When it comes to food, there is almost any direction you can go in in both Lima and Cusco. From Peruvian soups, ceviche and lomo saltado, to Peruvian drinks like Pisco and other cocktails, there is almost too much to touch on. So instead, I’m going to pick perhaps the one direction that seems the least Peruvian but actually has highlighted some striking cultural differences: Starbucks.
After my senior year in high school, I worked as a barista at Starbucks in California for a summer. I know the ins and outs of the company, what goes into every drink and the overriding business ideals that govern their success. There is a Starbucks just off the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco that I have visited a few times now (mostly due to the usually amazing wi-fi) and it’s time to touch on some major differences between the store here and stores back in that states.
For one, the Cusco Starbucks location does not brew coffee. No, that’s not a joke. Coffee is not a popular drink in Peru—most locals drink tea. So when a store like Starbucks pops up it is catering almost entirely to tourists from the U.S., Europe, or one of the thousands of other Starbucks locations around the world. Despite this, they do not brew their own coffee. Instead, if a coffee or iced coffee is ordered, they will instead make an Americano—a drink similar to coffee in strength but made with espresso shots and boiling water. Even still, when a friend of mine tried to order a coffee this morning, they not only turned her away saying they do not brew coffee but explained they could also not make an Americano despite having a working espresso machine and hot water.
Despite the cultural difference in the lack of coffee, there is also a difference in the service. I’ve noticed that instead of listening to your order and writing it down as it is, many baristas here try to assume your order for you. For example, I usually order a café mocha with non-fat milk and no whipped cream. The baristas interpret this as I want a “skinny mocha” which is an entirely different drink with different chocolate syrup in it. I constantly have to correct them and say I want the regular drink but with the adjustments that I prefer. They also sometimes assume if I want an iced mocha I want a frapuccino, a milk-shake type drink that is nothing like a mocha. These sort of assumptions are not made with this kind of frequency in the United States.
Lastly, the correction for bad service is lacking here as well. Even when a friend of mine had her drink made incorrectly three times, she was given no discount next time, apology or other sort of compensation for their error. That is Starbucks 101 that I was asked in my job interview: “what do you do if you mess up someone’s order?” You apologize, make another for free and give them a coupon for a free drink next time. Hopefully, even though this blog post seems more like a Yelp review above anything else, it sheds some light on some differences I’ve seen with chain restaurants like Starbucks in the U.S. and in South America.