The Starbucks Principle

by Nick Garcia

Haven’t you noticed how Starbucks has taken the place of Megamall, Enchanted Kingdom and Jollibee? Today, Starbucks spells gimmick. Suddenly everyone is mad about coffee, and is willing to spend a whopping hundred bucks for “one tall mocha frappe please!” or “I’ll have one grande iced coffee please!” Everyone claims it’s different, it’s something else and it’s to die for. Instead of catching a nice flick at the cinema, the Filipinos’ new idea of fun is to voluntarily park their buns at the café and gulp all the caffeine they can.

No one knows exactly why Starbucks has become the hot spot, when what they serve is just foamed Blend 45 for crying out loud. Oh, try pointing this out to Starbucks fanatics (ex. the likes of teeny-boppers and kikay girls), and you can expect getting attacked on how little you know about coffee. Get ready with answers like “Duh! Starbucks isn’t just coffee! They’re ground beans and processed chocolate and skimmed milk! What do you know about that?”
They have a point there, though, because even in the United States, when you talk coffee, Starbucks comes first. Their ingredients never questionable, and if I’m not mistaken, Starbucks is an establish-since-year brand. In short, Starbucks is the coffee authority. But it ends there. Starbucks is coffee, period, certainly not a gimmick place of some sort, not convincing enough as an alternative for the mall. This, I repeat, is the case in the United States.

But Starbucks invades Manila and here it becomes an obsession. As you may have already seen, the interior of Starbucks cafés are all designed to create a distinct ambience. Notice the Italian-tiled flooring, to the cowboy-motif wall covering, to the fancy lamps, tables and chairs crafted like those only seen in home magazines. Of course, who would miss the complicated bar counter, behind which all the grinders and blenders are displayed as if to remind you they really do process your cappuccino.

I mean, who can resist frequenting a posh place like this? Instead of worrying about other important things, the typical kikay teenager puts on her best dress and with her kikay friends goes straight to Starbucks where she orders “one tall caramel frappe please!” This takes time to prepare, which is fine. She feels rewarded by the fact that the ethical barista would shout her name across the room by the time her frappe is ready. After she claims it, she heads for the self-service counter where she takes excessive packets of extra sugar, extra cream and an inch thick of Starbucks tissue paper for souvenir. Then she sits by the front window, hoping someone she knows would pass by and see her drinking expensive coffee. She takes remarkably small sips in order to prolong her stay, like a real smart-***.

During the entire process, there is the obligatory flaunting of Nokia cell phones, the occasional eruptions of “yeah” and “sure” here and there. You get the impression everyone in the room is from the conyo sector. Pathetic as it is, the Starbucks atmosphere is so contagious that it simply brings out the social climber in one.

You have to admit that the Philippine franchiser of Starbucks-whoever-he is-deserves credit. He’s certainly not stupid. He sees through us Filipinos, and definitely knows how to flatter us. Mr. Starbucks is aware of the average Pinoy desire to be associated and considered among the elite because well, in reality, the average Pinoy is far from being that. The average Pinoy home is less attractive than a place like Starbucks. The average Pinoy meal is without garnishes. The average Pinoy environment is less comforting and convenient than the service of Starbucks.

But when in Starbucks, the average Pinoy is instantly made to feel he’s in New York, or Las Vegas, or Paris, or anywhere else but Manila – one probable reson why we Filipinos buy this flick. We are total suckers for anything that is western in concept. But Starbucks has gone beyond colonial mentality; it has become pure escapism. It helps us forget about the EDSA traffic jam, the hostages in Mindanao, and the decreasing popularity of Erap. In this age of harsh realities of poverty and chaos, anything that offers oblivion and temporary indulgence sells fast. No matter how costly it is.

With their little creativity in repackaging, Starbucks is no longer just coffee. It’s already a religion. That we Filipinos practically worship that green logo with the exotic lady shows where we derive our strength to move on. It is from the promise of Starbucks every pay day.

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