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Starbucks, Tim Hortons and my conflicted heart

By in Opinions

If you are a coffee addict you almost certainly call yourself either a Starbucks person or a Tim Hortons person. There is no middle ground. When you’re addicted to caffeine, coffee shop loyalty is like a religious affiliation. To me, saying you like both Starbucks and Tim Hortons is like saying you are a Christian and a Muslim.

Now, as a Starbucks man, I have once or twice been harassed for drinking Starbucks. In return, I ask people how they can honestly prefer Tim Hortons, given that their coffee is flavourless and maybe one step above the coffee at Chinese restaurants.

This coffee debate is truly remarkable. Nowhere else in the world of substances do you find such evangelical brand loyalty. Smokers don’t say to other smokers, “You smoke Canadian Classics? Gross.” And drinkers don’t say to their buddies, “I don’t want your Pilsner. I only drink Gee-Dub damnit!”

On a superficial level, coffee shop loyalty seems to be shaped by two variables: people wanting inexpensive coffee will buy Timmies (the Keystone beer of coffee), and people wanting gourmet coffee will buy Starbucks.

And then some coffee-drinkers boycott Starbucks for moral reasons even they can’t explain. I know “alternative” types who just assume Starbucks is super-evil because they’re huge, and Timmies is only slightly evil because, “Well, it’s Canadian.”

When Starbucks first opened on Broadway, a friend suggested we throw a brick through their window. The thinking was that this would defend the small, helpless coffee shops like the Broadway Roastery.

Why defend the Roastery? Because we held it as fact that when chain stores move in, they offer shoddier products and services than local businesses. Typically, this is true. Starbucks is unusual though; it’s an international chain but it serves a fresh, quality product you’d expect only local businesses would carry.

So I find Starbucks blameless. They’re not Canadian like Timmies. But what am I to do? Choke down the flavourless coffee of Tim Hortons because it affirms my Canadian identity. If Tim Hortons coffee is truly indicative of the Canadian character then I declare Canadians to be a putrid people.

Their shitty coffee aside, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m, at heart, more of a Tim Hortons person than a Starbucks one. There is something elitist about Starbucks. It’s the clientele; it’s all semi-cultured, fashionable people on MacBooks in there. In Tim Hortons, you can be in paint-covered overalls and still feel comfortable ordering a coffee.

Even I feel out of place when I enter Starbucks in the morning with my long wet hair, baggy eyes and grouchy expression.

And yet, the rest of the line at Starbucks is unnaturally perky and presentable. They haven’t even gotten a coffee yet and already they’re saying, “Oh! Oh! Could I just have a smidgen of whipped cream? With a sprinkle of cinnamon! Oh yes — that’s just perfect — thank you so kindly, dear.”

The Arts Tunnel Timmies is a different scene. I am among my brothers and sisters there. That lineup is pretty much just students who look half-dead, anxiously awaiting their fix. And I think, yes, this is where I belong.

In Vancouver, there are three Starbucks shops at the corner of Robson and Thurlow. The city is infested with Starbucks. Meanwhile, go to any small town in the prairies and you’re hard-pressed to find one coffee shop that isn’t a Tim Hortons.

There is something intuitively right about this arrangement. Starbucks just personifies Vancouver people, and Tim Hortons personifies the prairie farm crowd.

I can’t picture farmers discussing the weather amidst the jazz-music and pre-packaged wall art of Starbucks. Nor can I picture a Timmies filled with rail-thin, American Apparel-outfitted indie rockers.

And even though I’m addicted to Starbucks, I feel a greater affinity with those farmers than the indie rock kids. Yet this doesn’t compel me to start drinking a lesser coffee.

It’s stupid to assume going to Starbucks automatically makes you pretentious. I mean, yeah, Jesus probably would have drunk Tim Hortons, but who knows? Either way, until Tim Hortons stops selling swill I won’t change a thing.

I will continue neglecting my plain, humble lover, the Double-Double — and stick to my high-maintenance vixen, the Grande Bold.


Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf

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