Starbucks is coming to Prague, but what will Czechs make of it?
Love it or hate it, the US coffeehouse chain Starbucks is everywhere - except Prague, that is, which up until now has been remarkably quiet on the coffee-to-go front. But this absence of Starbucks is not going to last that much longer, with the chain opening its first branch in Prague's Pankrac district next year. Starbucks is known for its blend of hot drinks, cool jazz, and comfy leather sofas - but will Czechs buy it? This is the question I put to Prague Post Food Critic Dave Faries, earlier today:
"Actually, I do think they will go for it, because look at the market here - it has doubled in the last few years. I think in 2004, there were something like 700 coffeehouses in all of the Czech Republic, and now there is something like 1,700. In a two year period, or a three year period, that's rather impressive. The thing about Starbucks - as bad as people might think it is if they don't like chains etc. - is that it makes better coffee than most of the places here."
So, as a food critic, do you think Starbucks will make Czech coffee up-the-ante a bit?
"Well, actually, Starbucks - I say it has better coffee than most of the places you'll find here - but Starbucks tends to roast every bean the same, so that it tends to taste the same. It's rather bitter, it has a rather strong flavour, with a good strong aroma. But coffee itself - every bean has a different flavour, and Starbucks has a habit of destroying that, and that is what purists don't like."
"The key though, for Starbucks in this market, will be price-point more than anything. Whether Czechs will be willing to pay for it, whether even expats will be willing to pay. I don't know what Starbucks are going to do - they could price themselves out of the market."
Prague is very famous for its grand, old, 'kavarny', or coffeehouses. What do you think that such coffeehouses have over Starbucks, and what do you think that Starbucks has over them?
"Well, Café Imperial has a great ceiling, and incredible walls, and okay coffee. Slavia has a fantastic view, and bad food, and okay coffee. Café Louvre has, you know, it's there. It's fine, I mean, there is nothing wrong with those places, it's the setting more than anything. They draw locals, they draw a lot of tourists. Starbucks is more of a functional place. I don't know that it is going to be a tourist place, it's going to be a place that working people go, that people grab a quick cup of coffee when they are on the move."
"There are a lot of people who are on-the-go nowadays. People are working longer hours. If you go out to Prague 4, where they are opening the first one - then that's the home of big business. A lot of big business, and a lot of the corporate world is settled out there. And they need Starbucks."