Starbucked, By Taylor Clark

The perfect accompaniment to a double-shot skinny caramel-syrup latte

In 1998, reports Taylor Clark in this entertaining and intriguing book, two university researchers performed a chemical analysis of the waters of Boston harbour, in Massachusetts. The results were unexpected: the harbour contained caffeine. Bostonians, like Americans elsewhere, drink such huge amounts of coffee that caffeine had worked its way into the sewage, and thence into the ocean itself.

It's a useful symbol of the coffee frenzy that has swept from America to the wider world, and of the ubiquity of the brand that has driven it: Starbucks. The company that began life in Seattle in the early 1970s as a single shop has morphed into a global phenomenon. In 1989 there were 585 coffee houses in the US. Today, there are 24,000. Globally, Starbucks is a presence in 37 countries. It even has a branch in Guantanamo Bay.

What has made Starbucks such a success? One answer is the drive of its first chief executive, Howard Schultz, who likes to speak in syrupy terms about his company being a "mission" but whose corporate ruthlessness is well attested. Psychology is important, too. In an increasingly fractured world, says Clark, the idea of the coffee house is seductive – comfy armchairs, companionship, luxury products. You can buy into the concept of community even as the company you pay helps to destroy the real thing.

This paradox best exemplifies both the book, and Starbucks itself. Clark details the charges against the chain: its refusal to allow workers to unionise, the low wages its growers receive, its targeting of rivals. He tells entertaining stories about resistance: protesters pacified with free lattes; the $600,000 the company pays a year for Schultz's protection. But some of his conclusions are surprising.

But he also suggests that Starbucks has helped local coffee shops to survive by turning more people on to good coffee. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of independent coffee houses in the US increased by more than 40 per cent. Even so, Clark won't drink at Starbucks: he can't buy into their project of homogenising the planet. On the other hand, if he finds himself stuck at an airport... Like the world as a whole, Clark is not always sure what to think about Starbucks. His ambivalence translates into a wry balance, and makes for a surprisingly gripping read.

Paul Kingsnorth's 'Real England: The Battle Against the Bland' is published in April by Portobello

Sceptre, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living