Coffee Talk

Wednesday 27 November 2013

There was a time where the moment I got off an airplane and smelled that familiar coffee smell trailing it's way towards my gate that my heart would leap and I'd be exclaiming to Joe, "There's a Starbucks!" Living in the third world did that to me.  There were no fancy cafés and there were certainly no lattes.  Nescafe (instant coffee) ruled the roost.  A couple of restaurants housed coffee machines and cafe au lait was possible although made with damn UHT milk and nothing came close to my beloved vanilla latte or chai latte or caramel macchiato.  Product aside, there also were no coffeehouses that felt cozy inside and played coffeehouse music.  There was no where to bring your computer to type to the sound of coffee bean grinding and frappuccino blending and there certainly wasn't a neighbourhood café where you'd regularly meet your friends to catch up.  We did that in our homes because that was our only option.

Funny enough, when we moved to Stavanger, one of the things I was most excited about was jumping back into café culture.  The thought of creamy, foamy lattes made me salivate and I was so excited at the prospect that I'd have years to start uncovering all of the little cafés in this city.  And uncover I have - over the last year and a half, a certain friend and I meet almost weekly to catch up on life.  Sometimes we visit old favourites and sometimes we visit other places we've walked by and wondered about.
Steam Kaffebar - Stavanger
Starbucks has never been present in Stavanger.  In fact, up until recently, there was only one in the entire country and it was housed in Oslo's airport.  When we first moved to Europe, I'd get my fix when we traveled.  I liked the familiarity of it - I knew what and how to order and it was exciting when that first sip hit my tastebuds after months of being separated.  Joe didn't get it (he's not a coffee drinker) but he'd support my semi-frequent stops in foreign cities.

And then something happened...  On one of our weekend trips, I passed by a Starbucks, smelled that familiar smell, and wondered to myself, 'When is the last time I went in?'  We had been on a million different trips and passed by a million different Starbucks but I wasn't feeling that pull anymore.  I certainly hadn't given up coffee but unbeknownst to me,  I had given up Starbucks.

These days, I find myself looking for that independent café on a quiet street.  The ones that are small and quaint and serve good coffee.  I love the idea of coming in from the cold, getting comfortable, sipping my kaffe latte, people watching and catching up with a good friend that doesn't include take out cups and definitely not drive-through.  Perhaps it's just accommodating to my particular circumstances or maybe it's a sign that after 3.5 years abroad, I need a little less of the familiar and am more comfortable seeking out the other.
Blue Bird Kaffebar, Stavanger
This morning, I woke up and read an article that outlined Starbucks entrance into Stavanger and I'll admit, my heart sank a little.  It detailed the space the company had purchased and that construction had already started in hopes of opening up the chain by the summer 2014.  It's location on the harbour would be perfect for all of those cruise ship tourists who disembark, do a walk around the centre before returning to the boat - now maybe they'd stop by Starbucks and pick up their favourite drink before leaving.  I get it and yes, it'll be successful but a part of me wishes it wouldn't be.  To me, Norway isn't Starbucks, it's the quaint, cozy and locally run cafés and bakeries and I will be mightily disappointed if my favourite haunts can't keep up with the new competition.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Starbucks hater and when I'm in North America, you'll often catch me with that white and green cup gracing my hands, albeit, less frequently than before.  I still prefer to seek out the independent coffeehouses when home but they're fewer and farther between.)


  1. No need for the disclaimer, lady. I hear ya! Independent cafés are so special. Starbucks, though comforting in familiarity, is not.

    1. And the coffee just doesn't measure up!

  2. I'm very much a fan of the independent cafes as well. Starbucks opened up quite a lot of stores in Melbourne but didn't really survive our cafe culture. There's now just a few at the tourist hotspots. I like stumbling accross sweet little cafes and I won't lie, I'm often researching where the best cafes are in towns before I head there. Often review barista competition entries can help.

    Whilst I've never understood the starbucks draw (other than to use their toilets when travelling), I'm guessing it's the familiarity that draws people in.

  3. Living in a town rampant with independent coffee shops (and roasters), I've come to appreciate the place of both the small cafe and the Starbucks. Some of the snobbier cafes don't carry my holiday favorite, eggnog latte. But Starbucks doesn't carry my indie favorite, cardamom latte. Some roasters in town are better than others, so I often take my pic based on the roaster (I'm lucky, I know, but living here has also developed my palette for coffee). There are perks to both types, but I see what you're saying. I don't go to Starbucks for the atmosphere.

  4. I love independent cafes!! Unfortunately in the land of good coffee (Honduras) there are none to be found on my island. But that may have more to do with the blistering heat and humidity than anything ;)

  5. im such a sucker for a good and quirky cafe. when i travel, i honestly spend much of my time in random cafes. and in oslo, i spend a good chunk of my time in them with friends or while working on freelancing assignments. im not a huge coffee drinker (single shot latte right here haha), but i just love the atmosphere of a quiet and cozy cafe. we have some GREAT ones in oslo and it is constantly ranked as one of the best cities in the world for cafe culture.

    not a starbucks fan, but will have something there while traveling in airports here and there. i havent visited any of the new locations in oslo and probably wont. while i have no issues with their coffee per say, it's just not my scene most of the time (because im usually at cafes lounging and hanging around for a few hours).

    when starbucks first came to oslo, people were so skeptical that it would drive business away from other cafes...but i dont think this has happened at all and never suspected it would. the people going to starbucks tend to be people grabbing a quick cup of coffee or tweens. seriously LOL. the teenagers of oslo never really bought much coffee at local cafes but now want to be seen with that starbucks cup in their hand, so will buy it there. oh yea, and tourists. but the starbucks of oslo are not currently in touristy areas, actually (sure they are coming starbucks can resist that ha). one is in a mall and one is on a shopping street. i think the starbucks norwegian market is mainly focused towards those who are looking for a quick cup of joe while shopping or something. they dont really focus a target on true cafe goers. nevertheless, im sure i wont be seen in there anytime soon.

  6. i absolutely love finding cute and quaint coffee shops wherever i go. i would much prefer supporting a smaller business than a large chain but i understand wanting the 'familiar' every once in awhile! there is a coffee shop on every corner here in korea, all are cute and quant but still there's something missing. as much as they're different, they're all the same, serve the same exact things, play the same music, and even many have the same decor on the inside. not to mention the coffee is watered down and you HAVE to order something if you go inside (something i hate since many times i just want to sit and chat with a friend while they have something to drink). *sigh* starbucks has become my go to place in our town but i'm excited to move back home one day and have all my unique cute places once again

  7. I miss Starbucks so much but it's not exactly the coffee that I miss, but more than whenever I walk into one, for a brief moment it feels like I'm home :)

  8. I love that! There is something to be said about searching out those independent coffee shops!

  9. Ahhh - the coffee in Stavanger is SO good! Miss getting together with you for one

  10. my thoughts, exactly:)
    i used to live in barcelona and i would never go to starbucks, since i had so many other small businesses with incredible red velvet cakes and comfortable communal wood tables. i just recently moved to the outskirts of washington, dc and because there is none of that, i find myself ordering white mochas more and more often.
    i don't hate starbucks, it's an incredible company, but i just love the tiny coffee shops to meet up with friends after dinner on stressful study weeks or have a quick breakfast with a friend before they leave for vacation.

  11. I love your blog, Jay- so I have sent the Liebster Blog Award your way:-) Read details here:

  12. so interesting!! when i was in college i was always going to independant grand rapids coffee houses and started to not appreciate starbucks as much. but here in luzern i treat myself to it and it reminds me of home!! but actually, i like nescafe, haha!

  13. When I loved in Stavanger, I had the worst time trying to find a great coffee shop (circa 2000). There was one and it had bagels, which were also impossible to find anywhere else back in that era. The place in these photos looks great. You belong is making me so want to return for a visit! And try out a good coffee shop while I am there too. :)


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