SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- A new coffeehouse opened in Seattle named 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. While a new shop is not particularly newsworthy, this one has made headlines in The New York Times and other respected publications because 15th Avenue is actually a Starbucks ( SBUX) in disguise.

This is not the first attempt Starbucks has made to cloak its "Big Coffee" image. In the late '90s, the coffee giant attempted to break into a more community-oriented market by opening Circadia Coffee House, a trendy European style coffeehouse built in a former San Francisco mayonnaise factory that offered everything from lattes to Skyy Vodka. While the first attempt failed to garner the following that the company expected, Starbucks is trying their luck again with 15th Avenue.

15th Avenue replaces the automatic espresso machines with hand presses, substitutes the blended coffees that were staples to cookie-cutter Starbucks franchises with simpler options and adds beer and wine to their menus. However, when push comes to shove, even with a new logo to cement its trendy, independent look, this cafe is still a cloaked version of a coffee conglomerate.

Starbucks' 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in Seattle

Beer and wine are not traditional options available to coffee shops in the U.S. I wanted to find out if they are good additions to menus, so I contacted Dan Lester, the owner of Cup and Saucer, a local coffee shop in North Adams, Mass.

Lester said that offering spirits such as beer and wine can be profitable for U.S. coffee shops. In fact, when his shop first opened he contemplated including alcohol on the menu. However, he explained that the plan was scrapped because he didn't want to turn off local customers who saw his cafe as an alternative to the bar scene.

Whether or not 15th Avenue proves to be a profitable venture for Starbucks will depend on the consumer market. As the economy has fallen into recession, wallets have tightened and Americans who once had no problem shelling out $4 for a cup of joe are beginning to think twice about whether the taste is worth the expense.

The hesitation from the consumer sector has allowed competitors to step into the spotlight. While Starbucks has been on the defensive, companies not traditionally associated with coffee have leaped into the roasting world. McDonald's ( MCD) has proven to be a considerable adversary with its own "McCafe" line of premium coffees. The fast food chain offers fare similar to Seattle's coffee giant at a lower price to meet consumer demand.

Morningstar ( MORN) reports recently that Starbucks has taken a more defensive approach due to negative economic factors. This approach has proven to be beneficial. The company's stock has risen 81% according to Morningstar. McDonald's has seen a 7.7% loss in share price in the first half of 2009. Canada's number one fast food chain, Tim Horton's ( THI), has gotten battered this year, dropping 6.2%.

ETF investors who feel that Starbucks' new approach will prove positive will have trouble finding a strong play on the company. Currently, few funds list Starbucks anywhere in their top 25 holdings. According to Morningstar's ETF screener, the largest holding of Starbucks can be found in Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ( XLY) at 1.4%.

With competitors continually threatening to take away business from the coffee giant, Starbucks' 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is a bold attempt to redesign and market itself toward the independent coffeehouse customer. While the success of the approach may help the company pick up ground against its competitors, they are treading on an uncertain path.

Starbucks needs to be careful that this new back-to-the-roots approach does not overreach and alienate the independent coffee connoisseurs they are catering to, or make their existing customers rethink their tastes altogether.

-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
At the time of publication, Dion had no positions in the stocks mentioned.

Don Dion is the publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.

Dion is also president and founder of Dion Money Management, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.