It’s not good news for the staff at the Australian Starbucks outlets, and I feel terrible for the people who are out of a job, but the silver lining is this: it is heartening for coffee lovers across this country to know that we have not embraced whatever it is they serve there to our bosom. No, the US chain is mounting a major retreat from our shores, and I for one won’t be sorry to see them go. I remember when the first Starbucks opened (I think it was on the corner of Park and Elizabeth St in Sydney, but I can’t be sure), and at the time I thought “Oh dear. Here they come.” It’s such an iconic US brand, but one thing the Americans largely haven’t mastered (aside from tactical withdrawal from a series of very costly made-up wars) is a decent cup of coffee.
In the States they call it a cup of Joe, and perhaps that’s the problem right there. Joe? How about Mauricio or Fernando or Marcelo? Where is their coffee coming from, anyway, a back alley in Detroit? Jersey? ‘Joe’ doesn’t capture the exoticism of the world’s coffee growing regions AT ALL. Papua New Guinea. Guatemala. Colombia. Kenya. ‘Joe’ makes it sound like something that drips out of the bowser at the petrol station, which is kind of appropriate, come to think of it, because it tastes that way, too. ‘Joe.’ I don’t know about you, but all I can see is a loaf of white bread. Which is absolutely fine, it’s just not how I take my coffee.
Sydney has bred a population of inveterate coffee snobs. I think I’ve already shared my favourite story with you: a dust-coated workman stomped through a cafe underneath the magazine offices where I was doing a freelance stint a couple of years ago. He was covered in debris, wearing a hard hat and steel-tipped boots, and as I stood waiting for my own coffee, he boomed to the girl behind the counter, “Gimme three macchiatos, thanks, love.” I love that moment more than I can possibly explain.
So the closure of what I think is about 61 Starbucks outlets nationwide tells me that there is hope for us yet. If this brand that is everywhere on the small and big screen – shameless product placement, upon product placement, upon product placement – and is as American as Maccas, can’t make it here, maybe Australians are still capable of deciding for ourselves, and maybe we don’t just want to be an American mini-me after all. And I’ll drink to that.