Everything but the Coffee. How Starbucks succeeded. then belly-flopped.

UCLA Press blurb

Why did Starbucks take hold so quickly with consumers? What did it seem to provide over and above a decent cup of coffee? Why at the moment of Starbucks’ profit-generating peak did the company lose its way, leaving observers baffled about how it might regain its customers and its cultural significance? Everything but the Coffee probes the company’s psychological, emotional, political, and sociological power to discover how Starbucks’ explosive success and rapid deflation exemplify American culture at this historical moment. Most importantly, it shows that Starbucks speaks to a deeply felt American need for predictability and class standing, community and authenticity, revealing that Starbucks’ appeal lies not in the product it sells but in the easily consumed identity it offers.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak. That’s what they did. Because it sure wasn’t their coffee that made them big. Look, I roast my own coffee beans. The darker the roast, the more you are tasting the roast not the coffee. Starbuck’s is known for nearly burning their beans, presumably so folks would think they were getting a robust cuppa rather than tasting the burn. This worked for quite a while, until people started knowing more about coffee and also rebelled at paying $5 for a fat-laden drink with coffee in it.

More at the book’s blog, which explores way more than just Starbucks. I just added it to my feed reader.


  1. I gotta disagree. I love my dark roast coffee and as of yet I haven’t found a shop that makes one quite as good as my local Starbucks. And as far as a fat laden drink with coffee in it I could easily point out that you can get fat-free creamer, soy milk or a sugar free syrup in their frozen drinks. In fact, there large(Venti) Java Chip Frapucinno Light(24oz) only has 350 calories. And that drink is about as rich and decadent as it gets.

    There’s usually an alternative, people just choose not to get them.

    • When at Starbuck’s, I just get a tall drip (or a Black Eye). Sometimes add half and half and sugar, sometimes not. Way lo-cal that way.

      At home, I use maple syrup as sweetener, something I just saw at a coffee house in Vermont. It’s delicious.

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