In an interesting (and old) post on McDonalds and soft power, John Quiggin discusses large global chains and he states:
The effects on American consumers are ambiguous, but arguably negative on balance. Although they benefit from having films and chain restaurants tailored precisely to their tastes, they have far fewer alternatives than before the rise of the chains, particularly if their tastes differ a bit from the mean.
With regard to the specifics of coffee that statement is simply not accurate and would demonstrate -- should it be made specifically -- rather blissful ignorance of the USA. There are more alternatives now with regard to coffee than before Starbucks. (I'd say food in general, but that is a larger debate.) There were virtually NO independent coffee shops before Starbucks. Period. QED. You can go ahead and cite (as actually, I am as able as anyone) a few places in Greenwhich Village in the 1950s and 60s. But they were indeed exceptions. The coffee house did not exist widely, much less as a mass phenomenon in virtually every shopping center. When I moved to Seattle in 1967 it had just about one coffee house, complete with Go board and black turtlenecks.
Starbucks created an industry in the USA. That is not a disputable fact. There were virtually no coffee houses -- third places -- where one could hang out before Starbucks. (In fact Starbucks itself simply stumbled on the business -- the very first Starbucks in Seattle had no place to sit.) It has of course vastly taken the lead but it has also -- to continue with the analogy -- broken ground for literally tens of thousand and thousands of independent coffee houses of various stripes. Now you can go into a small town in the far reaches of British Columbia and find a pretty nice place to hang -- and it may very well have WiFi, too.
American culture has grown enormously richer because of Starbucks though I realize that the pretentiously fashionable thing to do is to scorn it for being successful, an example of mass culture etc etc.
More interesting comments on this topic at Crooked Timber.