Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Cultural Observation:
Starbucks in the Philippines?
or: A coffee break from my Existential Trip.

Written in: Poblacion, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, PHILIPPINES
Composition: Impromptu
Previous Post: Falling Behind

Today, I will deviate from over-analyzing my 'existential trip' to over analyzing something else...

In another post, I mentioned that the little things that make Philippine society all the more unique were the ones that somehow caught me off guard. I had already anticipated and prepared myself for the major differences that, when I encountered these one by one, they came as no surprise.

It was, instead, the small details of Philippine life not found in any brochure or travel advisory, or personal testimony for that matter, that told me "I'm in the Philippines."

Now, why is this so? What made these things so special so as to remind me that I am truly far, far away from North American society?

Re-reading that same post, I noticed one thing: ALL of them originated from western society. They are western ideas and practices, but re-interpreted for Philippine society. From my perspective, I had the expectation that they would be adapted here, unchanged. But such changes were needed, I now realize. If they had not been altered to suit the Filipino taste, they may not have been as successful in capturing the market.

And so, after this while, I had gotten used again (I say 'again', because I had been exposed to this reality before leaving for Canada a decade ago) to the fact that McD's serves spaghetti and rice; that the said spaghetti is sweet; that Diet Coke is called Coke Light.. and so on and so forth.

There is one thing however, that is still a mystery to me:

The existence of Starbucks in the Philippines.

Yes - my dear readers (if you exist) who are either non-Filipinos or expats who haven't been back in a while - that multinational purveyor of exotic blends, designer beans, and gourmet coffee is in here and is widely recognized and well-established.

Why am I so surprised? Well, because of MY experiences and observations.

First of all, I am no coffee connoisseur. I can't tell the subtle differences between one gourmet coffee from another. Most times, in fact, I would prefer Cafe-Mocha over black coffee (I never have coffee w/cream). But if coffee is the only thing available, I only have one criterion for selection: strength. Light, medium, or dark; depending on how hard I want the caffeine to hit.

A coffee connoisseur I may be not, but a caffeine addict I am; I want a shot first thing in the morning, another one mid-morning, and depending on what I may be doing, another one mid-afternoon.

As well, my coffee-drinking habits evolved only after we migrated to Canada. And as such it reflects what North Americans do: frequenting doughnut shops such as Tim Horton's, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin Donuts for the coffee, and not actually the doughnuts which comes only secondary to the coffee. It's like this: you have coffee, and then buy the doughnuts because they go together well.

That said, everytime I've been out and about here in the Philippines and I wanted a hit of caffeine, I go to either Dunkin Donuts or Mister Donut expecting a similar practice.

But every time I ask for coffee, I always get a strange look as if I am from another planet. From another continent and society maybe, but planet? Not quite.

Why the looks? Well, the reason is this: they never have a warm pot always ready - when I ask for it, they would have to prepare it specifically only for me. It seems as though the majority of Filipinos frequent doughnut shops for... Gasp! The doughnuts! And do you know what they have it with? Pop! (Aka: Softdrinks/carbonated beverage). With ice! ICE!? They do have "coffee" listed in their overhead menu, but it appears to me as though no one ever asks for it but me. The same is true for fastfood chains.

As well, there are these two facts:Very few independently owned gourmet coffee shops exist; and the majority of coffee, if served in a household, will come from powdered instant coffee.

Now now... don't get me wrong. I am not judging but rather, establishing the facts as to why the last multinational company I would expect to establish their franchise here would be one that specializes in gourmet coffee. Philippine society, I would have thought, simply is not composed of enough coffee drinkers that I would expect can appreciate, let alone support, such a chain. I mean, how can Filipinos go from ignoring brewed coffee offered in doughnut shops and fastfood chains, to enjoying very EXPENSIVE gourmet coffee?

My humble opinion? Marketing.

It seems to me as though anything that's marketed properly, given enough promotion, and endorsed by enough famous faces, will become a hit in this society.

...suddenly my own ideas start brewing.

$$$Cha ching!$$$

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