Starbuck’s generating fans even among Costa Ricans

A.M. Costa Rica/Aaron Knapp
The only difference is that Starbuck’s welcome board is in
Spanish. And Brita Trepos is prepared to serve a special
brew featuring coffee that comes from Tres Rios.

There is a place in Escazú along Ruta 27 where a U.S. expat cannot help but sense an atmosphere that seems familiar.

From the chain restaurants like Hooters and Outback Steakhouse, to the international hotel chains like Holiday Inn and the InterContinental, to the sprawling Multiplex shopping center, a Gringo can scarcely glance in any direction without seeing a business imported from the United States.

However, perhaps the most familiar store of all has made its way to Costa Rica. Its inescapable green and white siren tempts passersby with coffee, treats and frappuccinos.

The store, of course, is Costa Rica’s first Starbuck’s, which sits between Hospital CIMA and the Residence Inn. Locals and expats alike have adopted it in the same way that people in the United States did decades ago.

Brita Trepos is an assistant manager at the new Starbucks in Escazú. She said that Starbucks has a culture that makes it different from any other café in Costa Rica. That culture is one of personalized customer service.

“Starbucks is the only one to give you whatever you want,” said Ms. Trepos. “That is our best offer.”

The international coffee production company and coffeehouse chain Starbucks, is virtually impossible to avoid in any U.S. city. The company opened its first store in 1971 in the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. It now has almost 18,000 stores in 60 countries according to the company’s Web site.

Regardless of location, the company strives for consistency in as many aspects as possible, and Escazu’s new Starbucks coffeehouse is no different.

Upon entering this Starbucks, customers are hit with the same familiar coffee smell that only seems to be around Starbucks. It has the same green umbrellas on its patio table, the same wood grain tables, chairs, floors and surfaces, the same colorful messages on a chalkboard at the entrance, and, most importantly, the same sandwiches, treats and drinks.

For Ms. Trepos, the consistency of the drinks and the ability for patrons to customize those drinks, is the primary element that sets Starbucks apart.

“When you come to Starbucks, your experience of the product is unique because it’s your choice,” she said.

The ability to personalize drinks brings just as much of a variety of people in Escazú as it does in the United States. A group of U.S. expats met with their coffees Friday to discuss business in the front of the store. A young Tico couple sat close together in a corner while they shared a pink frappuccino. Nurses from the hospital wait in line alongside girls with shopping bags in hand.

A group of middle-aged Costa Rican men taking a coffee break listed the ambience, the presentation and the quality of the product as reasons why they came to Starbucks and not somewhere else. They became acquainted with the coffee in the United States and have easily adjusted since the new place opened, they said.

Another group of expats came to Starbucks to talk about business. They said that the atmosphere makes it one of the better places to have a conversation, but it is especially so for professional meetings.

“If you’re trying to do business, Starbucks is a little more conducive, a little more adult,” said Mark Denton.

Although customers familiar with Starbucks in the United States will find it very similar to every other they have seen, Costa Rica’s Starbucks has a few products that cannot be found anywhere else.

In addition to Costa Rica mugs and thermoses, the store also sells a blend of coffee that is made only from Costa Rican beans. The beans come from the Bella Vista coffee plantation in Tres Rios.

For those on San José’s east side who want a taste of Starbucks, Ms. Trejos said that they do not have long to wait. She said that a second Starbucks is scheduled to open Nov. 15 in the San Pedro-Moravia area.

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