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Coffee Wars

On my way to the wonderful Trumps Coffee Shop on Bute Street to pick up my lunch for today, I spotted a building under development right in the heart of the Cardiff Bay area. Intrigued, I walked past to discover that it is to be a Starbucks – a few minutes walk away from the independently owned and run Trumps and 10 steps away from Coffee Mania, another chain.

I’m not going to digress into anti-globalisation rhetoric or argue a case for resisting multi-national corporations. After all, I’m an advocate – realising that they have their problems like all other ideologies but they’re a necessity in this world we live in. Neither am I particularly anti-Starbucks – after all, you don’t build up a global empire with a business plan that doesn’t appeal to anyone. Plus, Starbucks is a long way from the worst corporate neighbour, with an environmental mission statement, progressive labour benefits and a host of cooperative charitable activities – whether they stick to them or not. It’s not my place to play with facts and hearsay.

What I do have a problem with though is unethical predatory business practices where free enterprise is overshadowed by unfair competition and Starbucks taking the successful elements from coffee shop culture and mass-producing it for each of its venues.

Quirky and eccentric local hotspots are replaced with generic, uninteresting coffee shops with no character – apart from the ‘art’ that is hung on the walls… produced by the marketing team and available to buy.

Instead of unique or unusual coffee blends we now have the Frappuccino®. Omitted are the diverse musical tastes of the clientele or staff played through the store, and instead we’re offered a branded CD that wouldn’t be unsuitable as an ‘easy-listening’ background piece at your next pseudo-intellectual (read: pretentious) dinner party.

It’s not all bad though – here in Cardiff there are only 4 (now 5) Starbucks in the entire city and maybe an extra 10 or so other coffee shops that are chain-owned. In the 5-mile radius around Cambridge Circus in London there are 165 Starbucks – click here and see how many are in your area? Can you beat that?

(Want my opinion and not just my observations though? I believe Starbucks sell fake corporate and ecological responsibility as a way to rid itself of its 1999 WTO image as the evil face of globalisation and I would walk twice the distance to get a cup of coffee somewhere else – even though it isn’t all that bad!)