it represents and the lifestyle it promotes. It is an advocate for conversation and for good company. It extends an invitation to walk inside its doors and put life on hold for a moment while taking a sip of your favorite beverage; you know, the one that will help fight alongside you the headache that is the rest of your day.

I'm not assuming that Starbucks coffee has magical properties, or that coffee is the maker of all things good, or that life without coffee is an empty existance. Just simply stating that when people from 'out of the area' (you know, those people that carry umbrellas... we call them tourists) think of us as being addicted to the coffee, or the caffeine, or the mochas that they deem as overpriced, that they are misunderstanding the entire concept of why we do what we do.

It's about people. It's about community. It's about relationships. It's about feeling a part of the world that is so much bigger than just yourself and who you are with (if anyone). It's about an idea: that people can gather together for the purpose of good conversation, or reading a good book, or just enjoying a tall nonfat black and white mocha with no whip, and know that thousands of miles away, at a Starbucks somewhere in Philly, Madrid, London, and Zurich, someone else is doing the same thing. Coffee is just a wonderful added bonus. Yes, the topic of conversation varies. Yes, the prices vary from dollars, to pounds, to franks, to euros and back to dollars again. But somewhere in the world, as you read these words, someone is seeking familiarity and comfort in a cup of coffee. It would be silly to say that all my memories are measured tall, grande or venti... but a good portion of them are.

So if you're ever in need of the chaotic ambiance and familiarity of a place that is both contemporary and classic, charming and alive with activity, or you just want your grande iced caramel machiatto without diversion, the original Starbucks represents a shining beacon of hope for all who are seeking.

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