Starbucks is absolutely huge, and no, it’s not only the corporation. According to their website the Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Company has 10,801 establishments in 37 countries worldwide (With 7,661 of those in the United States,) Ann Arbor’s South University and State/Liberty locations are among the largest at 4,600 and 4,500 square feet, respectively.
At both campus locations, the espresso bar is almost alchemical. Customers order extremely complex drinks in Starbucks lingo, starting with a size, continuing with a seemingly endless amount of modifying adjectives, and ending with whatever the base drink is on the wall-mounted menu. Starbucks newbies be warned: those ignorant of the language may be scoffed at by bystanders holding grande, seven-pump, sugar-free, non-fat, extra-hot, vanilla cappuccinos. If you mess up your word order, the cashiers relay correct grammar to the baristas making your coffee.
Half of the chains success on campus – and most likely elsewhere – is due to its massive amount of customization; at more than 38 million possibilities for espresso-based drinks alone, one is sure to find something palatable, if not absolutely delicious, on the Starbucks menu. Some customers stick to simple, daily brewed coffee; others order $7, 10-word caffeinated potions. Thanks to strict quality control and barista training, Starbucks coffee is nearly homogenous between locations; the drink you love at your hometown Starbucks will most likely taste exactly the same at another.
The Starbucks selection doesn’t end with mere liquid libations; a fully stocked bakery case holds more than 20 sweet (and not-so-sweet) goods from classic crumb cake to immensely sugary cupcakes. If you’re on the go, a refrigerator case directly below the baked goods holds Jones Soda, San Pellegrino and even cans of Starbucks’s own iced coffee.
The social atmosphere at the State Street location is diverse and lively. A crowd of sorority girls, hipsters, professionals and even the occasional Ann Arbor homeless float in and out through the first floor’s two entrances from at 9 a.m. until close at midnight. The crowd at the tables varies depending on the time of day: In the morning, the first floor is packed with a range of professionals, townies and students alike; as the day progresses, the crowd becomes increasingly more casual, with the late-night crowd composed almost entirely of University students. The newly renovated basement contains a removable stage area for live music, adding to the casual atmosphere. Throughout the day, the glass-walled exterior of the first floor adds a bright, lively light to the interior, soaking the soft leather couches in a comfortable amount of sunlight for reading. At peak hours, it can be absolutely impossible to find a seat, and the basement closes inexplicably early on some weeknights, adding to the seating chaos.
The South University Avenue scene is primarily college-oriented, filled with students from open to close. Compared to the State Street, the South University Starbucks is almost always darker. In the day, dim incandescent lights clash with the fluorescent glow of those in the nearby mall hallway, which the location shares a glass wall. At night, the lighting situation can cause an uncomfortable, if not disorienting, condition for those attempting to read textbooks or novels too close to the hallway.
For patrons using laptops, electrical outlets are sparse in both locations. Wireless Internet is controlled company-wide by T-Mobile, which charges outrageous $40-per-month fees to those wishing to use it, causing those with online work to move away to the nearby competition, such as Espresso Royale Cafe, which offers free Internet access.
Despite slight inconveniences, there are few places where you can order a venti, half caf, extra caramel, nonfat, no foam, extra hot, caramel macchiatos and not be laughed out of the place. Then again, if you are ordering such a drink, maybe you need to be.