Starbucks started as a purveyor of specialty beans. Content with educating people on fine coffee, the owners never planned to enter the coffeeshop business. Current CEO Howard Schultz, who used to run marketing for the old Starbucks, quit the company to put up Il Giornale, a chain of coffeeshops that eventually turned into the Starbucks we know now. (They bought the old company and appropriated the brand).
His 1997 book "Pour Your Heart Into It" chronicled the growth of Starbucks. While reading it I can't help noticing that the company's growth is a series of compromises with the mass market. From developing the frappuccino (their "high-quality" answer to granitas) to offering coffee in supermarkets to streamlining the construction of new outlets, the company's development is the story of how vision gets blurry when you're millions in debt and have stockholders to answer to.
So Starbucks instant isn't that big a surprise, tanking economy or not.