I am a total caffeine hound. It’s almost bordering on an obsession sometimes, to the point where starting the day (especially a work day) without a coffee is not only unthinkable but, quite literally, not possible. I tried to give up the bean once and it was a week of utter torment: headaches, irritability, time dragging on endlessly. I missed the anticipation, the first hit, the caffeine rush and the resultant mood lift. I spent each morning mourning. Life seemed empty, hollow and ordinary. Yes, I slept better as my body purged itself of the caffeine and, yes, I had more energy in the afternoons as I wasn’t suffering from withdrawal but, Jesus, the day just dragged on forever. I like tea, but it’s like swapping methadone for heroin or Donovan for Dylan: just a pale substitute. Yes, I like coffee.
So I enjoyed this confessional piece on The Guardian’s food blog where a fellow coffee lover comes clean about her love for Starbucks and high street coffee chains generally. No big deal: journalist likes coffee, writes short article about it. Although this is The Guardian, remember, so for some of its readers a proclamation of love for a company like Starbucks is tantamount to admitting that you strangle third world orphans with the entrails of puppies in your spare time. Most of the readers (rightly) point out that the biggest reason not to frequent the store is purely down to taste: most of their ‘coffee’ is little more than milky piss. I couldn’t agree more. But there are other readers, who have almost certainly read No Logo, with a slightly different take: Starbucks is Satan; Starbucks is corporate America homogenising the world; Starbucks is part of a Zionist conspiracy because, um, they opened some stores in Israel; if you drink Starbucks you “can’t be intelligent” and you “must be a New Labour supporter”, etc, etc.
Another common criticism is that they are single-handedly responsible for destroying independent cafe culture. What cafe culture would this be then? The only ‘culture’ in a British cafe is what you find stuck to the dirty cutlery. Ten years ago it was virtually impossible to get a decent cappuccino anywhere in this country. Even now, if you go to a traditional cafe in London you get a choice of weak tea or milky (instant) coffee muck. If the arrival of Starbucks, Caffè Nero, et al eradicates this then I’m all in favour of it. Anyway, everyone knows that the best coffee on the high street is the strong latte from Pret A Manger. Oh, but wait: Pret is 33% owned by McDonald’s who are, of course, the cause of all misery in the world, so I suppose I’d better go and flagellate myself with a rolled-up copy of The Guardian (before recycling it).