October 2007


Arriving at Düsseldorf airport earlier in the week, I was dismayed by the wall of smoke that hit me just beyond customs. The abundance of “no smoking” signs did nothing to keep the lingering clouds from neighbouring smoking areas at bay. A short course in chemistry might have clarified that clean air and smoky vapours are not, actually, immiscible! Little glass ashtrays at every café left me in no doubt – I had to find a Starbucks: surely their world-wide no-smoking policy would find no exception in Germany? Luckily, the tree-top venue of my first Starbucks experience in this marketplace turned out to be a good one. A Doppio to fend off the sleep and a lofty view over the airport comings and goings to set the mood for the rest of the day.

In Hamburg, a few hours later, I was dismayed to find not a single bar or café signed up to the August 2007 non-smoking policy (this wasn’t, after all, Baden-Württemberg or Niedersachsen). Don’t they know that smoke adulterates the coffee aroma, to say nothing of making my eyes water and my clothes stink? They didn’t think my comments funny, so – despite the jet-lag-fatigue grinding me down – I chose not to bother with their wares. Note to self: must carry more chocolate-covered espresso beans for emergencies.

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So I have this friend who finds himself the recipient of Starbucks mugs from all over the world, while openly admitting about the coffee that he “can’t stand the stuff”. You proudly display a single mermaid, and – as if by magic – she multiplies every time a friend or colleague goes on holiday to some far flung destination. (That’s almost as mocking as the little town of Starbuck in Minnesota, which boasts two eateries and one speciality coffee shop, but there’s not a mermaid in sight.)

Why yes, Thomas, they do make Vancouver mugs (marketing is marketing, after all), and no, Thomas, you will not be getting one from Nikolaus – it’ll be a Rute for you, my friend!

This isn’t a hailstorm, it’s tipping white Frappuccinos® from a dismal Vancouver sky. Time to retreat with my new book (courtesy of Thea, Herman & Chicago airport), “How Starbucks Saved My Life”, by ex advertising man ‘Mike’ G. Gill. 
Annoyingly, the book has only been out for two weeks, but already there are g-80000-oogle links to it and next year’s movie (to star Tom Hanks). Talk about clogging up the blogging. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the new insights the barista is revealing, even if they’re more than squeaky-clean so far.

Will it affect the current shift of 25% of coffee shares to the golden arches, I wonder? Bearing in mind that by far the biggest chunk of the green mermaid’s revenue comes from the espresso bar, not from the coffee-drip, and that McDonald’s, after successfully launching premium coffee, are now on the verge of introducing cappuccinos and lattes, I fear it will take more than a self-glorifying book to turn things around. Even if the world is clearly in the palm of their combined hands. Time to down one of those 400 billion cups that make the world go round every year …