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Walk into almost any Starbucks at rush hour or lunchtime, and getting your coffee will usually take at least 10 or 15 minutes.
In fact, Starbucks has become so popular in recent years that, in the opinion of Forbes writer Alice G. Walton, the chain redesigned the interior of some of its stores to make the atmosphere less cozy. Walton thinks these uncomfortable furnishings discourage longer stays and therefore accommodate the large amount of customers crowding the small shops.
Even though the food scene in Los Alamos does not seem at its peak, something still draws hundreds of people into the local Starbucks every day.
A large portion of the crowd are teenagers. Starbucks caters partially to a young generation of students, which use the company’s products and coffee shop space as a basis for social interaction and a way to indicate adolescent financial independence.
The un-cozy atmosphere Walton describes seems to have no adverse effect on Los Alamos High School teenagers who, despite the small tables and often jam-packed space, frequent Starbucks to do homework or have conversations with friends.
“I think that (Starbucks) has a positive effect on Los Alamos. It gives students a place to hang out with their friends or to study. It gives teachers an opportunity to interact with students outside of school,” said Christopher Cretella, a math teacher at LAHS.
Starbucks also is important on a national and international level. According to an Associated Press report, people who are used to Starbucks in their hometowns will often seek out a Starbucks coffee shop when they are on travel. The company offers drinks that are similar around the world, which may comfort travelers who arrive in countries with otherwise foreign cuisine.
Germany, for example, has a few Starbucks cafés; even so, the chain seems far less popular there than it does in the United States.
“In Germany … there are cafés. You sit down to get a coffee and maybe an ice cream. It is more of a restaurant, whereas here it is more like fast food,” said Sven Jandura, a German foreign exchange student at LAHS.
In some ways, Starbucks actually can be considered a fast food. In fact, the nutrition facts on the company’s website show that a Venti Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino with whipped cream has 520 calories. This is only 30 fewer calories than a McDonald’s Big Mac.
Consistently drinking coffee can yellow teeth. According to the FDA, caffeine is dehydrating and can actually be addictive if consumed on a daily basis, prompting the body to want more and more as it becomes used to the consistent input of caffeine.
Despite these facts, teenagers idolize Starbucks. Not only are adolescents able to add a touch of their own individuality by ordering personalized drinks (there is even a secret drink menu online that the sneakiest customers know about); they are also buying into the social construct that holding a Starbucks cup is a status symbol, a sign of superiority.
“Because it’s expensive,” said Santiago Martinez, a barista at the local Starbucks. “If you’re willing to spend $5 a day on a drink, that’s a lot of money on a cup of coffee.”
Holding a Starbucks cup indicates affluence or financial independence.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Martinez said, qualifying his statement with a reality check: “I feel like Starbucks, as high-class and expensive as people like to think, there’s a huge range of things you could get. You could come get a cup of coffee for a dollar … and no-one would know the difference.”
For some people, Starbucks is more than a status symbol; it is also inspiring. With its various reusable cups and specialized bean-growing locations, the company makes an effort to reduce its environmental and social impact.
Starbucks also offers long-term job opportunities for hard working employees, who can apply to the Bean Program, in which Martinez hopes to eventually participate.
“We go to the places where we grow our beans, and we build hospitals and schools and homes for the (bean) farmers. There’s a lot to do with the company other than just the front-of-the house, coffee making, serving customers,” Martinez said.
Even though the local Starbucks is essential to some high school students’ social interaction, self esteem and awareness of the food industry’s environmental impacts, drinking too much of the company’s beverages can have adverse health effects and is an expensive habit.
Which begs the question that can only be answered on an individual basis — is Starbucks worth the physical and monetary price students’ pay?
LAHS yearbook staff members Nicole Graham and Esteban Abeyta contributed to this story.