Sunday, 21 November 2010

Quirky things about Belgium: Starbucks?!

Yes. It's really true. There's really going to be a Starbucks somewhere other than the airport (and I've long argued that while it's great to start a holiday with a celebratory blueberry muffin and tall latté, if you're at the airport, you're probably going somewhere that has plenty of Starbucks - ie, just about anywhere else in the world).

Okay, yes, there is also one in Antwerp, but that's also a long way to go for coffee.

The choice of venue baffles me somewhat, though - they're going for Gare Centrale, which in many ways is the worst of the main stations: its design is the nicest, but it feels dirty, frequently unsafe, and yes, it smells. The more recently renovated Gare du Midi might make more sense, particularly with the Eurostar terminal being there. (And the fact that I go through it more, and they would therefore make a lot more money.)

At the airport, the coffee and the muffins taste exactly as they do in the UK (not as they do in the US, where the muffins are different, but that's another story, and since I'm from the UK, that's fine with me), and the décor is reassuringly familiar too. The price is high, though, and the service slow - or maybe it just seems slow because I'm usually rushing to get the plane I'm late for. At peak hours, in Penn Station in New York someone comes to take your order while you're queuing, but I'm under no illusions about that happening in the Capital of Inefficiency.

I'm also unconvinced that Starbucks-style opening hours will be in operation: seven days a week, 6.30 am to 9 pm (for example) seems unlikely. It would be lovely to imagine that someone has realised that demand is actually likely to be higher at weekends, when most people are likely to have a lot of time to kill given that most middle-distance trains are hourly (yes - hourly), and that in those long stretches of time reading a paper in a comfortable chair rather than sitting on the cold, forbidden steps is likely to appeal. This logic, though, is profoundly unBelgian.

Here's the thing with Starbucks, too. I don't think I so much want one: I've lived here long enough now that the latte cravings have dulled substantially. It's not that I want their gourmet coffee (because, as Belgians will probably be quick to tell you, and as I used to claim myself, it's not really coffee anyway), it's the convenience of their ubiquity that I miss. I want to know that I will be passing one wherever I go, the whole no-time-for-breakfast-I'll-grab-coffee-on-the-way thing, obviating the need for my now dying thermos thingy that I religiously fill with home-made coffee every day (or long discussion in places like Exki where I try to explain I would like a lot of coffee, and a lot of warm milk, all together, but I will mix it myself). And that seems a way off yet.

But, lest you think I do not welcome this development, I do. I really do. If it were not 2 am I would, in fact, be dancing for joy.


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. Monday through Thursday my day at work starts with a Grande Latte, now in a red cup :-)

Anonymous said...

Starbucks is to coffee what McDonalds is to hamburgers - a poor example of such but useful in an emergency.

fiona lynne said...

Oh Claire. I know you have an undying love for Starbucks but this actually makes me a little bit sad. Brussels has so many great places to get a coffee - one that's hot and strong and not watered done with masses of sugary things and milk (skimmed milk no less). I was almost proud that Brussels had held out this long... :)

Claire said...

Well, yes, but when you want a Starbucks coffee, only a Starbucks coffee will do!

Plus - somewhere warm and safe and comfortable and smelling of coffee will be a welcome addition to the Gare Centrale - I regularly end up waiting forever there!

Also - Belgian coffees (not all of which I like, though I admit some are great) - over far too quickly! What do you do if you want to sip at a coffee for 30 mins?!

I'm not sure, by the way, that I have an undying love for Starbucks. (I used to boycott them as much as possible as "evil American capitalists", before American lured me with its coolness.) For Costa, maybe. For Caffe Nero, perhaps.

But, as I said. When you want a latte, a real one, not what the Belgians call a latte or a lait russe, then only a latte will do. Also, I don't think we're about to be taken over - room for us all to be happy?

Grace said...

Some Starbucks in London do that "order in the queue" thing at busy times. It's great!
And I'm sure with the Starbucks available to you even ata station you dislike, you will find yourself strangely spending a lot more time there...
Speaking of Starbucks, where's my gingerbread latte?

Jo Detavernier said...

nice post ! when in Bruges give our independent American coffee house Bean around the World at try ! you'll find us at Genthof 5 (near to Van Eyckplein)