For a number of years, I had a routine: on Fridays after school, I would walk to the Starbucks near my house and get coffee. Now, only several years later, I try to avoid going to Starbucks whenever possible, mainly because I discovered local independent coffee shops.
Starbucks used to make sense as an option for coffee. After all, going to Starbucks is convenient. Starbucks’s drinks were also always significantly more affordable than coffee at independent shops, making it an attractive choice.
The key word here is “were.” Starbucks has gone through a number of price hikes recently this year due to inflation, supply-chain challenges and increasing labor costs. It has announced it is planning to hike prices again in 2022.
I know most people have heard to “buy local” by now for a number of reasons; buying local helps fuel the local economy, supports the community and is often more sustainable. And, of course, these are all still true. However, an important shift has occurred with Starbucks’s price hikes: Now, the reasons that made Starbucks more attractive as an option no longer exist.
Starbucks is undeniably convenient. In a 10-minute drive, you will likely pass three Starbucks shops in an ordinary suburban area. However, the number of independent coffee shops has steadily grown (if you ignore an unfortunate dip in 2020 due to the pandemic). In the U.S., there were about 37,000 coffee shops as of 2020 — about 15,000 of those belonged to Starbucks.
While Starbucks still holds a huge portion of the market, these numbers leave a large amount of room for independent coffee shops to squeeze into the business, especially in Southern California. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least five independent coffee shops within a 15-minute radius from California Baptist University’s campus alone — independent coffee has officially become convenient.
Of course, it has always been difficult for independent coffee shops to compete with big-corporation prices. However, with the Starbucks price hikes, the gap is closing.
I pay $4.89 for a 12-ounce vanilla latte at Twee Coffee, an independent shop a four-minute drive from campus. The same drink at Starbucks is $4.55 — for now.
A handcrafted drink at Starbucks is nearly as expensive as one at an independent shop, and we as a society have long recognized that the nuances of the coffee at independent shops make it far superior to Starbucks in taste. If the drinks are almost the same price, why wouldn’t I opt for a superior taste?
Local independent coffee shops have always had quite a bit to offer; they create connections among community members, offer their own unique vibes that customers can appreciate and encourage us to support local businesses.
Now, there is no clear reason not to buy independent. In fact, we all should. Visiting different coffee locations forces us to diversify our tastes, meet new people and explore the unfamiliar rather than falling back on what we know.
To be fair, Starbucks deserves credit for playing a major role in creating the coffee culture many of us have grown to love and embrace. Now, though, coffee culture needs to shift. Starbucks helped fuel coffee culture, but now we have local coffee shops to sustain it.
Now that affordability does not have to force us through the doors of Starbucks, let’s all branch out. Try a new coffee shop this weekend. Next time you go on a road trip, search for an independent coffee shop and take a little detour rather than spotting the familiar green-and-white logo on the side of the road and pulling through that Starbucks drive-thru. You might discover something great.