I already see some of you rolling your eyes at the fact that I went to Starbucks a total of four times over the seven and a half weeks we spent in Europe. It’s not lost on me that I won’t have a chance to have European coffee again for a long time, and that each country has a unique coffee and cafe culture to explore. I could write aeons more about my experience of that, but here I will detail insight one can find from going to a place you can theoretically go anywhere.
Because so many standards at Starbucks are universal, seeing where they’ve changed in different places (changes I can pinpoint with my experience working there) indicates what a culture prioritizes and regulates. This may be a regulation on the part of authorities in Starbucks but I suspect some of these changes are actually mandated by law.
For example in France, unlike anywhere else I’ve been (Southeast Asia and China included), they actually change the ways Starbucks partners indicate drink qualities on the cup to reflect the French language… sometimes. It seemed to depend on the age (how long the drink has been around) and nature (how easily it could be translated) of the drink.
In Austria they standardized the Starbucks invention (as far as I can tell) the ristretto bianco (coffee geeks: think flat white) to a short (one size below a tall/small) version. This, to me, reflected the particular style of Viennese coffee drinking that would see a twenty ounce, quadruple shot version of this delicate drink as somewhat of an abomination (and I don’t blame them).
These things fascinate me! Sure, that’s because I’m a big fan of systems and codes, and enjoy judging the every move of my barista. It’s also because those codes and the way they are modified show you tiny glimpses of what people in a place expect and enjoy out of their standard cafe experience. This allows me to use these small cultural understandings as groundwork for the things that actually matter in the workings of a different culture… and, yes, to have something covered in caramel drizzle every once in a while…