Vilified and lionized with seemingly equal regularity, Starbucks is the caffeinated megachain we hate to love and love to hate. But are the reasons any good on either side? Inspired by a recent post in defense of the chain from chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz, we take a look at five reasons to love (and, tomorrow, five reasons to hate) the world's most ubiquitous mocha merchants.
It Gave Us a Coffee Language
Before Starbucks came along, the most common words used to order a coffee were probably regular and light and sweet. Asking for a latte would have probably earned a sideways glance, and macchiato might get you hauled away in a padded wagon.
Thanks to the weed-like spread of that smirking mermaid in the 1990s, however, there's probably not a person left alive on earth who hasn't at least heard the word cappuccino, and only a handful more who've never managed to taste one. With its more than 19,000 international locations (a new one reportedly opens every day), Starbucks has done more for introducing "light and sweet" people to basic Italian words than Rosetta Stone has.
Without It, Would We Have Specialty Coffee?
If there weren't people ordering cappuccinos every day all over America and all over the world, I wouldn't have very much to do in my job as a barista trainer and coffee educator, would I? Despite our collective grumbling about there being a Starbucks on every corner, the fact of the matter is that the very ubiquity that makes the company so easy to hate is also what makes it easiest for folks like me to love: Starbucks converts the masses into espresso junkies, and those of us dedicated to specialty quality, hand-crafted coffee will take it from there.
Passionate Baristas Are Born Behind Those Counters
I've met innumerable passionate, informed, engaged, and excited baristas who fell madly in love with coffee the minute they were hired to make Frappuccinos at Starbucks.
And me? I so deeply coveted a job at Starbucks when I was a teenager that I would drive 45 minutes to the closest mall just to hang around in the enchantingly familiar aroma cloud of dark roasted beans, whipped cream, and chocolate that seems to seep up from the floor there. Had I not discovered my own local branch, would I be where I am today? It's almost impossible to know for sure, but I'd wager it's a "no."
Suddenly It's OK To Spend Money On Coffee
Coffee's newish identity as an affordable luxury is largely thanks to the Starbucks aesthetic and execution, and increased mainstream acceptance of that notion made the bitter pill of the $2-or-more coffee a bit of an easier swallow. The deliberately grown-up-friendly environment, the fancy foreign words on the menu, the staff trained to address customers as "guests" and cater to their every caffeinated whim: This has all been masterfully designed by Howard Schultz & Co. to communicate an intoxicating you're-worth-it attitude that successfully coaxes relatively big money out of wallets everywhere. That willingness to shell out more dough than we used to for Starbucks' arguably pretty mediocre offerings has empowered people to seek out the really good stuff, and to pay for it accordingly.
You Always Know What You're Getting
Even if you're not crazy about what you're getting, at least you always know exactly what it's going to taste like, no matter where you are in the country (or the world). The company's famously dark flavor profile encourages a predictable cup—strong, smoky, intense, roasty—and its implementation of superautomatic espresso machines means big-time consistency from shot to shot, regardless of the baristas' skill, attention, or mood.
Let's face it: Sometimes you find yourself with a coffee jones while in unfamiliar territory, and all you want or need is a little taste of something recognizable. (Okay, and also maybe you could also use a relatively public bathroom.) Starbucks has always, always got your back on this one. (Seriously, though, with the bathroom thing. That's almost reason enough to love this place.)
Got another reason to love Starbucks? Lemme have 'em. (And for all you haters, don't worry: There's a flip side to this post on the way tomorrow.)
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.