My goal to learn something new every day
It was 2009 when I had my first taste of Starbucks. I remember it well. It was a vanilla latte (grande size), and it was also the first time I’d ever tried coffee (the real stuff that is). It was during a staff meeting, and our centre manager had bought coffee for all of the teachers. I thought it would have been rude of me not to drink it. The sweetness of the syrup masked the bitterness that I’d associated with coffee previously. To be fair, my only experience of coffee was with that instant stuff my parents always drink. I think I’d tried it once when I was about 12 or 13, and didn’t get why grown ups go on about coffee so much.
The drink on that day in 2009 gave me a buzz like one I’d not felt since those late nights at university drinking Red Bull to get me through to the deadline. This was at a time when Red Bull was not readily available in Korea, and Hot Six was unheard of. It was also in the middle of my MA, and I was craving the energy boosts. Since that day, I’ve probably visited Starbucks 5 times a week. At first, I stuck with the vanilla lattes. Over time, and in part because I once read the calorie count, my taste for coffee developed. I now drink Americano wherever I go. I tried a vanilla latte a few months ago for the first time in a while, and it tastes to sweet to me now. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older? Anyway, I’d dread to think about how much money I’ve spent in Starbucks over the last few years.
I should point out that I’ve only ever been to a non-Korean Starbucks once in my life, also in 2009, in December. It was the last time I was back in the UK visiting my family. It was in Edinburgh, but the Starbucks wasn’t as good as I was used to in Korea. It didn’t quite taste right. Perhaps it’s because the Korean Starbucks was the first I’d tasted, and that’s what I associated with coffee?
While I know I’ve spent a small fortune at Starbucks, and some people might see that as a waste, I don’t necessarily. These days, three days a week a have a class at lunchtime, and then my next class is not until the evening. This gives me 4 or 5 hours a day to kill, and my home is too far away. So three times a week, I go to Starbucks and set up camp for those few hours to get on with work. The WiFi’s good, the service is good, the coffee’s good(ish). Perhaps in the UK, unless it was a cafe on campus, going into a coffee shop for a long period of time, and only buying one coffee, might be frowned upon. In fact it was in the news not so long ago about cafes that were charging people by the minute.
But in Korea, you can do it, and it’s not a problem. There is a huge abundance of of coffee shops in Korea, so there’s generally no lack of space. Doing the maths, a grande Americano costs me 4,600 KRW (£2.80), split across 4 hours, that works out at 1150 won an hour or 70 pence.
But what’s all this waffle about? What’s with the love for Starbucks? And just what did I learn today.
Well, today, I learned that the people (maybe person) behind Starbucks Korea’s Twitter account really are a helpful, friendly, multilingual bunch (individual?). It all started when I got to my regular branch today. I was hungry, so ordered a sandwich with my coffee. It came with a hand wipe, you know for cleaning your hands afterwards. But it’s what was written on the outside that I found most amusing/bewildering.
I get the keeping you clean bit, but for the life of me, couldn’t make any sense of the first sentence. So, I did what any social media loving person would do, and took to Twitter, with a somewhat sarcastic comment before settling down to do my work. But no more than a couple of minutes must have passed before I received this:
‘Haha, fair enough’ I thought to myself. But now I was on the spot. I’d called the coffee giant out, and out of, presumably sheer politeness, they responded in the most friendly manner. I started it, so it would have been rude of me not to reply. But what with? It’s just a bleeding wet wipe after all. And they’re probably not going to take any notice of anything I have to say, but I had to think of something. The best I could come up with?
Hmmm, not so easy after all.
Not only did they reply to my sarcastic tweet, when they really could have just ignored me, but they were very polite about it. I then had a quick scroll through their feed to see what else the tweeted about, and was quite surprised to see not only responses to people in English, but also some in Japanese too! Having lived here for long enough, and being used to seeing English everywhere, it didn’t really hit me at first, but then as I thought about it, I could never imagine @Starbucks or @StarbucksUK tweeting in another language, even if it were French or some other more familiar language.
Scrolling further on down the Korean company’s feed, I saw plenty of examples from the past couple of months where the mystery account operator has been more than helpful. From giving advice about out-of-stock tumblers, to offering to call up specific stores to check why their electrical outlets weren’t working.
Whatever your opinion of the company, and I know there are people out there who don’t like the multinationals, you’ve got to admit that Starbucks Korea is doing Twitter well.