Reading the papers, for many mainstream consumers, you’d think that the current economic slowdown marked the return of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, you could argue that we’ve witnessed the necessary bursting of the real estate bubble, the correction of stupid money that pumped up the sub-prime loan debacle, rising food prices that might finally bring Americans’ spending on food (as a percentage of income) in line with what the rest of the world has been paying (encouraging a better Farm Bill and better farming and health practices), and the potential end to our nation’s unalienable right to ridiculously cheap and subsidized gas and energy…and all the environmental waste and fallout that has resulted from it.
In short, a number of unsustainable systems might actually now be replaced by the sustainable. But to read some media representations of these economic changes, you’d think waves of Americans are now living their own private Grapes of Wrath, wailing over the loss of their daily double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato: Coping with the growing cost of coffee – Los Angeles Times. Meanwhile, Starbucks, like any corporation with disappointing quarterly numbers, would be scapegoating unseasonable global warming if the economic climate wasn’t as convenient.
If anything, we see these economic winds of change as potentially positive for hardcore coffee lovers and those who serve them. For us, good coffee isn’t just a frivolous luxury item or status symbol — it’s a way of life. And high-quality products are typically recession-proof, whereas commodity products with an upscale veneer are frequently hammered and undermined by price wars.
Just read the L.A. Times article cited here: not one of the people interviewed who were cutting back on their coffee consumption came across as true coffee lovers. Rather, if they aren’t just psycho-chemical dependents (i.e., people who drink coffee for “utility” rather than “enjoyment”), they fit the profile of the masses caught up in the recent tidal wave of faux coffee drinks (i.e., people who really don’t like coffee, but who have been convinced with enough whipped cream, foamed milk, and vanilla syrup to believe that they do).
The coffee shops that have stood for quality, raised the bar, and sought to appeal to a smaller market of coffee devotees will largely come through these economic times relatively unscathed. We’re just not so sure about everyone who jumped on the coffee bandwagon after their frozen yogurt franchises failed in the 1990s — and the corporations who sold their coffee souls to virtually become frozen yogurt franchises.
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