Saturday, March 19, 2011

Of Tims and Starbucks

The difference between Canadians and Americans is seen easily in how they take their coffee.

Travelling from Alliston to Toronto Airport the other day we passed several Tim Horton's coffee spots. It was 6 a.m. and cars were lined up in the drive-throughs at all of them . It is difficult to find a Timmies without at least one car at the window at any time of day or night. Getting a Tim's on the go is an integral part of Canadian life.

Today I'm sitting in Starbucks (Orinda, CA) having a latte and a piece of coffee cake (there was no toast). Folks are sitting at little tables with their coffee and laptops, smart phones and iPads. Some aren't wired but are chatting and reading magazines and newspapers.

Down here coffee still appears to be more of a social thing. In Canada, coffee is done mainly on the move. Go to a hockey rink and people are standing around with coffee cups in their hands. Peer into cars on the freeways and you'll see the drivers holding Timmies.

In large Canadian urban places, of course, you'll also find Starbucks packed with folks reading, communicating and computing. But that's a small number compared to those sipping a Tim's out on the highways.

I've never seen a drive-in coffee place here, or anywhere else in the U.S. that I can recall. They have drive-in liquor stores, so they must have a drive-in coffee place or two.

Whatever the coffee culture, it's certainly big business in both countries. There's a steady flow of customers into this village Starbucks. It can be difficult to get a seat at times. I guess that's why Starbucks reported almost $3 billion in revenues during the last quarter reported. Tim Hortons, with fewer outlets, and less international presence, had $2.5 billion total revenue for all four quarters in 2010.

Both coffee companies have been around roughly the same amount of time. Tim's got going 46 years ago (if you are Canadian you know that story inside out). Starbucks is celebrating its 40th anniversary, according to the stickers on the entry doors.

You can find Timmies in the U.S. There are 550 stores, a lot of them near the border. There are 3,000 stores in Canada.

Tim's has plans for more U.S, locations, so who knows, maybe the cultures will merge even more and I'll be able to drive up to a Tim's in Orinda and order a double-double.

Not a bad thought considering Starbucks prices. My latte and coffee cake cost me $5. I can get breakfast for that at my favourite breakfast spot: Old Mill Restaurant at Carnarvon in cottage country. 

Early morning coffee customers at Starbucks in Orinda

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