I’ve just finished Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture by Taylor Clark, just released by Little Brown. It’s an entertaining, well-written and researched “biography” of the genesis and rise of Starbucks, and the concurrent/coincident specialty coffee scene in the U.S. Anyone interested in Starbucks (love, hate, or neutral) or the genius of retail marketing will really get into this book. Those intrigued with American culture will also find ponderable material here, and it will be valuable for readers who want to understand the post-1970s history of coffee in the U.S. (for the most thorough overall history of coffee, you can do no better than Mark Pendergrast’s Uncommon Grounds).
Clark leaves few stones unturned, especially when discussing the evolution of the Starbucks marketing strategy. The one thing that was barely discussed was sustainability. The closest is an entire chapter on Fair Trade which correctly points out that low-quality robusta coffee is the enemy of struggling coffee farmers, whose
“…fortunes rise and fall on the world’s demand for good coffee beans, and no one has done more to generate an insatiable global thirst for high-quality coffee than Starbucks.”
We can quibble about the quality of Starbucks beans, but the distinction here is between the quality of the big grocery store brands versus Starbucks. While exploding the myth that Starbucks harms independent coffee houses, Clark makes a point I have made here several times: that Starbucks has drawn out people who never strayed from Folgers, and these converts go on to explore other coffee venues. And with any sort of luck, these converts don’t turn back to grocery store brands. Clark also echoes one of my mantras:
Helping lift farmers from poverty, then, isn’t so much a matter of hectoring companies like Starbucks (even if the company isn’t the human rights champion it claims to be) as it is of making sure people never drink the cheap and exploitive coffee offered by conglomerates like the Big Four.
Not only lifting farmers from poverty, but also preserving biodiversity.
Starbucked will help readers understand why we owe Starbucks quite a bit of credit for transforming coffee culture and triggering a chain of events that is helping consumers realize their own transformative power via the choices they make for their daily cup.