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Coffee again

February 21st, 2003

In my last post about my American likes and dislikes, I mentioned the resurgence of the coffee wars. Walt Pohl has sprung to the defence of American beer, hamburgers and coffee, saying “The U.S. makes a fine beer, just not Budweiser, Coors, Miller, or any other brand you’ve ever heard of. ” Among the alternatives he mentions, I’m pleased to say I have sampled Anchor Steam, which is pretty good. Similarly, with hamburgers, the place to go is not McDonalds or Wendy’s, but a bar and grill.

On coffee, though, Walt is forced to narrow his defence to his hometown of Seattle, and its ‘thousands of fine coffeeshops’, as opposed to its export product, Starbucks, the only sample of Seattle-style coffee known to the great majority of the coffee-drinking world.

At this point I’ve been meaning to mention an advertising letter I got, suggesting I might want to attend a commercial telecoms conference in London. Normally this kind of stuff goes straight in the circular file, but this one was headed “Wake up and smell the coffee”, and there were enough other references to give you the impression that either the conference or the marketing material I got was specifically aimed at caffeine-addicted telecommunications economists. So, is this a niche large enough for its own conference or has the promise of individually targeted marketing material finally been realised – perhaps other people got a letter with references to real ale instead of coffee.

Update There’s already a lively discussion in the comments thread. At the risk of not delivering, I’ll foreshadow a post in which I plan an explanation of the success of the US in exporting chains like Starbucks and McDonalds based on economic rather than cultural factors. Those interested can try and anticipate my line.

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