One of the joys of the Internet is that people with unusual interests can achieve critical mass and find one another: if you are, say, a recumbent bike enthusiast in North Texas or someone who likes listening to auto races via scanner, you can find compatriots online. So too for coffee nerds. Still, as wonderful as resources like Coffeegeek are for true obsessives, all the websites in the world can’t match the impact of one ubiquitous chain. Starbucks is, of course, a frequent target of anti-globalization activists (as well as ornery individuals) because its amazingly successful business model has made it the most prominent coffee company in America. It’s often chided for its habit of setting up shop near smaller coffeehouses and drawing foot traffic away from them; sometimes the business lost to Starbucks is enough to make the difference between staying open and closing down. In the towns and suburbs where there weren’t coffeehouses of any sort before Starbucks arrived, however, their coffee can be a godsend. For all the twentieth century coffee world’s technical developments (most especially including the modern espresso machine, a recent development in coffee’s century old tradition), none had as profound an impact on American coffee consumption as the rise of instant coffee. At one time, every major city in America had several coffee roasters; there were once 45 roasters in Ohio alone. Alfred Peet, whose chain of stores remains a Bay Area institution, started his first coffeehouse in 1966 as a side business to coffee roasting. But the slow move to bland yet highly-caffeinated robusto beans — used as cheap filler in instant coffee — helped kill American coffee culture almost everywhere in the country until Starbucks brought it back. The company’s efforts at social activism might not matter nearly as much as the growth in coffeehouses that accompanied (and perhaps was even triggered) by the chain’s inexorable spread. Starbucks is everywhere, and coffee smells like money. Even fast-food chains now looking to make a buck off of gourmet coffee. And if Starbucks falters, another chain — or even an alliance of independent coffee shops, doing it Booksense-style — will rise up to replace them. America eats outmoded retailing concepts alive, and it doesn’t need an overroasted $4 mocha to wash them down.