Get Outta Town - Starbucks Sucks!

(November 5) As anyone who regularly listens to my weekly appearances, I’m a coffee junkie. It’s the fuel that keeps me going, and probably the curse of my lack of sleep. My day starts off perched at Black Sheep, waking up with the daily paper and my first cup of the day. Another cup goes with me to my office (or to this fine radio cubicle), and there’s at least two more stops during the day to prevent my eyes from collapsing into my skull.
I’m also an extremely picky coffee drinker. I can’t handle Folgers or any of that other store-bought garbage. Truck stop coffee generally ends up in the ditch a mile later. No, my brew has to be freshly roasted and freshly brewed.
Knowing this about me, one would think that I’d be thrilled that our little hick town is about to get a Starbucks. After all, aren’t they the ultimate in high-class coffee? Uh, no. And I’m here today to tell you why the Wal-Mart of coffee should not be in this city, and why the wannabe hip sheep in this town should stay away from this trendy but sterile location.
Actually, they’re more like the McDonalds of coffee. Every store looks exactly the same; there are no franchises (which means that all proceeds immediately head out of town); and every drink is a pre-made concoction that pours at the touch of a button. A monkey could work in a Starbucks.
Most importantly, there is no ambience. Coffee shops are supposed to be a bit funky; they’re the only place where the suits comfortably mix with the tattoo and piercing crowd. There should be local art on the walls and provocative reading materials available. They should have the capability to host radical political organizations one day and religious groups the next. Background music should not be Muzak (or Sting) but innovative sounds that you can’t hear anywhere else. And local musicians should have opportunities to perform, even if it’s for nothing but tips.
You won’t see any of that at a Starbucks. Instead, you’ll see nothing but boring yuppies who think they’re hip because Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal were sipping the crap in that awful When Harry Met Sally.
Like I said, I’m extremely picky in my taste of coffee…and if you’re picky you definitely don’t want Starbucks. Frankly, it tastes burnt, almost as bad as if their coffee pots have been sitting under a hearing lamp for a few days.
From what I’ve been told (from more than one source), their godawful taste is due to their cheap methods of roasting. The so-called “Starbucks roast”, which is the minimal roast level of their coffees, borders closer to the darker roast end of the spectrum, and tends to introduce a lot of carbon that creates that strong bitter flavor. This also makes the beans heavier, which means that a pound of Starbucks coffee is actually less coffee than that of most other companies. I challenge anybody to drink a Starbucks cup without any cream or sugar. If you can, then your tastebuds must have been destroyed years ago.
It’s not just the taste, however, that has me ranting and raving this morning. If that was the case, then it would be just a matter of personal opinion. I’m here to say that the company is hypocritical, selling the public a bill of goods that portrays them as an environmentally-friendly company that gives back to their community.
It’s all hogwash. They’re actually an extremely predatory company that’s known for waiting until a community has established a thriving independent coffee culture before sweeping into town to take over. Their have been documented incidents where they have paid off land owners to prevent them from renewing leases to competitors. They’re also known for building as close as possible to their competition. Sioux Falls is certainly an example of this. Hell, they’re even doing it to themselves this time. Obviously, the location that’s opening this weekend is directly aimed at Coffee and Clay, Black Sheep, and that sandwich and coffee shop on 26th and Minnesota. But they’re also going into a location on 41st and Louise that’s directly opposite their own store in Barnes and Noble. I haven’t talked to anyone at Barnes and Noble, but I can’t imagine that they’re too happy with the prospects of their regular customers now having a drive-through window a few hundred feet away.
Again, it’s no surprise when you look at other elements of the company. Another example is the Fair Trade Coffee controversy. You may recall a few weeks ago at the MTV Awards the lead singer of Coldplay had “Make Trade Fair” scribbled on his hand. While confusing to most people at the time, it was actually a reference to an international effort to make trade more fair to poor and developing companies, including those that raise coffee beans.
This effort has been around for a few years, and one of the goals was a campaign to make Fair Trade coffee the standard in this country. What this means is that a minimum of $1.29 per pound goes directly to the coffee farmers instead of the middlemen who generally pay no more than thirty-five cents to non-fair trade coffee growers.
After a campaign to get Starbucks to adopt Fair Trade coffee, the company agreed…or so it seemed. Their press releases certainly make it seem this way, as does the “Think Green” literature that litters their locations. What they fail to tell you is that Fair Trade coffee currently accounts for less than one percent of their sales, and rarely is it poured as their coffee of the day.
But the Fair Trade coffee controversy is nothing compared to allegations of their use of genetically-altered milk. Most Starbucks outlets are using milk that includes the controversial Bovine Growth Hormone, which is banned in every industrialized country in the world except for the USA. This drug is injected into 10% of the nation’s dairy cows, and the US Food and Drug Administration has admitted that the use of this drug may lead to increased amounts of pus and bacteria in milk. Plus, according to a couple of websites I found, the antibiotics used to fight the increased disease in these injected cows may lead to “greater antibiotic and chemical contamination of milk and dangerous resistance to antibiotics in the human population.” There is also evidence that other effects from this drug may play a role in cancer and have significant effects on colon tumors. And who wants those?
Other genetically engineered ingredients are reportedly found in their baked goods, chocolate, and the soymilk they use to make coffee drinks. There are also reports that Starbucks is researching methods to produce genetically engineered coffee whose beans will be naturally decaffeinated. Since plants produce caffeine as a natural defense against insects, does this mean that these plants will demand increased amounts of pesticides?
Let’s review. Holding a cup of coffee with the Starbucks logo may seem appealing to those living in suburbia, but is fake hipness worth getting in bed with a company that treats their employees, neighbors, and the environment so poorly? And even if you don’t care about those factors, doesn’t your tastebuds deserve something better? Wouldn’t you rather have a trusted barista who knows their beans prepare your drink, and happily tweaking the recipe to make it just right, than a minimum wage no-mind pushing a button on a machine that’s not much different than those you see at grungy truckstops? I know I would.


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