Why did Starbucks emerge as the dominant coffee chain in the United States?

Adding to Michael's answer, part of Starbucks' success was their willingness to change with customers' wants and needs (and copy the successes of other chains). At first, Howard Schulz was adamant about only serving traditional coffee drinks (espresso, cappuccino, latte, machiatto). But when a store manager in SoCal saw Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf serving a frozen blended coffee drink and customers gobbling them up, he or she (I forget) hounded execs until his store could sell them too and thus was born the frappuccino. And that led to all the frou frou drinks that people seem to love, which also allows Starbucks to be seen as an indulgence and not just every day coffee. And I am sure those drinks have pretty amazing margins.

It seems like they were also pretty savvy and about when to compete in a market and when to buy the main game in town. In SoCal and SF, they clearly decided to compete. But in Boston, they bought the dominant coffee house chain, the Coffee Connection.

Of course, relentless execution helped as well.

What cities in the US are known for having the top coffee?

Seattle is very well known for having good coffee.

From my experience living there, it's true that people really care a lot about and put a lot of effort into finding good coffee there, and there are a lot of places to get it, many of which are outstanding.

It is also the home of Starbucks, which is probably the most well-known coffee chain in the United States.

See also: What's the best coffee shop or cafe in Seattle?

Where can you get the best latte in San Francisco?

Blue Bottle Coffee is often considered the best coffee in San Francisco.  They run a small walk-up stand out of a garage in Hayes Valley and have a permanent location in the Ferry Building where they got their start as a cart at the Farmer's Market.  Every time I've had a Blue Bottle latte, I'm left with the last drips wishing for more.  It is also probably one of the more expensive lattes in the city. (Hayes Valley: Linden & Octavia; Embarcdero: Ferry Building)
www.bluebottlecoffee.net

Ritual Coffee Roasters employs a crew that takes latte making pretty seriously.  They offer the most amazing presentation with artistic workings of the steamed milk in bright red mugs.  This place is a bit of a hipster scene so be prepared to be stared down a bit when you walk in and join the line.  They also do not offer electricity so bring your laptop fully charged up. (Mission: Valencia & 21st)
www.ritualroasters.com

Four Barrel Coffee would be hard to find for the non-native as there is no signage out front – you have to know where this is….and do people ever know.  You will find lines here on the weekend of caffeine junkies looking for their fix.  Similar to Ritual, the barristas here take coffee-making seriously to such a point that they will only make whole milk and soy lattes.  They will look offended if you ask for a "low-fat latte".  This ain't no Starbucks.  (Mission: Valencia & 15th)
www.fourbarrelcoffee.com

What's the best coffee shop or cafe in Seattle?

Best coffee is hands down Slate Coffee Bar in Ballard http://slatecoffee.com/locations…  It's where Seattle baristas get their coffee. It's not much of a "cafe" though so for a cafe feel try:

Victrola: Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, or downtown http://www.victrolacoffee.com/co…

Zoka: U District, Greenlake, Kirkland. Average coffee but awesome environment. http://www.zokacoffee.com/about-…

Peet's Coffee: Redmond, Interbay, and Greenlake

The Black Coffee: Capitol Hill http://blackcoffeecoop.com Great coffee, nice seating, and, they're speciality, lots of books on anarchy.

Cafe Solstice: Capitol Hill and U District http://cafesolsticeseattle.com

What are the good and bad health effects of coffee?

I'll comment on coffee and the heart.

I've written about this in detail in the following link Benefits of Coffee : Getting To The Heart Of The Matter.

The following facts are worth highlighting. Coffee is often associated with the development of high blood pressure however studies have shown that in those that regularly drink coffee there is no association with high blood pressure, even in those drinking up to 6 cups a day. Several studies have found an association between coffee drinking and decreased incidence of diabetes. Moderate coffee consumption may be associated with a small decrease in the risk of stroke, although the studies examining that are by no means definitive. Well designed studies have demonstrated that coffee consumption is not associated with the development of arrhythmias. Several studies demonstrate a link between moderate coffee consumption and decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Well designed studies that followed participants for at least several years and recorded coffee habits demonstrate that regular coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, and a lower risk of dying from heart disease.

No study is perfect, and results of studies should always be interpreted with a degree of caution, but reassuringly, numerous well-designed studies have shown that coffee confers no significant risk of heart disease, and that in fact it may even be protective. Most of these studies looked at coffee drunk in moderation (2-4 cups) and it would appear reasonable to recommend moderate coffee consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Where can I find the best drip coffee in Paris, France?

I recently discovered a little group called Frog Fight here in Paris where Baristas go neck to neck every month or so in friendly competition. These are some places they've recommended to me:

La Caféotheque
52, rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville 75004

La BAL
6 Impasse de la Défense 75018

Alto café
Coffee cart at Galeries Lafayette

Coutume (Opening next month)
47 Rue de Babylone 75007

Kooka Boora
62, rue des Martyrs 75009

How bad is it for you to take a little cream in your coffee everyday?

Cream is definitely healthier than sugar as a coffee additive. It's possible that adding cream is a health benefit, and it's unlikely to cause significant harm.

Cream contains fat, sugar, and protein, so that it is a balanced source of calories (as opposed to sugar, which is all processed simple carbohydrates and will cause an insulin spike), and also contains vitamins like calcium and vitamin D. Cream does contain significant amounts of saturated fat, but cream is typically added in such small quantities that the amounts in a coffee serving is negligible. It's even possible that the appetite suppressive effect of adding protein to your morning beverage may actually cancel out the small calorie increase you incur, particularly if you choose half-and-half instead of regular cream, which will reduce the fat content while leaving most (all?) of the protein. [1]

It is also worth noting that adding cream to black tea reduces its carcinogenic properties. While research would be needed to demonstrate a similar effect in coffee (many chemicals in coffee have been shown to be carcinogenic in sufficiently large quantities), I think that this proves the concept that cream is not necessarily bad.

On a personal note, several years ago I switched from coffee with a small amount of sugar to coffee with half-and-half. I find the beverage to be more refreshing, more filling, and better tasting, and I have lost weight in interim.

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[1] High protein breakfasts suppress appetite throughout the following day http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubm…

Other than caffeine, what psychoactive compounds exist in coffee and tea?

Theanine and to lesser amounts theobromine (the same psychoactive that's in chocolate) and theophylline.

Theobromine and theophylline both are methylated xanthines and are structurally very similar to caffeine (methyl groups are just positioned differently), sharing the same mild stimulating effect.

Theanine reduces stress and improves mood and cognition, but is not related to the aforementioned.

Side note: Caffeine is metabolized by the liver into paraxanthine, theobromine and theophylline

What are some good ways to stay awake without tea or coffee?

A cup of tea (white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh) is a good source of sustained energy. I find the caffeine is less spikey/jittery than coffee and longer lasting.

Also, experiment w/Yerba Mate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yer…