Will Davaoeños Love Starbucks?

And so it happened.  Starbucks has come to Davao City courtesy of the newly opened Abreeza Mall.  A friend of mine, a dermatologist, told me how shocked her well-traveled 13-year old daughter was when they first visited Abreeza.  “Mom, why are people lining up to go to Starbucks? It’s just a store that sells coffee,” my friend’s daughter asked.  To which she replied: “Anak, it’s also like that when Dunkin’ Donuts first opened in Davao. Because it’s new.”  (By the way, many Davaoeños also swear by Dunkin Donuts coffee.)

For those of us who were there when Dunkin Donuts first came to Davao in Ilustre Street (now Duterte Street), we all remember the long lines of curious and excited people that lasted for several weeks.  And then we also remember when people stopped going there and went back to their favorite neighborhood bakery for good old-fashioned “pilipit” and hot, greasy donuts rolled in regular white sugar and instant coffee.

And it’s almost the same story with every new “import” that comes to Davao City. We get curious, we line up for a few weeks, we experience it (and some of us even have our pictures taken in it or in front of it), and then we go back to old local favorites like Merco, Cecil’s, Harana and Dencia’s.

But, as they say, Starbucks is Starbucks (whatever that means).

Starbucks first came to Davao in 2011

Starbucks first came to Davao in 2011

Starbucks has revolutionized the way the world consumes coffee. For one, it made coffee more expensive than it actually costs.  Two, it offered thousands of coffee choices.  According to David Houle’s Evolution Shift blog on Starbucks and the new coffee culture, his researcher found out that there are 189,520 permutations of Starbucks coffee and drinks if you factor in different types of milk, sizes, flavors, kinds of drinks and specials.  Three, it has created a new lifestyle for people.  Starbucks just doesn’t sell coffee (in fact, I don’t think anyone actually goes there for just regular coffee); it sells an experience (and mugs and t-shirts and CDs…).

Coffee culture is usually defined as a lifestyle characterized by drinking coffee as a social activity.  The formation of culture around drinking coffee in coffee houses dates back to 14th century in Turkey with Kiva Han as the first ever coffee shop. Then it spread all throughout Europe and later to the United States. With the Western colonization of Asia, the Western coffee culture also spread here.

Coffee houses in Europe were traditionally artistic and intellectual centers. They became popular meeting places for artists, writers, philosophers, socialites, and businessmen.  The London Stock Exchange was born in a coffee house as well as the famous auction houses, Sotheby and Christie’s.  The French Revolution was said to have been fomented in Parisian coffee houses.  In Mecca, coffee houses were places for political gatherings and dissent.  In the Netherlands, coffee shops do not really sell coffee but cannabis. In the United States, coffee shops were the birthplace of the 1960s youth culture and the Beats. American coffee shops used to be associated with counterculture and they were mostly found near colleges and universities.  Until Starbucks came and changed all that by standardizing and mainstreaming the coffee house experience.  Now coffee culture, as promoted by Starbucks, is drinking coffee-based blended drinks in a coffee shop having WiFi access and piped-in music.

Lining up with my friend Manny for overpriced coffee that spikes my sugar levels

Lining up with my friend Manny for overpriced coffee that spikes my sugar levels

Today, as Starbucks becomes a global brand, the coffee house culture has become more for show and a status symbol than a social hub where revolutions are hatched.

And that is why I think Davaoeños will later tire of Starbucks and will eventually go back to our old local favorites owned and managed by people we know and grew up with.

For one, nothing irks Davaoeños more than pretentiousness.  It is generally considered an embarrassment in Davao to be perceived as a social climber and to pretend to be something you are not (like, say, pretending to like blended coffee drinks you can hardly pronounce).

Two, Davaoeños do not like anything overpriced even if we can very well afford it. It is ridiculous to pay for imported coffee when we have access to some of the world’s best coffees right here in Mindanao and we can help our local coffee farmers in the process. It’s the principle, not the money.

Three, Davaoeños are not easily impressed by packaging and hype.  We know what quality is and we are not hung up on labels and brands.  Why do you think Davao is always such an “opposition country”?  We are critical thinkers who are not easily swayed by propaganda.  In fact, we automatically distrust popular opinion, especially those fed and perpetuated by the Establishment and global corporate giants.  That is why when the rest of the country is still debating on the reproductive health bill, we already had ours in place since 1997 with the landmark ordinance, the Women Development Code of Davao City.

I always order the Mocha Frappuccino, a name which Starbucks has the trademark

I always order the Mocha Frappuccino, a name of which Starbucks has the trademark 

Of course, some of us would still go to Starbucks from time to time to try whatever blended drinks they tell us are hip and cool (I actually like their Mocha Frappuccino, a name which they trademarked, that I know is bad for my health).  But when we do, it is not because we actually buy into their corporate press release of “inspiring and nurturing the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Because Davaoeños who actually drink and love coffee do not go to Starbucks for good coffee (they say it is, in fact, really bad) and those who go to coffee shops prefer hanging out in less pretentious and less generic surroundings.  We Davaoeños love our uniqueness and independence.  We celebrate our independent spirit and we pride ourselves in being different from the rest of the world. Being seen lounging in Starbucks through its glass walls would make us look like an equivalent of a “fashion victim” and we don’t like being victims of anything.

So will Davaoeños love Starbucks?  Perhaps, love, like our native coffee, is just too strong a word.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, June 16, 2011