Bryant Simon

 

On his book Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks

Cover Interview of January 18, 2010

In a nutshell

Obviously, this isn’t the first book about Starbucks.  But Everything but the Coffee is first to examine the company’s rise and fall and look ahead to its uncertain future in the wake of the onset of the Great Recession.  This book is also the first to see Starbucks not just as a good story or as an enviable business model, but as emblematic of broader and more disturbing cultural trends in the United States.  And it is also the first book to explore what Starbucks really offers its customers and how it frequently promises way more than it delivers—from building a third place to ethically sourcing its beans.

Using Starbucks as a focal point and based on five years of probing the company and its customers in more than 450 stores in 10 countries, Everything but the Coffee looks at the larger and more troubling reach of everyday buying—of the entire branded consumer landscape—in America.  What does this tell us about the United States at this critical moment?  And what does buying do to us?

Buying, of course, is never a one-way street.  What do our purchases take from us?  How do our lattes consume laborers (and their bodies), our sense of place, our environment, and even our politics?  Toward the end of the book, readers hear stories from shoppers striking, leaving, and avoiding the brands in favor other companies, often independents, that do a better job at fulfilling the things and desires Starbucks initially promised it would provide.  But is this really a revolt or just more buying?