A new offering portrays The Starbucks phenomenon of a few years ago as a reflection of America.

In Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks Bryant Simon, a Temple University scholar, suggests that Starbucks’ success and recent downturn explains Americans and our search for meaning, community, justice and relevance in the 21st century.

Simon gathered information for the book by visiting and revisiting over 400 Starbucks in ten countries — including visiting the same store at different times, sitting at the counter and table, and receiving feedback from a variety of customers.

Simon believes that at its peak, Starbucks excelled by giving Americans what they thought they wanted, which wasn’t coffee. The reinforcement came from predictability, class standing, a sense of community, more natural and authentic products, and a sense of themselves as caring and more benevolent individuals.

According to Simon, Starbucks’ success demonstrates how deeply commercialism defines who we are — that is, how much energy, emotion and time we invest in what we buy as a representation of who we are.

“As our sense of association and communalism have rolled back, buying has seeped in more and more aspects of daily life,” said Simon. “Starbucks used that retreat in public life to sell us what we want.”

Unfortunately all phenomena come to an end. For Starbucks the end to idolization came when competing firms entered the market. All of a sudden, Starbucks became just another coffee seller.

“Now that Cosi and Panera look like Starbucks, it just doesn’t seem special. Even the company’s promises of doing good seemed to get spread thinner—especially when Ethiopian officials accused Starbucks of coffee colonialism,” says Simon.

But Simon is hopeful: “If the fundamental premise of the book is right—that Starbucks sells us back our desires, then the desires we have are the basis of a more just, more sane and a fairer kind of world. The success of Starbucks is, in essence, a plea for an older form of state action and everyday neighborhood involvement.”

“What we have to stop doing is believing that we can achieve what we want through buying—that will take more sustained work and analysis,” he said.

Source: Temple University