I should start by apologizing to my friend and frequent traveling partner, Steve Coffed. I used to give him grief every time he suggested going into a Starbucks, anywhere in the world. The coffee, I said, is inconsistent from city to city – and nothing to write home about even at its best. The atmosphere can be sterile, the clientele often a mix of high schoolers, bluetoothing businessmen, and the unfriendly type of medical student. But shortly after I came to Edinburgh (a city awash in espresso, with enough comfy unpretentious top-notch java joints to give anyone a caffeine headache), something changed: basically, my parents sent me Starbucks gift cards.
What can we send our poor starving postgrad son? they thought, Our son drinking pint after pint of Tennent’s Lager, because it’s only £2.50? Money? No, that would send the wrong message, he’ll think he can come home and move right back in … So they settled on Starbucks gift cards, and I settled back into a comfortable middle class lifestyle – at least, that’s what it feels like every time I pass beneath that fish-woman’s spreading tails to wait for a cup with my name on it, or whatever variation of a loosely A-sounding name these Scots come up with, from “Owen” to “Hadrian’s Wall.” I started to take my Starbucks breaks further afield from the university, trying to see if the world’s biggest and best-known coffee chain could produce any significant change in atmosphere. A project began to take shape: I would visit and review each Starbucks from New Town to Newington, and share my findings with the world. [Nota: I’m not the first with this obsession. See the folks at Every Single Seattle Starbucks.] I found out that the Starbucks locations scattered across Edinburgh do vary, if sometimes subtly, in atmosphere and clientele – even while some franchises in Edinburgh are within a Frisbee-toss of one another- and even more interesting, my Starbucks survey soon turned into a new way of mapping this strange and diverse city: A Celestial Cartography of Corporate Coffee. Even if I can offer nothing more than tips on hidden views, rush hours to avoid, and, of course, musings on jams and jellies, I hope something in what follows is of some small value.