When first introduce myself as a native Seattleite, there are 3 things that people most commonly associate with the city: Grey's Anatomy, Rain, and Coffee.
I get myself out of the Grey's Anatomy conversation real fast as I don't watch it.
I explain that it does rain and often, but it's the type of rain that doesn't immediately soak you.
The coffee conversation is one that I can enter into with pleasure.
Seattle is the hometown of Starbucks which is where we get our reputation about coffee from. Tourists are always flocking to the original location. Although in my opinion, go to the Roastery Room in the Capitol Hill neighborhood instead if you want a memorable Starbucks experience. It is true that it seems like there is a Starbucks on every corner. In a popular shopping center in Seattle, University Village there are three different Starbucks, and there used to be four.
Starbucks though is not the place to go to get coffee. This is true in Seattle and every other city. Starbucks is the place for middle schoolers to go after school for a Frappuccino when it is 45 degrees out, for a young high school student to get an early lesson in coffee, maybe for an informational interview or a coffee meeting, but if your intention is to get coffee and enjoy it and its caffeine, Starbucks is not where to go.
On the main street that goes through my neighborhood in Seattle, there are six places that I could go to get coffee, one of which is a Starbucks, the rest are small, neighborhood coffee shops. I would say locally owned, but when it comes to it, Starbucks is also locally owned. I digress. My point is that I choose to go to the five other coffee shops before choosing to go to Starbucks. I only go to Starbucks if I am meeting a particular friend later in the evening and it is the best place for us to chat.
When I want a cup of coffee, I want the strong, bold flavor of coffee that may be blended with some syrups if it is a mocha, but the integrity of the coffee is not lost. I also want to feel a bit perkier after my coffee, not just left with the feeling that I drank some weak, stale coffee that is watered down or consumed an entire day's worth of calories because of all the bells and whistles that were added.
I also go to a coffee shop for the ambiance and the setting. If I want to linger in the shop and get some work done or if I am going to get coffee with a friend, I want the setting to be somewhat familiar and comforting with space between each table and comfortable furniture. I don't want to feel like I am shouting over the hollering of baristas or the next loudest table and I don't want to be elbowed out by the group working next to me.
Starbucks is corporate, and it feels corporate. It does not feel like the place that I want to relax and take some time to myself if I can barely hear myself think.
Choosing what coffee shop to go to also can also depend on where the coffee beans come from and the attention that is put into coffee. At Starbucks, the recipes are formulaic in order to make sure your favorite drink is standardized across the globe. The coffee beans can come from a whole litany of places and while the company may claim the sources of their beans are sustainable and ethically sourced who really knows if that is fully true.
By going to a small coffee shop, each cup of coffee or espresso drink is going to taste different from the next. You might actually be able to pull out the flavors of the beans depending on how they are roasted. The beans can truly be ethically sourced and may be Fair Trade. The coffee at every stage, from bean to roast to brew keeps its integrity intact.
So, if you are a Starbucks addict, I encourage you to try somewhere off the beaten path for once. Find a coffee shop that is serving local coffee in a welcoming environment. You'll probably pay just as much as you would at Starbucks, but the experience and quality will be so much better.