Starbucks

Gloabalisation gets a bad press these days. Starbucks too. The joke goes that they’ll put one anywhere they can buy land…even in a car park. Even in a Starbucks car park. But I like Starbucks. In fact, even though more fashionable coffee shop chains are now about and doing business in Mexico City, the Italian Coffee Company for example, I still prefer Starbucks. They changed the way I drink my coffee when I’m out, and for the better.

When I go into a Starbucks, I know exactly what I’m going to get. A Cafe Latte that will taste the same as the last time I drank one. And taste good too. A nice brownie or cake. And most importantly of all, a comfy armchair to sit in, with a table that is just the right height in front of me. Free Wi Fi. A copy of the days paper. The decor is dark, but warm and cosy. It’s also reasonably muted. You can recognize it instantly, but it doesn’t have the lights and glare of a McDonalds that overpowers the neighbourhood. It just fits in. They have music too, but it’s soft and pleasant. Loud enough to give a little atmosphere, quiet enough for conversation without raising your voice.

And whilst it’s true that when you’re in a Starbucks you could be anywhere in the world, I like that. Maybe I want to pretend I’m in the Strabucks round the corner from the British Museum in London today. Or in Milwaukee. Or New York. Today I had a Big Apple Pie (oooh, another bonus – English words!) with my latte, in a Starbucks on Reforma. I drank my coffee in comfort, and watched the world go by. Why so many people hate Starbucks is beyond me.

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  • “Why is the legislation so weak, and what makes the company so desperate to avoid permanent contracts in Mexico, when it offers them in other countries?”

    Ironically, it is because permanent contracts make it near impossible to fire workers. In general, non-wage labor costs are very high in Mexico. You’ve got to pay (as an employer) lots of stuff such as IMSS, paid holidays, aguinaldo, retirement fund, etc. it just adds up to a high percentage of the take-home pay of the employee.

    Subemployment in Mexico is so common partly because of the lack of economic growth but also due to the silly labor regulations. However, any attempt to change it will be met by fierce resistance from those who benefit from the current regime (who constitute a minority, and a privileged one).

    OK this is off topic. With regards to Starbucks, I don’t care for them because I don’t drink coffee. Living as a student in the UK and then the US I developed the habit of drinking English Breakfast, Oolong, Earl Grey and Green Tea. It’s inexpensive and healthier. However, as an economist I disagree with those who criticize Starbucks for daring to compete with established Mexican coffeeshops.
    First of all, the clientele is different, there isn’t much overlap. El Jarocho charges 10 pesos or so for a cup of coffee, Starbucks 35 I think. Moreover, Starbucks employs many people. Leave Starbucks alone.

    • The comments about the labour regs are pretty much what I had gathered during my conversations with employers and employees here. And I’ll still be visiting Starbucks when I have time to kill. Had a latte with a Rollo de Canela this morning in fact!

  • OK, here’s another aspect of the Starbucks thing. We recently had breakfast at Cafe La Habana in Mexico City (Morelos 62, x Bucareli, Juarez). And while it is storied, a famous newspaperman’s hangout, founded in 1954, and even roasts its own coffee, the coffee was very disappointing.

    And I wanted so badly to like their coffee. I was thrilled that it was local, roasted on premises, and not a chain. But my cappuccino barely had any coffee in it, and when I ordered a shot of espresso to add to it, they brought some flavorless black fluid. Ugh…

    As for Jekemir, it’s in the Centro Historico, Isabel la Católica 74. Try it; you’ll love it.

  • Why do we hate them? Let me count the ways. Here’s two:

    Mexican coffee farmers — in common with Central American, Colombian, Brazilian growers — have been pushed to bankruptcy though Starbuck’s multi-year contracts, a business tactic that Bishop Felipe Arizmendi, the Archbishop of Chiapas, condemned as “satanic” in his inaugural sermon in San Cristobal de las Casas Cathedral back in 2005. And His Grace is a conservative, brought in to stem the “liberation theologians” in Chiapas.

    They are way overpriced.

    Starbucks has a record of “union busting” in the United States, and of bending the rules to avoid calling their workers “employees” in Mexico.

    On a personal note, I’m familiar with their predatory business practices, having once worked for Sugar Creek Coffee Roasting Company of Kansas City, Missouri — distributor of “Richards’ Blend” — forced out of business several years ago by unfair trade practices by the Seattle company.

    • To richmx2:

      What exactly is so satanic about a multi-year contract? It allows farmers to know their revenues well in advance, and allows them to plan accordingly. Many Americans are very happy to have those multi-year contracts called “mortgages.”

      And what farmers has Starbucks pushed out of business? They have been a leader in the fair trade movement to get more of the final value into the hands of coffee farmers and away from middlemen. Coffee farming isn’t really a very good business, and this was true well before Starbucks gained any particular size.

      Starbucks doesn’t bust unions. It doesn’t need to since it treats its employees very well, by design. And it does this because it believes in it, not out of some ulterior motive to avoid unions. They have always striven to provide health insurance to their employees, unlike many other small-box food operators.

      And what exactly are the “predatory” business practices that you are so familiar with? I’d love to know, as would likely other readers of this blog.

      Regards,

      Kim G
      Mexico City, DF (For now)

      • I must confess that while I was under the impression that Starbucks were pretty involved in Fair Trade, I stayed away from their business practises in my post because I’m simply not informed enough about exactly how they operate. I really focused purely on the dislike people have for the outlets in general.

        But a couple of points, aside from the ones mentioned by Kim….

        How were Sugar Creek forced out of business? Were they competing with Starbucks in the high street?

        Also, regards their Mexican employees. I give classes at a pharma in DF. Every six months they ‘fire’ everyone. I say fire – they simply don’t renew the contracts, thereby eliminating the need to employ them permanently. The employees sit at home for a day, and then return as new temporary employees the day after. This company, however, is renowned as one of the best companies to work for in the country.

        I don’t know all the ins and outs, and the practice seems not only a little crazy, but also unfair. However, it does make me think there are two sides to the story. Why is the legislation so weak, and what makes the company so desperate to avoid permanent contracts in Mexico, when it offers them in other countries?

        Can a company be satanic and saintly to its employees at the same time? Well, this is Mexico, so probably…

  • I don’t mean to run counter to everybody, but I’m not a fan of Starbucks. I don’t hate them, I just can’t stand their “coffee.” I like a dark roast, but their’s always tastes burned to me.

  • Most of the hate towards Starbucks in Mexico comes from the great tradition of coffee shops we have here.

    In places like coyoacan and Del valle, you can find at least 1 coffee shop every corner, that have been operating for generations, usually owned by a kind old man that will take his time to talk you about interesting things that happen on the neighborhoud. The coffee is good, and cheap.

    Then this huge company starbucks comes and tries to sell 40 pesos cups of coffee with no kind old man chatter included? Not nice.

  • I agree with you! In NYC you can definitely get a better cup of coffee than starbucks, but I often find myself going there, simply because, as you said, I know my drink will always taste the same. Not to mention the convenience factor, when in a pinch, I always know, if not this corner, there will be a starbucks on the next! I also like the fact that it’s so recognizable… anytime I travel anywhere away from home, I find comfort in stepping into a starbucks, and ordering my chai latte. No matter where in the world, starbucks is always the same!

  • I don’t get the anti-Starbucks thing either. Personally, I think Italian Coffee Company isn’t nearly as good as Starbucks. And Starbucks goes out of its way to treat its employees well, run its business in a sustainable way, promote recycling, treat its suppliers well, and is highly focused on quality and customer service. Where exactly is the evil in this equation?

    My only beef? They don’t really get the concept of “half full” all that well, though I’d note that the Mexican branches do better in this regard than their American siblings. I usually order a grande Americano half full, and it’s amazing how many times I get it nearly full.

    However, the topic of coffee erupted on Felipe’s blog a while back, and one commenter directed me to Cafe Jekemir in El Centro Historico, and if you haven’t tried it you should. The owners are of Lebanese descent, I believe, and make a mean Turkish coffee. They also make a wide variety of other coffees, including espresso drinks, and sell a wide variety of whole beans they roast themselves.

    Though I usually stay near Reforma 222 when in DF, if Jekemir were nearer I’d abandon Starbucks in a minute.

    But, alas, Cafe Jekemir is one-of-a-kind, and out-of-the-way.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we are with Mom for the Holidays.

  • There are people who criticize about everything that´s successful in the capitalist world. They should all be sentenced to ten years in Cuba.

    The relatively new Starbucks in San Miguel de Allende is right on the plaza. It has a very tasteful and unobtrusive sign outside, the only indication of what it is. They took an old building, did a beautiful interior renovation and opened a business that is full of happy customers, mostly Mexican. I imagine the Gringos are at home glowering into their cups of Nescafé and feeling righteous for not being a Starbucks customer.

    My only gripe about Starbucks is that one, likely both, in Morelia charges extra to put whipped cream atop a frappuccino, which strikes me as remarkably greedy and even stupid. Wish they had not done that because now I´m boycotting the place. I´m sure they are reeling.

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