I hopped off the fluorescent tuk-tuk, heart still fluttering from the unexpected acceleration power of the rickety go-cart. It was my first day in Bangkok, visiting my dad. He was on business, so I had a couple days to myself in the asian metropolis. The driver dropped me at Siam Square, a block of international restaurants, fashion boutiques, and modern buildings. Nervous and a bit intimidated, I strolled the streets for somewhere inviting, and as I turned the corner, a soft green sign illuminated my heart.
Starbucks has created an impressive coffee culture with a dedicated following and unshakable brand. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the world’s best espresso (that spot is taken by the many cafes in Melbourne), but it has my vote as the world’s best coffee shop.
It’s not the consumer empire they’ve built that sways me (although $19.2 billion last year in sales? I love a company with drive. #winning). There’s a ton of other attractive qualities about Starbucks.
First, I hear that Starbucks treats their employees well. Perks for working at Starbucks include 401k’s, stock options, health coverage, and they even have a college plan to help their employees pay tuition. No wonder the baristas are smiling.
An old boyfriend, who spent $5+ daily on venti white chocolate mochas – 3 shots 4 pumps, often talked about working at Starbucks. It hasn’t happened yet, but I bet he’d still consider it.
Nutritionally, Starbucks is leading the way. They don’t have the healthiest options, actually, far from it with those delicious frappucinos. However, the drinks at Starbucks are completely customizable, and they add new options every day. You can change your drink to fit your nutritional tastes or allergic needs. The amount of flavoring is adjustable, as are the toppings and type of milk.
Just recently, Starbucks launched AlmondMilk at all of their stores across North America. What once hurt my slightly lactose-intolerant digestive system, I can now enjoy almond milk flat whites free of gastro-intestinal irritation. Also, the calorie information (whether accurate or not) is listed on the menu at many stores, making it easier to make an educated selection.
I used to suck down a double-chocolate-chip frappuccino with my friends during the summer. We’d stop by for “frappy” hour, blasting Taylor swift while driving around in convertibles. Those pretty drinks are delicious, but after learning a lot about health and nutrition (i.e. the reality about sugar), I won’t even go near one.
The cups are quality. These aren’t your flimsy neighborhood cafe cups that drip from the lid and get crushed at the slightest touch. Starbucks cups are durable. They feel sturdy in your hand. The lid snaps securely on, perfectly designed for a pleasant drinking experience. The cup itself is sleek and minimal. The branding is subtle. Around the holiday season, the cups become red and festive, often adorned with beautiful designs that make you smile.
That being said, there was one time that I saw the Starbucks cup fail. My grandmother lives in Gift Prefecture, rural Japan. Every few years, my dad and I (and occasionally my brother) would drive to Gifu from Tokyo to visit the family. There is one shopping center in this country-side town called “Mago,” a two-story mall of memories. My favorite spot was on the first floor, a seating area flanked by a crepe shop on one side, and a Starbucks on the other.
Grandma ordered a tall drip coffee, and as she lifted the cup to take a sip, the hot drink splashed over her hands and onto her lap. There’s nothing more sad than watching your grandmother get burned by scorching-hot coffee. But her response, giggling, squirming and gracefully attributing it to her elderly age, makes it a memory i’ll cherish forever. Now whenever I bring that up, she grandma-slaps me and tells me I’ll get myself into trouble.
I visited that Starbucks with my cousins over this new year. The crepe shop had been demolished. I checked that the lid was snapped on tight, and shared a warm moment with my family.
It’s the little things. Attention to detail. And boy, does Starbucks pay attention.
Starbucks is spot-on with social media campaigns, customer service, and overall experience. I follow their social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter. They are great with utilizing customer experience to promote positive branding, as well as creating engaging (and beautiful) content.
They respond in record-time to emails, tweets, and customer activity. You get the immediate sense that they actually care about the happiness of their customers and overall culture.
Free wifi. Nowadays, most cafes and coffee shops have free wifi. But what about internationally? I can’t count how many times I’ve payed for an americano, sat down and pulled out my laptop, only to discover that they don’t have wifi. Or the wifi is broken. Or they don’t understand a word I’m saying. I’ve yet to be disappointed with the internet connectivity at Starbucks. It’s saved me many-a-deadline for assignments and replies to important emails while abroad.
To play devil’s advocate, Starbucks is definitely not a perfect company (is there such a thing in a Capitalist system?) Sources indicate that Starbucks uses anywhere from 2.9 – 4 billion paper cups a year. That can’t be easy on the environment. It’s not easy on the pockets, either. Drinks are on the pricier side. The first-place holder for the most expensive drink at Starbucks is $102.04. I hoped it was a joke, but it wasn’t.
But the REAL reason I love Starbucks is: reliability.
I travel quite a bit. Travel to enough foreign countries, and you understand the slight sense of discomfort it takes to navigate a new city. You can’t read road signs, you can’t speak the language, and sometimes you don’t even know if you can drink the water.
I find that one thing always manages to calm discomfort while abroad: the soft glow of that green and white sign. Large, bold, inviting letters that read, “STARBUCKS COFFEE.” The shops are brilliantly placed. There’s always a Starbucks when you turn a corner, or just as you start to wish for a warm beverage and place to rest.
Enter the haven. Warm tones, a selection of jazz music to inspire creativity and promote relaxation. Delicately displayed custom tumblers and roasts, asking to be touched but not pressuring a sale. Smiling baristas, light atmosphere, and a well-designed seating system with feng shui in mind. Close enough to start a conversation with your neighbor if you want to, private enough to dive into a good book or some important work.
The drinks are the real hero. There is nothing special about Starbucks drip coffee, or my personal favorite, the flat white. But you order at Starbucks, and you know the drink you’re getting. There’s no surprise when you get a drink you weren’t expecting, or an inconsistent ratio of coffee-to-cream. You order a tall latte in Minneapolis, Minnesota and it tastes exactly the same as a tall latte in Bangkok, Thailand (self-confirmed).
I hopped on another tuk-tuk to return to my hotel. As the cart was weaving back and forth through the crowded streets, I pulled out my wallet to ready the cash for the driver. A single bill, a strong gust of wind. Time slowed down as I reached out after the paper, a slow-motion, “noooooooo,” as the money flew away into the darkness, lost forever.