Venti Caramel Latte, Extra Shot of Globalization

Nicole Drake
The Machiavellian Eye
5 min readApr 1, 2016

You stroll into a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon. As soon as you step inside, the combination of the mellow indie song playing over the speakers and the earthy green color of the walls immediately causes you to relax. All thoughts of outside stress fade away into visions of lattes and frappuccinos, and you walk up to the counter with your coffee beverage of choice in mind (you know, the one that has been floating in and out of your daydreams all morning, saucily shaking its whip-cream-adorned top at you and whispering high-calorie sweet nothings in your ear). You order the cheeky drink from the barista, who sports a smile and the trademarked green apron, and resignedly overpay for your venti-sized indulgence. You then meander down to the next counter to await your precious cup of caffeinated joy. While you wait, you look around the coffee shop, at the tables, the art on the walls, the other customers sipping on their super-sized coffees as they type away on their laptops. The question arises: where are you?

With the increased expansion of the Starbucks coffee chain over the past couple of decades, this could have taken place in any one of 23,500 stores, spread across 70 countries. The most recent addition to that list, which is planned to open in 2017, has been the source of much dissension within the country itself. In an attempt to infiltrate the nation whose coffee culture inspired the original model that Starbucks was loosely based on, the chain is trying to come home — to Italy. Antonio Percassi, the Starbucks licensee in Italy, was quoted as saying:

“We know that we are going to face a unique challenge with the opening of the first Starbucks store in Italy, the country of coffee, and we are confident that Italian people are ready to live the Starbucks experience, as already occurs in many other markets,”

Unfortunately, the “Italian people” do not entirely agree. The range of responses from Italian citizens has gone from complete support to considering it a sign of the apocalypse, cultural imperialism, and globalization gone too far. While those ideas may seem extremist, the reaction of the people to this expansion serves to highlight some of the current problems with seemingly unstoppable globalization.

Map of the world by current Starbucks locations

To start off with a general overview of globalization, the process involves the movement of people, goods, ideas, and information across national boundaries, and it provides the conditions which promote migration from poorer countries to richer countries. It is driven by international trade and investment and aided by information technology. Factors such as the more widespread use of the Internet all the way to the increase in the number of international locations for chain restaurants and businesses provide ties that can cause local events to be relevant and immediately applicable to people on the other side of the planet. With increased globalization, the natural differences in formerly distinct cultures tend to decrease in the most developed countries, as all of their citizens begin to have access to the same resources and information, and local communities tend to suffer an intense degree of disruption.

Keeping this definition of globalization in mind, the spread of Starbucks to Italy cannot be considered to be the worst possible result of globalization. Italy is another developed, Western country that has already been invaded by chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, and H&M. More warranted protest has been mentioned in regards to Starbucks’ planned expansion to South Africa, and other countries where many of the locals have little interest in its high prices, potential competition with local coffee providers, and the ways in which it might change their communities for the worst, all unfortunate side effects of this type of globalization. In comparison to that, Italy should be a fairly easy move. But the reason why “Starbucks in Italy” stings so much is because Italy is the country where coffee culture was made famous, and the local coffee bars there pride themselves on their quality. Starbucks has managed to bring uniformity to the coffee industry in many countries before this, with a near monopoly on the American markets waiting for it back in the US, but if it were to do the same thing to Italy, it would be devastating. If globalization and uniformization can win over the stubborn and character-filled country of Italy, what can’t it do?

Globalization is a necessity for expansion, and in many ways, it does improve the world by giving people easier access to goods and services that they want, but what is its end goal? If globalization is allowed to rage on without any kind of check, the future might be one in which all countries look the same, and nations have given up their histories and cultures in order to have a Mcdonald's, a Burger King, and a Starbucks on every block. If we consider the nation to be a kind of imagined community, built by politics, history, and war, this advent of over-globalization could destroy the existence of those imagined communities in favor of an all-encompassing global community. That might seem like a lovely idea on paper, but it directly translates to: Is your morning latte from Starbucks worth giving up individuality entirely?

To return to that anonymous Starbucks: two more minutes pass, spent waiting at the counter, and the barista hands you what you ordered. You grasp the warm cup between two hands and take a gulp. The tastes of overwhelming consumerism, loss of nationhood, and death to individuality hit your tongue. You smile. It tastes a bit like globalization, with a hint of caramel sweetness.