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  • Without realizing it, I became addicted to visiting Starbucks around the world.
  • In 2020, I abruptly stopped, challenging myself to explore more local options.
  • Constantly searching for new coffee shops has taught me how to better trust my instincts.

When I first started drinking coffee, I was intimidated by every café that had its own long menu with unique drink names and too many ways to personalize a drink.

Soon, I found comfort in Starbucks: No matter where in the world I was, I could order the exact same thing and know what to expect.

As a travel journalist, I began searching for the familiar logo everywhere, from Bali and Morocco to Barcelona and Buenos Aires. It wasn't hard — Starbucks is the largest coffee chain in the world, on track to have 55,000 stores by 2030.

But about four and a half years ago, I was on my way to claim my free Starbucks birthday drink when a lightbulb went off in my head.

I was in San Francisco, and as I passed one adorable little coffee shop after another, I wondered why I was overlooking so many small businesses so I could get coffee from a megacorporation that netted $36 billion in the 2023 fiscal year.

That day, I sipped my last drop of frozen coffee through a green straw (OK, technically a sippy top since the chain had stopped offering plastic straws by then) and quit Starbucks.

It was a challenging transition that meant spending more money on coffee

Smiles written on a Starbucks cup don't bring me as much joy as a meaningful interaction with a local barista does. Foto: Rachel Chang

Though I live a block from a Starbucks, I started forcing myself to walk past it in search of local options.

My self-imposed ban began in 2020 during the peak days of the coronavirus pandemic, so I quickly realized the spending power I had with my daily coffee.

Many independent coffee shops closed during or shortly after the height of the pandemic. Even now, smaller cafés depend on every customer's support.

Starbucks doesn't need my money as much, even though it had actually been cheaper for me. At the time, I'd been spending $3 to $5 for my Starbucks drinks. At local shops, my drinks were closer to $4 to $7.

After happily paying extra for milk substitutes and gratuity at small businesses, the cost of my typical coffee order eventually started inching closer to double digits. Still, I felt better knowing the dollars were going back to my community.

I also turned grabbing coffee into an adventure

Giving up Starbucks also meant I'd have to break some old habits.

Instead of rotely going to the closest Starbucks, I began to pull up Google Maps to search for a new coffee shop every time. In the beginning, I often landed at mediocre cafés.

But as I started traveling again, I realized what felt like a chore at home started to feel like a delight when I was abroad. After all, traveling is all about discovering new finds.

Every coffee shop has its own menu, system, and style. Instead of being an old pro in a familiar place, I became the constant newbie in a strange setting, asking for WiFi passwords and bathroom keys.

Eventually, trying new spots became a mini daily adventure stirred up into my coffee break.

Now I'm more than 4 years Starbucks-free — and won't go back

I spend more money on coffee now, but I don't mind. Foto: Rachel Chang

The bottom line is that my coffee budget has gone up — I recently paid $12.69 for a vanilla oat latte at a local shop, about $5 more than it would've cost at Starbucks — but now I see more than a cup of joe.

I see coffee time as an experience, a moment to connect with a slice of a community that I wouldn't normally have been immersed in.

Plus, at local coffee shops, I'm one of few customers instead of one of many in a long line. I'm more likely to get doted on with top-notch service instead of just feeling like a name on a cup.

Sometimes, I still end up at coffee chains — but my self-imposed ban means I'll opt for smaller ones like Blank Street or Gregory's Coffee instead of mega-global franchises.

I still feel like a bit of a jerk when I have business meetings scheduled at a Starbucks and ask to go somewhere else. But it's a pretty good conversation starter, and I've even had colleagues tell me they're also steering away from the chain.

I don't have a personal vendetta against Starbucks. It's just that by quitting, my coffee world has opened up beyond the limitations of one company — and forever hunting for a new coffee shop has become my ultimate pick-me-up.

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