Coffee Complications

It was a simple request, repeated dozens of times a day in Westport:

“Let’s have coffee.  Where should we go?”

Then my friend added a caveat:  “Besides Starbucks.”

The list of options dwindled dramatically.

Westporters — and the world — has a love/hate relationship with Starbucks.  Globally the chain has been pilloried for gross corporate commodification, introducing pseudo-sophisticated quasi-Italian complications into the formerly simple act of ordering a cup of coffee, exploiting third world farmers, and driving small shops out of business.

On the plus side, they have Wi-Fi.

Locally, the downtown location weirds me out.  The seating area is dark; the tables are in the wrong spot (they should face the river, not Klaff’s); it’s cramped, and not always, um, clean.

The 2nd location — “the Starbucks by the diner” — is better, provided you don’t mind listening to bad music just loud enough to be irritating.  It’s airier and roomier; there’s more parking, and if you’re lucky you can snag 1 of the 4 comfy chairs from the 50 people who park themselves there all day, laptopping their consulting projects, novel writing, porn-watching, or whatever it is they do in the seat I want to sit in.

The 3rd Starbucks — in Barnes & Noble — is reserved for tutors and tutees; Craigslist users meeting in public before hooking up to be sure the other person is not an ax murderer, and consultants and novelists who couldn’t get a comfy chair at the Starbucks by the diner.

The 4th Starbucks doesn’t count, because it’s in Super Stop & Shop.

So what’s the alternative?

If this was Fairfield, we’d go to Las Vetas Lounge.  If it was Norwalk:  Sono Caffeine.  If we were in Seattle we would be so paralyzed by choices, we’d never decide.

But this is Westport.  And despite being the most fabulous, hip, cool, wealthy and splendiferous spot on earth, our coffee shop choices suck.

Coffee An’ has great donuts, but it lacks ambience.

Great Cakes has Rick, Bonnie, and 3 little tables.

Doc’s is nice, but it’s in Saugatuck.  In Westport distances that’s like the galaxy Zork.

So after intensive deliberations, my friend and I decided on the perfect spot.  We’ll meet next week for coffee at a nice little place.  It’s got 4 comfy chairs, and parking.

See you at Starbucks!

37 responses to “Coffee Complications

  1. Try Crumbs. Good coffee and nice location.

  2. Balduccis is another choice

  3. Josh Litvinoff

    Have you tried Wild Pear near the YMCA?

  4. This made me laugh! I myself am now free of my coffeedar. I no longer sniff out and pre-locate the nearest Starbucks wherever in the world I go (as my husband still does) because I’m intolerant to coffee and feel terrific when I avoid it. However, my husband now brings me a great soy hot chocolate from Starbucks every Saturday morning on his venture out for his coffee. I highly recommend it! (For old fashioned non-complicated coffee, I’d just go to Sherwood Diner. But now I have to settle for hot tea).

  5. Another wonderful spot is Cocoa Michelle’s – either downtown or at the train station. Not a coffee drinker? Don’t worry. Their Euro Cocoa is to die for.

  6. Judith Crowley

    Cocoa Michelle apparently has nice coffees. I KNOW they have fabulous chocolates, but hear they have great coffee and comfy chairs too; however, it is small. Oh, Dan, to have the days of Abacus Bookstore back! When I worked at Susan Shields I’d go next door for a hot chocolate and scone after work and just read a book and hang out. It was a really wonderful place and way before its time!

    Have a great day!! Check out Cocoa Michelle. Oh, if you don’t mind the cold, grab a cup of joe at Oscars or Starbucks and sit on a bench by the river downtown or hang on a picnic table at Old Mill or Compo … I’ve been known to sit in my car with a coffee during snow showers at the beach – very zen 😉

    Good gracious I’m wordy this morning! :))

    • Interesting you mention Cocoa Michelle. Last summer, the same friend whose comment sparked my original post invited me for coffee. We agreed on Cocoa Michelle, at 8 a.m. It had not yet opened. So I’m not sure you can call it a “coffee shop” if it’s closed during prime coffee time.

  7. Wasn’t it named Atticus, not Abacus? Indeed, it was a good place to hang out.

  8. Judith Crowley

    It may have been Atticus … I haven’t had my coffee yet!!! :))

  9. OSCAR’S is still the best… family owned and operated, plenty of side dishes [bagels, danish, cookies, candy, whatever]. Plenty of parking and lots of seats… plus, great coffee… AND they actually call it COFFEE. Now, that’s HOT!

    Dan, coffee triggered more comments than booze. That must mean something?

  10. I may be wrong, but I do not think that SBUX has ever claimed to sell sophisticated coffee; they do claim to sell ‘premium’ coffee and according to international coffee standards they do indeed satisfy the requirements of that designation.

    They also claim to – and I can verify their efforts because I have witnessed the process first hand – have access to more of the world’s premium coffee growing soil than any other coffee distributor in the world. That means more than even melhita.

    In the process of scouting out premium coffee growing soil, SBUX helps lesser developed and developing nations improve and protect the quality of their soil so that these countries can achieve and maintain premium coffee growing status and the greater revenue that they receive from providing SBUX with that level of quality product. In this regard, SBUX and these countries share a real win-win relationship.

    And, that we get access to premium coffee and, for non coffee drinkers, cocoa too, at such reasonable prices – given makes our relationship with SBUX a win-win too.

  11. anonymous because it is all fact and not opinion, i.e., it does not matter who is providing the information, right?

    SBUX is their symbol.

    I do work as a consultant most often focusing on the 12 core international human rights conventions and at one point was working out ROI that nations – at different stages of their economic development – realize from actual implementation of the conventions which brought me to research SBUX when I was working with/in the developing nations.

    those coffee growing countries weren’t getting a better deal from any other coffee company and were not getting the long term investment from any other company either. And, today, those countries could – if they so choose – terminate thier contracts with SBUX and they would still have better soil from which to grow coffee for other companies than if SBUX had never partnered with them.

    • Thanks. But I still don’t see why you feel the need to be anonymous. It sounds as if you’ve got something to hide. And what you’re noting is, in fact, opinion, and not fact. Starbucks’ detractors have plenty of ammunition on their side too.

  12. As one of those “consultants” using Starbucks (SBUX?) occasionally as an office… I do have to complement them on providing a very inexpensive, comfortable environment to meet friends, have meetings or do work.

    Where else can I sit, take advantage of free wifi in a comfortable, clean environment– and do it guilt-free for a paltry purchase of a $1.75 cup of coffee. See how long you can sit in Fortuna’s on your laptop after buying a small coffee…

  13. Judith Crowley

    I totally agree, there aren’t any funky little coffee shops like Fairfield and SoNo. I remember downtown when I was a kid, with Atticus (thank you for correcting me), four movie theaters, different restaurants (I still miss Ship’s), funky boutique shops, and people smiling at each other and saying thank you when someone held the door open – all lost concepts these days. Main Street was alive at night and day, now it’s just not the same. It is a shame.

  14. Wendy Crowther

    Great comments by all. At the “eastern” end of town, Balducci’s is a good choice as Liz mentioned. I often meet friends there for chit chat and a cup. They’ve got lots of tables and the sun streams into the cafe most of the day – cozy. No one rushes you out – ever.

    I also agree with Judith C. who grabs a take-out cup “wherever” and heads to the beach. Burying Hill Beach or Southport Beach (in the off season) are beautiful destinations for the “east-enders.”

  15. Bill Scheffler

    Galaxy Zork or no, Doc’s is absolutely the real deal, coffee shop-wise — I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

  16. Mr. Woog’s ambivalence regarding Starbucks is certainly well-justified, and perhaps a more commonly shared sentiment than the above comments would suggest. Please indulge me in my desire to ground Mr. Woog’s reticence with actual scholarly analyses published in peer-reviewed journals, some of which I have encountered over the course of my studies as an anthropology major, specifically focusing on political economy in the neo-liberal, global marketplace. [My apologies in advance for any perceived academic pretentiousness, but ‘anonymous’ poster: if your choice not to identify yourself doesn’t undermine your argument, than your lack of reliable source citations certainly does so.]

    Mark, it seems that you may have been misled into thinking your coffee consumption is ‘guilt-free’, in part because of Starbucks’ pursuit of the ‘halo’ effect. According to anthropologist Laura Raynolds (author of a commodity network analysis of Fair Trade coffee networks in North America, Latin America and Europe), this effect is characterized by a corporation’s “nominal commitment to improvements in one area” in order “to burnish [the] entire corporation’s image.” Only 6% of the total volume of coffee that Starbucks imported in 2007 met Fair Trade requirements, and Starbucks expected this volume to decline in the coming years. “For Starbucks,” writes Raynolds, “Fair Trade is a type of coffee, not a business model, and the one certified blend is simply listed in a menu of 39 varieties,” (Raynolds 2009). And it ain’t the Fair Trade varieties that cost a “paltry $1.75.” Fair Trade coffee, like organic produce, must be sold at premium prices, if it is to net a profit for both the producers and the distributers involved.

    It’s also worth noting that Starbucks has its own unique set of standards – the Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices (CAFE) Program – which has been criticized for privileging industrial and market conventions – more specifically, the stable supply of good-tasting coffee – at the expense of social and environmental concerns. This model has also been accused of creating buyer/supplier relations in which the supplier becomes ‘captive’ to buyer/importer standards (Raynolds 2009).

    So, pour that in your coffee cup and sip it.

    Now, it is not my intent to condemn Starbucks patrons. I, too, frequent Starbucks when I am home over school vacations. (There is not a single Starbucks outpost in my entire college city, which has a population of approximately 60,000 – but then again, it’s no Westport.) I only ask that you remain critical of ethical consumption discourse, which implies that the social practice of ‘voting with your dollar’ can mediate the competing ideologies of consumerism (rooted in individual self-interest) and citizenship (that is, suppressing our individual needs/desires for the sake of a collective good) (Johnston 2007).

    Enjoy you coffee, folks,
    Rebecca Kowal
    Staples ’05
    Wesleyan ’10

    Cited Sources:
    Johnston, Josée.
    2008 The citizen-consumer hybrid: ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market. Theoretical Sociology 37:(229-270).
    Raynold, Laura.
    2009 Mainstreaming Fair Trade Coffee: From Partnership to Traceability. World
    Development 37(6):(1083-1093).

  17. People should be able to post anonymously if they so choose.

  18. Dan, is this post the record with 22 comments? Try Abbondanza on Charles Street. The guys there will fix you a coffee (or just grab and go) in an easygoing atmosphere that will transport you FAR from Starbucks and they are some of the hardest working waiters, barristas and folks in town, opening the place up early a.m. and still there waiting tables cheerfully on the nights it transforms into Bonda restaurant.

  19. I wouldn’t go to Starbucks if they were giving away the coffee for free! In addition to the people who cut you off on their way to parking in the world’s worst lot, the place is about as inviting as a sterile hospital waiting room. Here’s a cool new local alternative that you didn’t list: Sugar & Olives in Norwalk on the street behind McDonald’s called Lois Street. Here, you can relax in an incredibly comfy and inviting space with lots of couches, reading material, fresh baked goods, homemade crepes, lunch and all sorts of great coffees and teas, among other beverages. Check out this review from

    Sugar & Olives 21 1/2 Lois Street, Norwalk. 203.454.3663

  20. Dan,
    Las Vetas Lounge has recently closed.

    Another alternative is Isabelle et Vincent’s, it may be in Fairfield but the owners are from Westport.

  21. Deirdre O'Farrelly

    I agree with Anne, Love Abbondanza for good coffee and the spoace, it’s worth the trip to Saugatuck for either Doc’s or Abbondanza

  22. @Rebecca: You assume, wrongly, that consumerism and citizenship compete — that they are mutually exclusive. Flowery language is no substitute for academic rigor and, just for your info., “well-justified” doesn’t need a hyphen.

  23. only because i am just as adamant in my desire to remain anonymous as the blogger hosting the debate is in having me post my name (title or prior and current relationship with the company i understand, but name, no; and it is his blog so he makes the rules), I’m not replying to excerpts from the proponent of Raynold’s research.

    • The rules are that people CAN post anonymously — you continue to do so. I just wondered why you felt it was necessary. Barring that, how about your title and relationship with the company?

  24. I went into Starbucks once, and realized that I had stumbled upon a nest of yuppies. I couldn’t understand the menu and no where did I see “med coffee w/ cream.” It was grande this and grande that. I left in a confused state and have never looked back.

  25. Dick Lowenstein

    For a good reliable cup of coffee, how about Dunkin Donuts or MacD’s? No ambience? Sorry, I thought it was the taste that mattered most.

  26. Great, thanks for allowing me to remain anonymous. Later this week, I will respond to the use of that paper earlier referenced.

    To answer the most recent question: At the point that I initiated the field study that came to involve SBUX, I was Special Assistant to UNHCHR Special Advisor on the 12 Core International Human Rights Conventions. My work was funded by a competitive grant provided to me and (2) other researchers out of an application pool of over (300) by an international human rights center that is part of an Ivy League Institution that I was a student of, i.e., no money came to me from SBUX. The Institute is heavily funded by the oil and natural gas industry but not the coffee. The University that The Institute resides within is heavily funded by the oil and natural gas industry and that of minerals and gems, but not coffee.

    The nation I initiated the study in – by financial market and consumer market standards – possesses a significant (statistical significance for these sectors are pretty standard so I am not going to define significance unless asked) amount of unrealized potential in coffee, as well as oil and natural gas.

    I am regularly involved at the board level – not as a member but as a consultant to members – with two long standing international human rights associations.

    But, again, I have never directly received funding from SBUX; nor, as far as I know, have I received it through any of the grants that I have received and by which I have done my research.

  27. Wow Dan!

    32 comments is starting to look like Huffington Post 🙂

    I also support the cafe at the Library, again free WiFi and they won’t kick you out until the library closes.

  28. Agree with lots of the recommendations — but I’m still looking for ambience. Not a lot of it around, right?

  29. For ambience, maybe it’s best to enjoy your cuppa joe at home in your jammies and robe.

  30. is it possible to post link to Raynolds complete paper, and, if you have access to them too, list of conferences that paper has been presented at?

    thank you!

  31. later this coming week I will check back again for that list of conferences that the offered ‘peer review’ papers were presented at.

    i’m eager to see the strength and quality of the peer review that these papers were exposed to.

    the importance of COC, a.k.a. Coffee, Oil and Cocoa, to all countries involved (farming through to retail) make the details of the peer review of papers covering these topics signficant.