one cannot accuse me of having an affinity for any kind of coffee, much less coffee from the most ubiquitous chain in the world … but that doesn’t mean we didn’t cross over to the other side of Pike Place to visit the original Starbucks location while we were in downtown Seattle back in October. somehow I’d gotten into my head that I’d visited the store while visiting Seattle back in 2007 but once I saw the line snaking out the door of the actual first Starbucks I realized my error. (well, really, the first one to open in 1971 was on Western Ave but relocated down the block to Pike Place in 1976 to make way for what is now Steinbruek Park.) in reality, I’d probably fallen for one of the other conveniently camouflaged locations also within a block of the Pike Place Market.
|just got in line to order drinks…
in March of 1971, three guys opened the first location as a local bean roaster and retailer, inspired in part by the success of Alfred Peet (he of Peet’s Coffee) who also focused on selling high-quality beans and equipment. during their first year, they purchased green coffee beans from Peet’s to roast themselves before making connections to purchase directly from growers for themselves. in 1984, the original owners bought out Peet’s and, after deciding to focus their energy on that arm of their business, sold the Starbucks brand to Howard Schultz, who remains the chairman and CEO of the company. Schultz had been brought on in 1985 as marketing director and, after seeing coffee bars in Milan, tried to convince the original owners to incorporate such a concept into the Starbucks model. his efforts bore no fruit at the time and he left to open his own coffee shop (Il Giornale).
once under Schultz’s direction, the first coffee shop locations to open outside of Seattle were in Vancouver and Chicago. in 1986, before Schultz took over, there were 6 Starbucks locations; in 1989 there were 46 and they were roasting over 2 million pounds of coffee a year. in 1992 (the time of their IPO) there were 140 locations. four years later, they opened the first location outside of North America — in Tokyo; it took another 8 years before they expanded into Latin America (Mexico City). in 2003, Starbucks bought Seattle’s Best Coffee and an Italian outfit called Torrefazione Italia and expanded their stores to 6,400. now they have a a flabbergasting 20,366 locations in 61 countries. one wonders how that’s even possible (by buying out other chains, clearly). two weeks ago, they announced the purchase of Teavana — anyone want to take bets as to whether it will result in being able to procure tolerable brewed tea from your local Starbucks? (I’ll stick to my incredibly convenient and locally-owned CoffeeBytes.)
|waiting (not in a line) for completed drinks
in any case, our trip to the (not-quite) original Starbucks delivered on our expectations. the line was out the door but the staff kept it moving along smoothly. all the died-in-the-wool Starbucks fans of our party picked out their purchases, many of which featured the original logo. it took about 10 minutes to get through the line to order, and maybe another 15 or 20 minutes longer waiting on drinks — and, according to our line attendant, it was a relatively slow day as there weren’t any cruise ships dumping their passengers into Pike Place. I will admit to taking satisfaction in that fact — I can’t imagine what the line would have been like on a truly busy day nor picture myself waiting patiently in that line.
one reason I chose to travel when I did this year was to have something memorable to say about my golden birthday. three years ago, I went to a club in North Park with two friends who were California natives. two years ago I went to the San Diego Zoo, then out to one of my favorite places in San Diego — the beach in Coronado. last year, I went out to Blue Mounds State Park with my parents for a hike on what was a decidedly, wonderfully fall day.
this year, I was in Prague. lovely, lovely Prague (even if it was sprinkling most of the day). I certainly didn’t want to go without some special birthday treat to mark the occasion, so after a morning of wandering around the city I popped into the Prague Bakeshop just a few blocks the fashionable Pařížská and Old Town Square. there, I enjoyed a cup of reasonable Earl Gray tea (the Czech Republic is not known for either its coffee or its tea) and a perfectly delectable white chocolate torte with chocolate crumb crust and fresh raspberries. I was never been much of a white chocolate person, but I do believe the Czech Republic might have me swayed in its favor now and forever.
while I was in Český Krumlov, among many pleasant local establishments, the owner of the Krumlov House recommended a place called Dobrá čajovna for tea. it’s down a back alley near the entrance to the castle and, she advised, served its teas in the style of their place of origin. I checked it out and was not disappointed; in addition to living up to it’s name as a “good tea house”, it lacked all trace of that blight of gorgeous tourist towns — the o.a.p. tour group/herd. my visit to the Krumlov Dobrá čajovna fell into a euphoric phase of my travels and I spent an hour and a half waxing … euphoric about travel in my journal (at nine pages, unquestionably my longest entry of the trip). I enjoyed my tea, wrote, savored the Czech atmosphere, watched the kids of one of the employees explore the cafe, and headed out and on to dinner.
a week later, back in Prague, wandering around a packed Wenceslas Square, I spied the cafe’s distinctive sign pointing down another back alley. same decor, same menu, same good tea, but a more Prague than Czech atmosphere (i.e. expat and/or international — lots of English). enjoyed my tea, rested my feet after walking back from Vysehrad
, wrote a shorter entry in my journal, read my book, and headed off to find dinner.
a week later, back in Madison, heading up Gilman St to exchange my movies at Four Star
, I once again spied the cafe’s distinctive sign. and it clicked, why the sign and decor looked familiar when I was in Krumlov — I’d been inside a Dobrá čajovna before, though one called the Dobrá Cafe. I must confess to feeling somewhat dismayed that this great teahouse I’d found turned out to be a chain — do U.S. companies have to co-opt everything
except it’s a Czech chain! the tea room in Wenceslas Square
in Prague is the original. the Communist regime forbid the importation of tea, but a group of tea enthusiasts met anyway to sample various teas smuggled into the country. after the Velvet Revolution, they opened the location in Wenceslas Square and have since expanded to all over the Czech Republic, as well as to Budapest, Krakow, Bratlisalva, Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI
! if you enjoy tea, and find yourself in any of these cities with some time to spend at a tea house, check this one out.
(incidentally, I figured out it was a Czech chain because the package of tea I bought for a friend last week was in English and Czech. why the hell else would the packaging be in Czech?! it is not a language one slaps on merchandise without reason.)