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As far as taste goes, even the most "piquant and sparkling, yet delicately smooth" cup of coffee doesn't do much for me. And yet, there are times when I do enjoy sitting in a cafe, sipping inexpertly at a latte or a cappuccino. The pleasure I take in these moments derives from the generally exploitative nature of the coffee business: as I idle at a corner table, debating how to convert the ten dollars in my wallet into a few more hours of weekend distraction, I know that somewhere, in a more humid and bug-ridden part of the world, hapless laborers are breaking their backs for as little as 20 cents an hour to supply me with this quotidian indulgence. I may be an underachieving, recently laid-off office drone, with no major appliances to my name, but to those bean-serfs, I'm a king.

The best place to think such thoughts, of course, is Starbucks: the crisp geometries and understated monochromatics of this super-efficient coffee distribution center fairly percolate with the pungent aroma of capitalism. The people waiting in line to place their orders roll forward like items on a conveyor belt; each one is the main part of a custom assembly, ready to be kitted out with espressos and scones and double lattes. The fully assembled customers--all of them members of the corporate smart set--hold court at tiny, marble-topped tables, crackling with caffeine and ambition, devising new ways to generate greater profits for their various employers. All around them, tightly packed merchandise fills shelves and free-standing islands; entire countries and cultures are distilled into bright packaging for half-pound bags of coffee.

It makes you want to go out and start your own empire...