I want to make one thing clear right from the git-go: It's not really about the coffee.
For starters, I only developed the coffee habit quite recently -- well into my second half-century -- so I'm not going to try to come off as El Exigente. Quite honestly? Take away the logo on the cup, and I doubt I could tell a Starbucks from a Mickey D's from a Dunkin' Donuts. About the only thing I know for sure is that I enjoy the coffee I go out and pay for more than the cup I make at home -- with no disrepect to my Keurig, which I think is a totally adorable little machine.
So what is it, then, about Starbucks?
Let's start with the physical establishment. The lush brown leather. The homey, old-fashioned lamps. The ample writing surfaces and stations for your laptop. Bookshelves filled with real books. Generous room to wander between tables. Solitary nooks. Conversation corners. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a working fireplace in a Starbucks, but it would fit right in. As would a dignified older gentleman sipping a cognac. Words I associate with the interiors: Comfy. Literary. Quiet. Warm. Cozy. Special. Words I don't associate with the setting: Brassy. Pushy. Cheap. Aggressive. Hyper. Humdrum.
Likewise, the baristas at Starbucks -- for Starbucks doesn't employ cashiers; they employ baristas -- are expected to be smiling and pleasant and engaging. And they are. Even with 15 people behind you on line, they'll ask if you'd like "room for milk?" All this pleasantness can mean a long wait, but you're not supposed to be in a big hurry in Starbucks. Remember? Comfy. Warm. Cozy.
The clientele, by and large, look like people who stimulate their brains. They're sitting in the plush brown leather chairs, reading their New York Times. (This looks like a tempting thing to do, but there's always a beagle waiting for me in my car, and I don't want to get arrested.) Or coming up with something creative on their laptops. Or engaging in lively, intellectual conversation. And let's not forget the attractive women in yoga tights.
Which brings me to the logo. The green-and-white mermaid/earth mother/hippie-flower-child. I think she's hot. Well, maybe not so much hot as intriguing. As if she knows something you don't -- something you'd probably like to find out. She also looks like a nice person, a good listener. Smart. Maybe went to college on a swimming scholarship. Whatever. She makes me smile.
I told this to my son Greg, who works in marketing at Pepsi. I said that not only does the Starbucks mermaid (corporate copy generally refers to her as the "siren") make me feel happy -- but even just the sight of the green block Starbucks letters alone, without the mermaid, has the same effect. He said that Starbucks branding and marketing couldn't ask for a better testimonial than that.
But there's something bigger than the inviting interiors and the smiling baristas and the "intelligentsia" clientele and the alluring logo at work here. Most of you readers of this column and followers of my "Beagle Man" blog know that every September, Ricky the Beagle and I embark on a coast-to-coast road trip. There are wide swaths of this land where we can drive through four or five consecutive counties without laying eyes on another human being. We're talking over a thousand miles of plains states -- Missouri, Kansas -- with truck stops as our only respite.
And then we'll reach the foothills of the Rockies. Maybe a suburb of Denver. And finally -- like the stranded desert traveler searching desperately for an oasis -- we spot it. The siren logo. The green block letters.
So there you have it. To me, Starbucks equals civilization.
Yes, yes, I know: Most of you came to this realization 30, maybe even 40 years ago. Yes, the whole Howard Schultz / Starbucks success story is Exhibit A in marketing textbooks all over the world. But remember ... I'm just kind of waking up to this whole morning coffee ritual. So don't hold it against me if I'm still smelling the beans.
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, can be followed on his blog "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website -- http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/. He can be followed on Twitter @BeagleManHank and reached by email at DoubleH50@gmail.com.