Maslow’s hierarchy of coffee chains

excerpted from The Middle Class Handbook

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity.

How the coffee chain bigwigs stack up against modern middle-class needs.


Found mainly at railway stations, with its dark brown and swirly gold kiosks, AMT does a nice job of inspiring associations with classic, elegant train travel. It’s all about the image. One can’t help wanting to buy a broadsheet newspaper and wear a lovely beige trench coat to complete the look. The coffee’s good, and it was the first to go entirely fair-trade, adding an element of moral high ground, which is ideal.

ESTEEM – Caffè Nero

Calm and stylish, Nero makes you feel quite smug. The coffee is slightly bitter but if anything that just adds to the sensation that you’re doing it right. Despite being founded by an American called Gerry in the 1990s, it’s the most genuinely continental-seeming of the chain coffee shops. People who drink here show respect for coffee and respect for themselves.


Okay, we know it’s owned by Maccy D’s, they don’t hire Brits, and the folksy, snugly signage is beyond tired, but the coffee is pretty good, the service always friendly and energetic, and we have to say the latest store refurbs are really rather lovely. Could this be love?

SAFETY – Starbucks

A place to drink bad coffee, eat an unchallenging panini and catch up on your emails. Starbucks signifies normality, civilisation, efficiency. Despite its efforts, it can’t fulfil any higher need simply because it’s an unethical brand that constantly leaves the water running.


Satisfies fundamental coffee urge without offering any additional benefit. Commonly found at service stations and horrible brightly lit shopping centres, therefore associated with functional, rushed, uncomfortable coffee drinking rather than pleasurable experience.