Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You've Got Starbucks!

A cafe mocha during my lunch at Le Pain Quotidien in Brussels.

Recently, while channel surfing, I caught a few minutes of the movie "You've Got Mail", the 1998 American romantic comedy film directed by Nora Ephron that stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It's based on the play "Parfumerie" by Miklós László and tells the story of two e-mailing lovers completely unaware that their sweetheart is, indeed, a person with whom they share a degree of animosity.  The adaptation of "You've Got Mail" traces its lineage back to the 1940 film "The Shop Around the Corner" by Ernst Lubitsch.  There's even a bit of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" found in the relationship between the characters portrayed by Hanks and Ryan.

While watching "You've Got Mail", I couldn't help but delight in the scene that illustrated America's growing infatuation for Starbucks coffee in the late 1990s, as voiced over by Hanks' character, Joe Fox, whose family owned a chain of mega-bookstores similar to Barnes & Noble:

The original Starbucks, located
at Pike Place Market in Seattle,
as seen in my 2009 photo.
"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee.  Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.  So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

Perhaps, like Fox Books in the movie, Starbucks has tried hard ~ maybe too hard ~ to promote a sense of self. What they seemingly have created is a pseudo sense of friendliness and hip atmosphere in their stores and cafés, both in America and globally, in countries which they have penetrated the coffee marketplace. Sometimes, it's truly embraced, like I saw last month in Amsterdam on the bustling Leidsestraat near our hotel. There, the number of customers hanging out inside this colorful and particularly busy café, enjoying their cappuccinos in mugs while checking e-mail on their iPhones, far outnumbered those like me, who got their mocha in a to-go cup. To each his own, but I was in a walking mood, with things to see and places to go ~ and, it was lovely spring morning.

Enjoying a cappuccino with my
Saturday morning breakfast at 
Bagels & Beans in Amsterdam.
Thank goodness, during my recent travels in Europe, I discovered a world of coffee beyond Starbucks.  I saw this world in both Brussels and Paris ~ even in Amsterdam, too ~ and, over the course of 12 days, I tasted some very wonderful cappuccinos and mochas as they were meant to be enjoyed: in true café settings, and crafted by baristas, who took their time and turned coffee-making into an art form.  And, it was a delight to observe people unhurried, taking their time sipping and savoring their coffee. It added up to a most delicious and enjoyable experience.

All photographs by Michael Dickens. Copyright 2009, 2012. All rights reserved.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I really enjoy reading this "story", my dear friend.