Just Sayin’: Coffee brands exploit consumers’ craving to belong

By MADELENE BIRENBAUM

 
Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you about my love for coffee. Cold in the pot or hot to the burning touch, I love it. Even though I love the joe, there are some issues that I have with it as a consumer.
Coffee and I met as I watched the television show, “Gilmore Girls,” which centered on a mother and daughter duo who fueled their lives with coffee.
I never would have taken up the habit if it weren’t for how idyllic Lorelai and Rory Gilmore looked with their cardboard cups and wide-brimmed mugs.
Did you know most coffee is arabica, which is roasted for a shorter time to ensure long-lasting aromas?
This is why when we pass Starbucks at a mall, see the people coming out with their grandes and smell the aroma of coffee, we think we need a fix. An expensive fix. Arabica’s bold and dark other half is robusta, which doesn’t let off much of a scent but holds its flavor longer.
We drink it a few times, and it becomes a habit. Coffee is, after all, a stimulant, and stimulants are known to be addictive.
Similarly, we can become addicted to coffee’s culture and buy into the image attached to it.There is a whole line of coffee products that include collections of seasonal mugs and flavors, such as Dunkin’ Donuts’ blueberry muffin coffee, and various devices to make coffee at home. This is not the coffee culture of the past.Traditionally, coffeehouses were centers of art and literary movements. In the early 1900s, the impressionist Edgar Degas sat in coffeehouses for a whole day painting ballerinas or old women in straw hats. The minimalist author Ernest Hemingway, in the 1920s and ’30s, sipped espresso and wrote about bullfighting on coffee shop banquettes.It wasn’t until the late ‘80s that Starbucks marketed a sense of community along with your Pike Place brew and gradually transformed coffee into a brand culture.Today coffeehouses feature music acts, or they are places for the fashionable to see other fashionable people. Bearded baristas brew coffee and ubiquitous Zooey Deschanel hipsters hand  back change. Every day we are sold lifestyles by product marketing. We are surrounded by coffee shops, commercial or homegrown, and every day we buy into the their marketing.As a branded product, coffee is in high demand, along with all its accessories. We’ve turned the signature brand of Starbucks into a monopoly, which is taking up a limited supply of land in developing countries just for the luxury of Starbucks consumers.Coffee is a cash crop that has been exploited by our culture. It is bought for pennies a bundle, generally through free trade, and sold for $5 or more a cup.Something as reassuring as the ritual of getting coffee with friends is what turns profits. What has changed is that coffee has morphed into a culture. The value of that shared culture is now threatened as companies exploit it to get people to buy more.

 

What do you think? 

Email me at birenbam@mtmary.edu. I would love to hear what you have to say.

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