Thursday, September 6, 2007

Starbucks Opens First Coffee Shop In Russia - New York Times

Starbucks Opens First Coffee Shop In Russia - New York Times: "KHIMKI, Russia (Reuters) - Starbucks opened its first coffee shop in Russia on Thursday, two years after it won a legal battle to protect the right to its brand in the fast-growing Russian market. 'This is an important step for the company, and we are looking forward to being a part of every day life for Russians,' said Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa, as he opened the cafe. The newest Starbucks in the worldwide chain of around 10,000 outlets is in the Mega shopping mall in Khimki, just north of Moscow."

Moscow has a couple of coffee shop chains (Кофе Хауз and Шоколадница are the two most popular). Their food and coffee are pretty good, and are a bit cheaper than you'd find here in the U.S. -- a couple of bucks for a large cup of coffee. (That price, though, is very expensive for the average Russian). Unlike American cafes, you can buy beer and vodka and smoke. When I was in Moscow in August, I was asked for the first time whether I wanted to sit in the "курящий" (smoking) section. It was weird culture shock, to be asked a prototypical and purely American question in Russia. (The use of the word курящий in this context is, moreover, hardly Russian -- it should be "для курящих", but this is another great example of American English affecting Russian lexicon.)
When these shops started to open five years ago, they were a godsend, since they provided clean semi-public bathrooms in a city where they had been a rarity. (The same was true in New York City when Starbucks started its push there in the early-1990s.)

I have nothing against coffee, but these Russian chains and Starbucks run counter to the long tradition of tea drinking in Russia. When I lived in Moscow and St Petersburg in the early 1990s, it was nigh impossible to find coffee anywhere, because Russians just did not drink much. Instead, a couple of times a day, all the work in the office or school stopped: the electric kettle was brought out from the closet, a pot of tea was made, and pastries and rusks were pulled from their hiding places in handbags and briefcases. Everyone gathered around a table for a break.

I should note, though, that at that time Russians considered Lipton tea to be "luxury tea." Blech. I think Lipton tastes like dirt swept off a factory floor.

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