My boyfriend has fallen victim to an obsessive new movement. He takes part in it in Manhattan every morning and some evenings, while every weekend he has longer spells in its grip near where he lives in the New York borough of Queens. When he is travelling, he searches it out in an airport, a shopping centre, a hotel, sports stadium, even a casino. The movement is opening new gathering places all the way round his office building, and recently even gained a foothold in his company's canteen. This movement's founder talks of getting millions of people to visit 'the third place', which is beyond their home and workplace. Every few months, it pushes new products at its followers, who respond by buying more, and gathering in greater numbers. It has also expanded rapidly around the world, including a fast-growing presence in China. I believe my boyfriend changes when he spends too long in the movement's presence - he can get tired and irritable, or demand too much of himself and others. I even think it makes him put on weight. Indeed, I fear he has become dependent on the movement, which is known to its detractors as the 'Big Green'. Yes, I am talking about Starbucks, the coffee house chain that has taken over not just Manhattan but the entire United States, and is now tackling much of the world. From his offices in Times Square, my boyfriend is now within five minutes' walk of about 10 caffeine-injection lounges. This is the company that has found it can get millions of people to spend as much as US$5 on coffee with fancy European names, when 10 years ago they would not have dreamed of paying more than 50 cents. From a couple of stores in Seattle in the mid-1980s, it has grown to own and operate more than 7,500, with 1,300 more opening this year alone. For some time, sceptics have been wondering whether all this is sustainable, whether one store will cannibalise another, whether the Starbucks experience will lose any cachet that it might have had. So far that has not been the case. And yet, I have started to spot the first signs that it is losing its influence over my boyfriend. The Starbucks near his home has removed all its seats, and the next nearest one is always crowded. He is irritated, and not by the coffee. So much for 'that neighbourhood third place'. And he has been reading the reports that his venti java chip frappuccino is adding 650 calories to his diet - about one-third of the calories he should be getting in an entire day - as well as huge doses of saturated fat. Certainly, the movement is too strong to write off, but when its biggest followers start to question its ways, the peak of its power may be at hand.