The rise of starbucks

Emma McCarthy argues that the soulless efficiency of starbucks is something worth fighting against

Illustration: Sinaoife Andrews


“I am immediately sceptical of a coffee-chain whose menu is largely comprised of coffee drizzled with layers of unnecessary embellishment.”

If the Twelve Days of Christmas were rewritten to suit modern day, it’s highly possible that your true love would give you a pumpkin spice latte at some point. Such is the commercial success of Starbucks’ seasonal menu.

What’s not to love about frothy milk fat, a mountain of sugar, some salt, and a dash of espresso crammed into a paper cup with your misspelled name on it? Perhaps its actual taste. And yet this sickly sweet dessert-disguised-as-coffee has managed to establish itself as yet another commercial must-have for the season that’s in it.

What’s the hype?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone openly voice their love for Starbucks, or even the mildest of affection towards it, so why does it continue to plague us with seemingly exponential growth? I am not a coffee snob. I wouldn’t know the difference between an arabica and a robusta bean. I am, however, immediately sceptical of a coffee-chain whose menu is largely comprised of coffee drizzled with layers of unnecessary embellishment.

If you have to dress up a product in order to sell it, it’s not much of a product to begin with. Who goes into Starbucks to buy an americano? Instead, it’s a venti caramel macchiato with soy milk, extra hot, and with a sprinkle of chocolate for a meagre price of €5. You’ll have to skip lunch, but you’ll have your cool red cup.

The Starbucks Christmas Menu is kept top secret until its grand unveiling in early November — because that’s when Christmas does, in fact, begin. This year’s big seller may be called the Gingerbread latte, but I truly believe they all taste of the same thing: cinnamon and disappointment.

I’m not a major fan of any coffee-chain, but Starbucks takes first place purely because it also takes the most of my money. The siren song of the sea creature emblazoned on each festive cup is one of commercial greed. It’s one thing to serve beverages that barely constitute as coffee, but it’s another thing entirely to have the audacity to overcharge for it.

I struggle to think of positive elements to the Starbucks experience. The staff look like they’d rather work in Insomnia, and whilst I myself am rarely ecstatic when at work, those behind the counter at Starbucks provide scope for an episode of The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror in which the robotic green apron-clad workers spark an uprising. Do they really need to know my name? The feeble attempt at a friendly, personable experience is fooling no one.

Comfortable efficiency

And yet, there must be a reason that Starbucks can get away with having two branches within 50 feet of one another. I do venture in now and then, mostly for convenience. Wherever you go, Starbucks will be there for you. You know what you’ll get, and, along with the free wifi, you’ll get it fast.

In a society dependent on efficiency and instant gratification, Starbucks suffices. It’s a Mecca for business-professionals. But for a college student, it simply doesn’t make the cut. We may joke about those of us who prefer the likes of Clement & Pekoe or Dublin Barista School to chain brands, but there is something to be said about a good cup of joe in a coffee shop that hasn’t been replicated hundreds of times over. Authenticity shouldn’t be undermined, and Starbucks, like a nuisance that just doesn’t get the message, ignites a justifiable frustration with their ever-looming presence.

Style over Substance

Nobody likes a poser, and Starbucks is the proverbial cool kid wannabe. I thought that if I scrolled back far enough on my Instagram, I’d find a dated picture of a colourfully designed cup of pumpkin spice. It seems I came to my senses and have since deleted it, but the point is that I didn’t quite evade their attempts to reel us in on the premise of seeming cooler than I really was when I was 17.

Colourful cups and multi-syllabled frappuccinos are a thinly veiled effort to attract a younger crowd. One of these days, people will grow tired of paying a for a cup of syrup in turn for a much needed bathroom code, and Starbucks will, I hope, fall flat. Perhaps if it downsized, pumpkin spice lattés may regain their novelty.

I will be the first to admit that there’s not exceptionally original about complaining about Starbucks. But to do nothing in the face of evil, or indeed a wholly unnecessary coffee-chain, quashing the smaller, independent shops with every extra shot of vanilla, is surely one way to pave the path to its triumph.

Buying your morning coffee in Starbucks is like suffering a bout of amnesia. All it takes is one bitter sip to bring each equally dissatisfying experience rushing back, and I’m left wondering when I will ever learn.