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The Starbucks Experience

Last month, I spent almost two weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. As I was waiting in line at passport control, someone mentioned to me rather nonchalantly, that there was no Starbucks outlet in all of Cape Town. Needless to say, I was aghast and could not believe that a tourist hotspot like Cape Town would deprive happy holiday-ers the bliss of a roasted bean latte or any other concoction that only Starbucks can so beautifully blend.

Whether I was shopping for souvenirs in Green Market Square or taking in the majesty of Table Mountain, my eyes continued to scout for that elusive green sphere. Sadly I had to make do with roadside Lavazza’s and complementary coffee sachets near my bedside table that the hotel staff kept replacing at regular intervals.

The experience got me thinking. What is it that fuels my obsession with Starbucks? To be honest, the coffee really isn’t that different from the blends and flavours found in other café’s. The ambience is quite similar to a host of other coffee shops that dot our city’s streets and the selection of snacks is all the same – extremely tasty and full of calories. Maybe the brand is a little overrated and yet there’s something about Starbucks that has me hooked like no other.

You see, when I walk into a Starbucks, it’s a little like entering another country.  Some of the language used is “Italian-ish” – you know, all the coffee related terminology and all, but the rest is completely fabricated by the staff, and yet surprisingly is universally understood by all the regulars. Everyone smiles at each other, makes polite conversation and there’s a feeling of congeniality in the air. I don’t find that at other café’s.

The few outlets that I frequent have become so special to me. The workers there (who by the way are called barista’s) know me so well. They know my name, the kind of music I listen to, where I work, how I like my coffee, what I like to read and even know that I like my coffee to cool before I drink it. It amazes me the lengths they go to, just to ensure that the hours I spend there are comfortable and enjoyable.

Over time, I’ve become so charmed by the comfy seats, the dimly lit lampshades and the free Wifi. Somewhere along the way, I even became accustomed to drinking my coffee through a miniscule slit in a plastic lid rather than consuming the beverage like any normal adult would. I think I’ve come to love Starbucks, not for the coffee but for the experience. It’s the place I go to get away from everything after a busy day and sometimes I go there only because it’s the one place I can work in peace.

The brand has grown from humble origins to a name that is now synonymous with coffee and for 40 years it has been the most openly loved or hated coffee brand in the world.

My emotional link with Starbucks is a bit hard to explain. I get a deep sense of internal satisfaction whenever I walk into a Starbucks. The smell of brewing coffee holds a promise of good conversation and relaxation with friends and relatives or alternately some time to just be by myself and with my thoughts. Interestingly, I never actually drank coffee myself until I came to live in Dubai four years ago. Today however, entering Starbucks gives me an instant rush of that same feeling: an impression that comfortable good times and good conversation are about to happen. That, at least to me and apparently to a lot of other folks all around the world, is the “Starbucks Experience.”

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