Clark, who cut his journalistic teeth in Oregon writing for Portland’s hip Willamette Week, rehearses the history of the ubiquitous chain that’s made coffee-drinking equally hip.
The rise of the Starbucks Corporation is already the stuff of legend, and the book is most original in the second half, which investigates the controversies that attend every sip of the Seattle-based company’s java. Detractors variously claim that Starbucks hurts local communities by besting small businesses, that it exploits coffee-bean growers in the developing world, that it sells goods that are bad for our health, that it is viciously anti-union and that, like McDonald’s, it is integral to global American cultural imperialism. The chapter about the chain’s impact on individual communities is especially intriguing. Clark spotlights towns like Sharon, Mass., which begged the chain to open a franchise there. Many civic boosters see a Starbucks on Main Street as “a magic key to new prosperity,” a signal that your schools aren’t too bad and your arts scene is just about to take off. Evaluating the quality of Starbucks coffee, the author argues that as the chain has expanded, it has sacrificed its own high standards. Readers will come away wondering whether Starbucks intentionally peddles burnt-tasting coffee so that, since the plain stuff’s not that good, people are more likely to buy pricey, high-fat, sugar-heavy concoctions. Although Clark writes in the epilogue that he continues to fret about the ways in which the chain “diminishes the world’s diversity every time it builds a new café,” in most chapters he insists on showing both sides of every coin. He could profitably have played the brash op-ed provocateur a bit more.
An absorbing account bolstered by solid reporting.