Things seem to be going really well in the Central American region for Starbucks. According to a report by Luis Diego Quiros of Revista Summa, the Seattle-based coffee Goliath plans to open three more of its iconic coffeehouses in Central America by the end of 2013: One in Guatemala, one in El Salvador, and one in Costa Rica.
In fact, if things go better than expected, there may be a fourth Starbucks location in Costa Rica just in time for the holidays. According to Monica Bianchini, Operations Manager for Starbucks in our country,
“Our Costa Rican customers have shown great acceptance for consuming our excellent products in a pleasant environment. We have planned a third opening in October and we are contemplating a fourth at the end of the year.”
The third, and probably fourth, Starbucks retail locations in Costa Rica will arrive in the wake of the company’s acquisition of a farm near the Poas volcano for agricultural research purposes. The first two Starbucks stores were received with a mixture of contempt, scorn and disbelief at the fact that Costa Rica -a country known for her quality coffee that is often served in Starbucks- would yield to the machination of the world’s foremost coffee leviathan.
Coffee, Tea or Haterade?
Although there are very good reasons to dislike Starbucks, the knee-jerk reaction against their foray into Costa Rica has been largely overblown. The contempt seems to emanate from the fear that Starbucks presence will somehow manage to steal away the significant cultural and economic connections that Ticos have forged with quality coffee throughout history.
Others point to Starbucks’ invasion as one more nail in the coffin of Americanization that Costa Rica has been subject to for the last few decades. Those who venture into this kind of commentary are often the same who claim that the first McDonald’s restaurant opened outside of the United States is the one across from the Central Bank and next to the flower market in San Jose, which is incorrect -it’s not even the first in Latin America. The same kind of irrational opinion is applied to those who claim that the English language is gaining over Spanish in Costa Rica.
When the first Starbucks in Costa Rica opened in trendy Avenida Escazu in June of last year, there was a considerable amount of media coverage about the 30 or so people who lined up outside of the coffeehouse as early as 4:30 AM. They wanted to be among the first to purchase a cup of what is undeniably the most popular coffee in the world in a country that produces some of the best coffee in the world. But while those 30 or so people were enjoying their Caramel Crunch Double Grande Venti Au Lait Macchiato Strawberry-Chai Frappuccino, or whatever concoction is prepared therein, Ticos across social media circles seemed to be drinking copious amount of Haterade®.
For those of you who don’t know about Haterade, here’s the definition from Urban Dictionary:
“a figurative drink representing a modality of thought. those who consume it are themselves consumed by the negativity which with they speak.”
What transpired on the opening day of Starbucks in Costa Rica was elegantly summed up by Diego Delfino in an essay published by online Tico community 89 Decibeles. He defended those 30 people who lined up early outside of the cafe:
“I am actually surprised by that number. A line of 30 people is nothing. That’s just three more persons than those who got a job thanks to that establishment [Starbucks]
Do you want a relevant number? Published by El Financiero: between 2007 and 2011 Costa Rica increased its annual per capita coffee drinking from 4.45 kg to 5.54 kg. Looking good thus far, right?
Do you want a truly important statistic? Costa Rica is one of the three main providers of coffee beans to Starbucks, which has coffeehouses in 60 countries.”
To sum up Mr. Delfino’s essay: One Starbucks cafe or ten are not going to steal away the cultural identity of Ticos. In fact, Mr. Delfino cites another interesting statistic:
“I’ve heard that, in 2008, Starbucks opened in Argentina. Months later, the lines of people lining up from the register out to the sidewalk continued.”
This is in a country where yerba mate, a South American holly herb that is drank in a fashion similar to tea, is the national drink instead of coffee. What about those Starbucks locations in New York City where the line in front of the register is at least a dozen deep from the time the store opens until it closes? Those baristas must be kept on their toes by those caffeine-loving New Yorkers. So, the question is: Are those Argentinians or New Yorkers at risk of losing their cultural identity by being Starbucks customers?
What makes Starbucks superfluous in Costa Rica is the fact that, at just about any soda (cafeteria) in the country, you can get a fresh cup of excellent morning coffee plus a gallopinto for the price of one of the most elaborate drinks in the Starbucks menu. In the end, drinking at Starbucks or eating at McDonald’s is just a matter of personal preference and has nothing to do with national identity.