Our Beloved Counterrevolutionary Sweetener: The Case for Starbucks

starbucks Our Beloved Counterrevolutionary Sweetener: The Case for StarbucksI’m just going to come out and admit it: I usually go to Starbucks every day. In the wintertime, I enjoy a venti drip with soymilk and a shot of classic sweetener ($2.28), and my favorite barista, Shannon (though I frequent a few different locations) knows to get it ready when she sees me coming.

The current conventional wisdom is that Starbucks is homogenized, corporate and uninviting; people love to yap about their favorite boutique coffee place. But does that place offer healthcare for its employees? “I pay like $16 a week, and I only have to work 20 hours a week for full, awesome medical benefits,” Shannon said.

It’s clear that there is no shortage of demand for the Starbucks product. It’s also clear that each location, depending on the neighborhood in which it resides, actually takes on a community feel, where bulletin boards promote local activities, apartments for rent and occasionally an ad seeking musicians. The Prince and Crosby location is known for “having ears’” in the bloggy tech world of nearby Silicon Alley; a location just north of Times Square is full of lost, wide-eyed tourists and souvenirs for sale; and my friend Adam informs me, “the one at Sheridan Square always has trannies working there.” We’ve taken the identical counters, tables, chairs, and cheesy décor and made them our own.

“Starbucks,” said Adam, “ is the great equalizer.”

“It’s like going to McDonald’s almost, you know?” Shannon said.

Recently I found myself in Park Slope without an internalized map of every Starbucks location within walking distance, and opted to grab my “cup of joe” at the local favorite Tea Lounge, which is packed with comfy couches and velvety curtains. I patiently waited in line to order my beverage: a large coffee. A shaggy-haired, effeminate barista took my order without saying a word. “Do you want sugar in that?” he asked a minute or two later. Sure I did. He placed my cup on the counter, poured milk in it, and handed it over. After I informed him that I required soy, not cow’s milk, he rolled his eyes at me, angrily poured the coffee out and started from scratch, reusing the same cup. My coffee tasted like cream, and I wished I had walked a few extra blocks to visit the neighborhood Starbucks barista.