Anthony Bolante/Reuters

In President Barack Obama's 'latte salute' scandal, the nation's coffee preferences are revealed.

The latest scandal sweeping the Beltway is oh god I'm exhausted already. We're doing this again? We are seriously doing this. From The New Republic:

The dumb thing in the news today is that President Obama saluted a marine on Tuesday while holding a cup of coffee. It was probably filled with tea, because Obama doesn’t drink much coffee, but conservatives are calling it a latte, because they think latte is a French word (it's Italian) and that only effeminate liberals drink lattes (they're wrong).

Is that right? Not the dumb-thing part—ha ha, no, of course not that. Assailing the president over his "latte salute" is the worst excuse for an all-consuming -gate or -ghazi yet. Read the rest of Brian Beutler's story for more on why certain expectations of the commander-in-chief are unreasonable—but let's you and I talk about coffee.

Do conservatives really not drink lattes? The answer isn't so clear cut*, according to Ethan Epstein, assistant editor for The Weekly Standard. (Disclosure: Beutler is a friend; Epstein emailed me earlier today on an unrelated matter with a negative comment about my work.)

If that's true... then... how exactly do conservatives wake up in the morning? How do they note the passing of the seasons? (Sidebar question, but can you just imagine the speed with which the House of Representatives would bring forth impeachment proceedings if that were a Pumpkin Spice Latte the President were clutching? #impeach #PSL)

Beutler links to a story in The New Republic that argues there is no "Starbucks Nation or Chick-fil-A Country"—just one nation, united by terrible dietary decisions. "[I]n 2014, when you can cool off with a frappuccino at the Super Target in Denton, Texas, I’d say Starbucks is pretty Middle American," writes Jason Zengerle.

Retail maps produced by Morgan Stanley for its annual "retail atlas," however, suggest otherwise. Or at least they demonstrate that there is a beverage gap in America.

(Morgan Stanley)

There are an awful lot of baristas flinging lattes in Texas (in fact, my younger brother is one of them). But Starbucks locations in the South, Midwest, and the Southeast—for lack of a better map breakout, the regions dominated by red states—make up a small percentage of the chain's overall footprint. Only one-quarter of Starbucks stores are located in these predominantly conservative regions. And plenty of those stores are no doubt located in cities within those regions that trend more liberal. Places like Denton, Texas.

Worse still for conservatives, Starbucks stores comprise a smaller percentage of retail outlets than they ought to in those regions. Another heat map shows what the average percent for national chains is in each of these regions.

(Morgan Stanley)

If you compare the two maps above, you can see that a major corporation like Starbucks really should be doing much more business in the Southeast than it is. Now, Starbucks isn't doing badly at all: More than one-third of the coffee monster's outlets are international locations, which is much higher than the average for a U.S. retailer (10 percent). But even if we were to discount all those foreign latte-sippers, Starbucks would still be seriously underrepresented in the South, the Midwest, the Southeast, and (curiously) the Northeast, and dramatically overrepresented in the Northwest and Southwest.

It may just be the case that conservatives don't drink lattes. The problem isn't that America runs on Dunkin': Businesss Insider's Ashley Lutz showed last September that Dunkin' Donuts has only just started to emerge in regions that typically vote Republican.

(Dunkin' Donuts)

It might be the case that conservatives are drinking lattes, only they're drinking them at McDonalds. That's the hope at McDonalds, anyway, whose strategy for growth through 2016 involves a focus on "coffee-driven visits," according to Bloomberg.

This is to say nothing of the cafes that serve, you know, great coffee, with soy milk and fair-trade beans and all the rest. Those are located almost exclusively in the nation's urban corridors. Hell, a Thursday Night Throwdown could double as a Democratic voter registration drive.

So far, McCappucinos have yet to catch on (let us be thankful for small favors). What these maps show is they maybe never will—at least not in conservative districts. Half the nation doesn't drink good coffee in the morning. Well there's your problem right there!

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post characterized Epstein's argument as though he were making the case that conservatives don't drink lattes. Epstein has since reached out to clarify that he does not believe that to be true, but instead was attempting to a poke hole in Beutler's argument. 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

    A different kind of wealth distribution in 17th-century Amsterdam paved the way for its quintessential home design.

  2. photo: Developer James Rouse visiting Harborplace in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

    What Happened to Baltimore’s Harborplace?

    The pioneering festival marketplace was among the most trendsetting urban attractions of the last 40 years. Now it’s looking for a new place in a changed city.

  3. photo: San Diego's Trolley

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  4. photo: NYC subway

    Behind the Gains in U.S. Public Transit Ridership

    Public transportation systems in the United States gained passengers over the second and third quarters of 2019. But the boost came from two large cities.

  5. photo: San Francisco skyline

    Would Capping Office Space Ease San Francisco’s Housing Crunch?

    Proposition E would put a moratorium on new commercial real estate if affordable housing goals aren’t met. But critics aren’t convinced it would be effective.