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Starbucks renewed
March 21, 2008 3:21 AM   Subscribe

The Starbucks reinvention. Chairman, President and Chief Executive Howard Schultz announces thorough overhaul, unveils new espresso maker as replacement for oft-criticized Verismo machines. Yet some observers insist that the Mastrena solution, which puts a premium on consistency, will come up with low marks in quality and taste.
posted by Gordion Knott (61 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thorstein Veblen is chuckling to himself somewhere right now.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:02 AM on March 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Nice machine no doubt (that's a lay opinion, by the way I hardly know anything about expresso makers) but the real reason their stock has lost about half it's value over the past two years, sales are falling and jobs are being cut is their product is too dam expensive, especially so in this economic environment. A latte costs $4.05 in New York- what's that, about $1K a pa (assuming 252 trading days in the year). Lot of dough, even if you're only getting a latte every other day (NOT like the junkies I work with, three ties a day!!).

As the new machine costs $11,000, margins will be squeezed. Will we see across the board price reductions? Since the profits on coffee are obscene, they do have the legroom. But if we do, the share price will tank even more.
posted by Mutant at 4:07 AM on March 21, 2008


I don't know squat about what goes into making a good espresso, but I was always struck by how my local mom-n-pop coffee house spends three or four minutes making my drink, while Starbuck's teensters churn theirs out like softserve icecream.

Still, I'd sell my gramma's wooden leg to be able to replicate those Double Shot Espresso & Cream thingies in the small black cans.
posted by RavinDave at 4:13 AM on March 21, 2008


Also: McDonald's (of all places) is expected to take Starbucks to the woodshed by adding mini coffee bars to their joints. Purists laugh, but McD's has had sufficient success with their initial foray into "premium coffee" that Starbucks is running scared and investors are loading up on stock to the point that McD's is doing reasonably well under a savage bear market.
posted by RavinDave at 4:20 AM on March 21, 2008


RavinDave: using canned evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed) makes all the difference. Even just plain old milk in tetrapack containers (the box you poke a hole in). I'm fairly certain the awesome flavor come from the UHT pasteurization of the milk.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:44 AM on March 21, 2008


90% of the joy of a good cup of espresso is the chance I get to GET OUT OF MY DAMN HOUSE for half an hour or so and ACTUALLY SEE OTHER LIVING BEINGS and PRETEND they are MY FRIENDS.
This lets me FORGET the numbing IRONY that even though my profession is the most public of endeavors, too often I am BOWLING ALONE.
(Haven't had my javayet; sorry for the jive...)
posted by Dizzy at 4:57 AM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not to sound like a snob, but isn't this like worrying that the new patty extrusion process is going to reduce McDonald's high quality burgers?

It's an enormous franchise predicated on name recognition, of course quality takes a back seat.
posted by DU at 5:17 AM on March 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Our local best espresso joint is opening an outlet in a rebranded yupscale mini-mall that used to be a nice place to get stuff but is now just a fashion/shoe grinder. Even though it's closer, I doubt I'll go to the new counter unless the incumbent baristas come along. It's not just the coffee, it's the smiles and familiarity.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:21 AM on March 21, 2008


I still don’t get why people choose Starbucks. The complicated coffee orders become identity rituals like playing weekly lottery numbers. It's not in our interest to care what this company does. Big brands help us resist thinking, especially when they mean as little as Starbucks.
posted by KS at 5:34 AM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


As long as we are going to make a crappy FPP on Starbucks this morning, how do we not include this morning's news story that a court ruling means that Starbucks needs to pay its baristas $105M in withheld tips or yesterday's Wired blog entry about their online customer suggestion box? No, you're right. That would still make it a lame FPP.
posted by spock at 6:11 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Starbucks coffee is simply terrible. It all tastes burned to me. I can't understand why so many people like their swill.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:17 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Yet some observers insist that the Mastrena solution, which puts a premium on consistency, will come up with low marks in quality and taste.

And we all know that people will pick quality over consistent mediocrity every time ... obviously a disastrous proposition.

I'm sorry, what? The ghost of Ray Kroc would like a word with me?
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:17 AM on March 21, 2008


Yet they'll still burn the everloving crap out of their beans. You know, for consistency.

I frankly don't care how expensive the damn espresso machine is. I've made coffee every possible way imagineable. Turkish, cowboy, drip, percolated, cold-soak extract. I've made coffee in teabags and strainers.

It's almost always terrible with bad, tired, old and overburnt beans.

With good beans you can simply mash and grind them roughly in a mortar - or with a hammer, if you must - slosh some barely boiling water over it and it actually tastes like good coffee.

Actually, that's just about describes my favorite way to make coffee. Light-medium roast blend, rough grind, metal drip basket, barely not-boiling water, hand poured/brewed. (Paper filters? Are you insane? Blech.)
posted by loquacious at 6:29 AM on March 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Any corporatespeak event like this cracks me up as I read about shareholders and oh-so-impartial "analysts" trying to convince themselves the koolaid is grand, but this one is particularly full of shit. There's no mention of the fact that Starbucks eliminated full-time barista positions to save money, or that it's lowest-paid workers have no guarantee of consistent part-time hours from week to week.

How the hell can you revitalize a company when you're treating your front line staff like shit?

The folks trying to unionize Starbucks had a hilarious moment during that "espresso shot retraining" PR bullshit last month when they pointed out that most of the folks being retrained wouldn't be there in a year. And really, if Starbucks can't be bothered to treat its own employees well, why should anyone believe they give a shit about customers?
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of something I heard my uncle say once:

You can't polish a turd.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:43 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is consistency really Starbucks' problem right now? I mean, are people turning away from their product because it's not exactly the same every time they drink it? Most people wouldn't know a decent cup of coffee if it poured itself down their gullets, and anyhow, you're not exactly tasting the coffee when you drink a white chocolate peppermint mocha milkshake.

Like Mutant says, I suspect the problem is that people aren't buying into the Starbucks-as-an-experience angle anymore, and just want a damn cup of caffeine milk, which Dunkie's and McDonald's will do just fine for half the price. Sure, there are people who will want a cafe environment, and that's the audience, I think, that they should be targeting. But that means a massive shift in the way they market, and probably closing a great many outlets. I don't want to say the company is doomed, but they're in a lot of trouble that a new, more consistent espresso machine won't fix.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:43 AM on March 21, 2008


As the new machine costs $11,000, margins will be squeezed. Will we see across the board price reductions? Since the profits on coffee are obscene, they do have the legroom. But if we do, the share price will tank even more.

But if one Clover needs just 1,575 customers to become profitable (in New York,) don't you think with probability of foot traffic alone that the Clover might help Starbucks build into a success again.

Aside:

This whole Starbucks thing has made me realize I had completely mis-defined what a brand is versus what a company is. So, if I made any advice threads about branding before, please disregard them until I know what I am talking about.
posted by parmanparman at 6:47 AM on March 21, 2008


if Starbucks can't be bothered to treat its own employees well

In fairness to Starbucks, they offer health coverage and other benefits to many if not most employees; not many local cafes are able or willing to do the same.

That said, I think their coffee tastes burnt, I detest the "tall/venti/grande" oh-so-precious ordering vocabulary, and the closest Starbucks to my house removed a bunch of tables to fit in more merchandise displays. And their pastries are cloyingly sweet.

But that said, too, they sell the New York Times, their employees are friendly, and they never come by your table dropping hints that you should order more stuff or get a move on. So I end up going there despite their imperfections, but it is not the enjoyable experience that the company needs to be providing if they really want to maintain me as a happy customer.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


With gas prices rising, food prices rising, and wages staying mostly the same, people looking to cut costs are more likely to cut back on things like the more expensive coffee.
posted by drezdn at 6:57 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is consistency really Starbucks' problem right now? I mean, are people turning away from their product because it's not exactly the same every time they drink it? Most people wouldn't know a decent cup of coffee if it poured itself down their gullets, and anyhow, you're not exactly tasting the coffee when you drink a white chocolate peppermint mocha milkshake.

Good point.
I wondered about this supposed "consistency" issue as I read the article. Starbucks rivals McD's when it comes to a world-wide consistent product. What I suspect is that this new machine is actually all about is more accurate measurement of grounds and using less product per shot. Even decreasing the amount of grounds in a shot by a few picograms would result in substantial system-wide savings.

As for going back to in-store grinding...while the added aroma is a positive move, I'm sure the switch has more to do with it being cheaper to have hourly workers doing the grinding than either paying a contractor to do the grinding and vaccuum-packing or maintaining that process in a factory yourself.

Is there an example of any small company (especially in the food industry) that doesn't end up sacrificing the quality of their product once they get major-league big? Frankly, I would welcome a little inconsistency here and there that allow for local tastes or character.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:11 AM on March 21, 2008


In fairness to Starbucks, they offer health coverage and other benefits to many if not most employees; not many local cafes are able or willing to do the same.

Emphasis on able. I think it's mostly because of the way the insurance business works and what people are willing to pay for their drink.

But that means a massive shift in the way they market, and probably closing a great many outlets.

That's sort of what their going for. But, being a huge company, it's sort of hard to really make any huge changes, unless they face the threat of imminent bankruptcy. But they're making quite a few changes, really.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:23 AM on March 21, 2008


Starbucks coffee is simply terrible. It all tastes burned to me. I can't understand why so many people like their swill.

This. Their coffee tastes so burnt the only way I can drink it is if there's a ton of milk/sweetener in there. Will never understand why people love it so.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:38 AM on March 21, 2008


coffeeshops that roast their own beans are where the good coffees at

if there's none near you, you can always roast your own beans
posted by titboy at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2008


So long as we're posting random Starbucks links, I thought this was fascinating:
Don't Fear Starbucks: Why the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffehouses

"Anyone who complains about having a Starbucks put in next to you is crazy," he told me. "You want to welcome the manager, give them flowers. It should be the best news that any local coffeehouse ever had."
posted by designbot at 7:55 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


In fairness to Starbucks, they offer health coverage and other benefits to many if not most employees

It's less than half, actually, and worse than the fraction Wal-Mart provides for. From the union site:

The single greatest myth constructed by Starbucks about working for the company involves health care. But in reality Starbucks is far from being a leader in employee health care. Starbucks insures a lower percentage of its workforce than Wal-Mart a company rightly condemned for its poor health care policies. Starbucks’ 42% is not only worse than Wal-Mart’s 47%, it’s also worse than the industry average!

The barriers to health care for employees are two-fold. First, employees must work 240 hours per quarter to qualify to purchases health care through the company. Keep in mind however, that with no full-time workers and no guaranteed work hours, qualifying to purchase health care is far from assured. Second, workers must pay significant premiums, co-pays, and deductibles to participate in the health care plan. The poverty pay package makes these out-of-pocket expenses a difficult proposition indeed.


designbot, that made the front page a few months back, too.
posted by mediareport at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2008


In fairness to Starbucks, they offer health coverage and other benefits

I think it is important to not get carried away by statements such as the one above. The operative word is OFFER and probably should not be construed to mean PROVIDE.

I am sure most mefites are savvy enough to investigate the cost benefit ratio of an insurance plan offered by an employer relative to what is available in the marketplace. But there are many people who just assume that what their employer OFFERS is the best possible deal they can get. Notreally
.
posted by notreally at 8:13 AM on March 21, 2008


Sorry mediareport
Should have peeked before I posted.
You have gone into detail.
I made my normal snark.
posted by notreally at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2008


The coffee I make at home from fairly cheap grocery store pre-ground tastes better to me than the bitter drink I get at Starbucks.. and costs a fraction.

Those that stated that Starbucks' real problem is an overpriced, poor tasting product are right on the mark..

And, this thread was worth reading, if only for the phrase "incumbent baristas"... which, for some perverted reason, my head wanted to change to "recumbent baristas"
posted by HuronBob at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2008


Starbucks also lost their way a bit when they turned their coffee shops into retail environments. With all the books, cds, shiny home espresso makers, mugs and anything else I missed, it's no wonder they lost their focus.
posted by ironisokratic at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2008


I don't go out of my way to patronize Starbucks, but the beans they sell under the Kirkland name at Costco are decent and inexpensive. Of course, I'm no coffee snob - I'm currently drinking Safeway's pre-ground house brand and it's tasting great. Last month I polished off a can of Yuban, which is also A-OK.

Anything but freeze-dried Taster's Choice is fine with me.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2008


You can't polish a turd.

True, but you can gild one and call it an Extra-Special Exclusive Turd, and convince idiots to pay good money for it. Thus the success of Starbucks.

You know who really makes a good cup of coffee? Fucking McDonald's. Cheap, fast, hot, and totally drinkable coffee.

Coffee is a caffeine-conveyance mechanism with a pleasant ritual attached -- it's not fine wine, it's not gourmet chocolate, it's coffee.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Starbucks also lost their way a bit when they turned their coffee shops into retail environments.

As a publically traded company they had to. To keep shareholders happy they have to show growth, and to show growth they either have to increase the number of customers, open more stores, or sell more products. This is the same reason why stores like Barnes and Noble have the rapidly expanding gift section. It increases their profits and doesn't look completely out of place in a bookstore (so far).
posted by drezdn at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2008


I will happily pay five bucks for a cup of coffee.

Said coffee would, of course, have been roasted that very morning, using fresh, high-quality beans, and will be pulled by a skilled barista.

Which is to say the next time I'm in Gibson's, the hole-in-the-wall espresso café will definitely have my patronage again. Quite simply a transcendent coffee experience, that.

Otherwise I'll be asking for an Americano (espresso shot diluted) at the local coffee shop. Way better than drip, for about a ten cent premium. Perfectly decent cuppa, at an okay price.

I can't fathom why people go to Starbucks. On the other hand, I can't understand why people go to Tim Hortons, which I suppose speaks volumes about what kind of consumer I am.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2008


I think their drip coffee is fine. Their espresso is meh. We have a local joint that serves and was trained by Stumptown Coffee in PDX, and their espresso kicks the crap out of anything I've had in the States, effortlessly.
posted by everichon at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2008


The MyStarbucksIdea website seems to cater primarily to Starbucks fans. Most of the popular suggestions are for discounts: buy 10 get 1, happy hours, specials on drinks. Quality issues come much further down. For example, under the category "Coffee and Espresso Drinks", the number 1 suggestion, at 6100 points, is:
I would LOVE for starbuck to come out with point card to earning FREE drinks. for those of us who are SUPER crazy over starbucks coffee.
Which says something about the people voting on the site, I suppose. Over-roasting, by contrast, has 230 points.

I like the frapp drinks, but they're mostly milkshakes and I rarely want one. The drip coffee, which is what I drink, is burnt and bitter tasting.
posted by factory123 at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2008


Still, I'd sell my gramma's wooden leg to be able to replicate those Double Shot Espresso & Cream thingies in the small black cans.

It's helpful to think of those things as oversized pills...addictive damned delicious pills.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:33 AM on March 21, 2008


Wait, starbucks coffee tastes burnt?

I've never heard this before. Must look into it.
posted by justgary at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The operative word is OFFER and probably should not be construed to mean PROVIDE.

Yes, welcome to modern America. But as someone who has worked for small, independent businesses and was never offered, much less provided, any benefits, my guess (and it is purely a guess, with no data whatsoever behind it) is that the other cafes in town provide benefits to well under half of their employees. Yes, Starbucks should do better. But replacing every Starbucks outlet with a local cafe won't improve the lack of benefits and job security for baristas -- the problem has deeper roots than just one not-totally-benign corporation's practices.

In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I walked down to the local Starbucks after posting above -- I hadn't been there in a few weeks, since before their big quality improvement day. My take on the place is that they are caught in a terrible middleground between quantity and quality -- their business model demands lots of quantity -- lots of customers moving through. But that is in direct opposition to quality -- quality of coffee, quality of service, quality of the "Starbucks experience." The coffee is already pretty consistent, although the lower height of the new machines will be nice. But what happens is that they are running it assembly-line style as fast as they can, with rows of cups lined up on the machine, no way to give any drink or any customer any noticeable amount of attention. There are all the trappings of a nice cafe -- the Times for sale, comfy seats, the music isn't too loud -- but the volume of customers in for a fast-food-style caffeine fix gets in the way of each of those. And the piles and piles of crappy merchandise are really intrusive, getting in the way of where tables could go, where the line of people should be routed, and so on.
posted by Forktine at 9:37 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


This far in to a thread about Starbucks attempts at redefinition during an economic slowdown and nobody links to the $1 coffee trials? (or did I miss it?)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:16 AM on March 21, 2008


I've little love for starbucks, but still.

First, You don't have to order using their weird terminology. You can, you know, just order an Americano or something. Anyone interested in a half-caff triple vente vanilla-foam- accino isn't interested in coffee anyway.

Second, I know a few people working for starbucks in order to get access to health benefits. It is pretty amazing to see any company offering anything to its rank and file workers in this economic environment. Many other companies could do the same, but do not, and I think that should be considered.

Third, (I like to count!) does anyone know what they plan to do with Clover? Are they installing them within the starbucks brand, or are they holding them as a separate company and giving them access to distribution networks and capital?

Last, I've always thought the starbucks-hate was much like the Nike-hate (which seems to have fallen out of style.) People don't hate these companies as much as they hate their ubiquity. Let's face it, it's annoying when one company has that much market share. (Besides hating the most popular thing in a given genre shows how above the pack one is. I kid, I kid.)
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2008


As it turns out, I seem to have a taste for burnt coffee beans. Only $2 (or one share of Bear Stearns) for a medium-sized cup of delicious black coffee. Screw you, haters.
posted by found missing at 11:20 AM on March 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


More Home Roasting Ideas
posted by mannequito at 11:21 AM on March 21, 2008


They could save a lot of money just by leaving out the coffee altogether. In a double-caramel toffee-nut java-chip mocha frappuccino, who the hell's going to notice it's gone?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2008


My problem with Starbucks (at least around here) is not really the coffee, which is average, but:

1. They have the most terrible baked goods and they will not warm stuff up in a microwave or anything. They won't even toast a fucking bagel.


2. They seem to have drunk the macdonalds koolaid that people want the exact same thing anywhere in the world they go -- when really, the locals just want something good and they are 95% of your customers. Get some decent locally-baked stuff and buy a microwave.


3. They make you pay for wireless internet. Stupid, and only explainable as they want you out of their shop, please. So, fuck you.
posted by Rumple at 12:29 PM on March 21, 2008


Rumple: Oh god, I hate, hate, hate their T-Mobile Hotzone foolishness with the heat of a thousand wireless routers. You have to subscribe to use the thing - buying a cup of coffee doesn't count. Recently, my boss and I needed to set up some laptops and needed the internet. We bypassed the Starbucks and hit up the local coffee shop instead.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2008


eustacescrubb: "Reminds me of something I heard my uncle say once: You can't polish a turd."

Polished turd.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:35 PM on March 21, 2008


This. Their coffee tastes so burnt the only way I can drink it is if there's a ton of milk/sweetener in there. Will never understand why people love it so.

Pretty much. I openly admit to not being a coffee fan, but I love me some sweet milk with caffeine in it.
posted by davros42 at 2:12 PM on March 21, 2008


The Clover is an amazing device when operated by the right hands and with the right coffees.

Does anyone realistically expect Starbucks baristas to stop being button-pressing automata and/or the coffee to start being not crap?

TLDR: GIGO
posted by turbodog at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2008


Oh god, I hate, hate, hate their T-Mobile Hotzone foolishness --elwoodwiles

Actually, T-Mobile is out and AT&T is in. Still not free, but they seem to be moving that direction. Charging for internet access has always bothered me as well. Fortunately the restaurant next to the one I occasionally frequent offers free access that's also visible inside the Starbucks.
posted by Bugg at 2:54 PM on March 21, 2008


Coffee is a caffeine-conveyance mechanism with a pleasant ritual attached -- it's not fine wine, it's not gourmet chocolate, it's coffee.

Yes, yes it is. But if you haven't experienced the rose-like floral notes of a really good Kenyan or the honey and marmalade of the best Guatemalan, the earthy pungency of a great Sumatran or the classic blueberries in a Harar brewed just right then I understand your opinion.

But then I think wine is just fermented grape juice and a waste of good money.
posted by markr at 4:34 PM on March 21, 2008


Serving coffee in paper cups is what is most disappointing about Starbucks. You need a mug to fully appreciate the taste of coffee, and the mugs they do have at Starbucks are often ridiculously oversized. Their "tall" mugs are actually wide-brimmed cappuccino mugs - they're so wide that the coffee cools quickly, and they have small handles that are difficult to hold. Starbucks bills their coffee shops as places to meet and relax, but serving everything in paper cups indicates their real concern is convenience.

Ordering a straight espresso is also a disappointing experience. Often the 'barrista' will want to serve it in a paper cup. Often they don't bother to heat the ceramic espresso cup. Arg.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:55 PM on March 21, 2008


I'm coming late to the post, but I'm actually a current sbux employee ("barista," whatever) and well, I felt like commenting.
1. I work there part-time for the insurance, haven't had many problems. My assistant manager, who started as a barista and did not really have the opportunity to go to college, is getting a business admin degree at the local U, paid for by Starbucks. Most of the people who don't choose to take insurance don't need to because they're college students or they have another job (but mostly because they're college students and have better school or parental plan). Compared to the alternatives, Starbucks ain't bad.
2. Dohh ho ho ho, you said the coffee was burnt and you also made up a needlessly long name for a beverage! I see what you did there!
(We are NOT mocking you when you say "medium coffee" or whatever, we're repeating it to the dude at the bar so s/he can make the drink. The terminology is dumb, but the order is for expediency)
3. The super-uber-top-secret training session last month? Watching videos of Howard Schultz, steaming milk, and pulling espresso shots. Oh, and a cappuccino-off. No one ever made a mistake again.
4. All those "improvements" will pretty much make work more annoying for baristas, your drink slightly cheaper, and possibly the product slightly better. Odds are you'll still have to wait awhile for your oh-so-funny latte, but I'm consistently surprised at how long people will wait in line for their drink anyway.
5. It's a slightly-above-minimum-wage job. Insurance, yes, but to the people behind the counter it's like Wendy's with green aprons and NPR books. Keep that in mind next time you're there, and try to be nice to the little people.
posted by landedjentry at 8:45 PM on March 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Boy howdy! I sure do feeling like I am apologizing for saying I really like Starbucks. I LIKE the taste of it. Having said that, I do see it suffering from some sort of malaise. The coffee feels like an afterthought these days and I just don't get jazzed by the 'cino, 'tico, 'cano stuff. I liked that they seemed to experiment with coffee brews (beyond just repackaging it and selling it unbrewed and at a premium). And, yeah, I liked the taste even if most folks thought it "burnt" or "ruint."

I appreciate the re-focus on the espresso and the coffees. The espresso does taste better to me. I'm interested in trying the coffee from these new $70,000 machines (or whatever they cost). And I am glad they're putting in a new roast in the rotation. (Maybe I'll see less Breakfast, Sumatra, Kenya, mix, rinse, repeat.)
posted by tcv at 9:18 PM on March 21, 2008


The best thing about Starbucks is that it is a safe, usually clean and ubiquitous place to arrange a meeting if you need a nice neutral space to chat with someone about some business or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:23 PM on March 21, 2008


The best thing about Starbucks is that it is a safe, usually clean and ubiquitous place to arrange a meeting if you need a nice neutral space to chat with someone about some business or something.

Or find a working bathroom, anyway. And at least they don't generally allow people to bring dogs in. I jest, of course. Or not.

Three random coffee koans:

The best cup of straight ahead coffee I've had in New York -- and I'm a coffee freak -- comes from a small Lebanese-run deli on the Upper West Side. They add a touch of cinammon to what tastes like Guatemalan Antigua. Always fresh, always hot, never burned. 90 cents for a large.

To my utter surprise, McDonald's premium coffee is not bad at all. Among road musicians, they were famous for having *the worst* fast food coffee for decades, served so hot that it burned your tongue, which was a blessing because it meant you didn't have to taste it going down.

Charging for wireless internet access when you are already charging twice what a cup of coffee ought to cost is simply wrong. But not as wrong as charging twice what a cup of coffee costs in the first place.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:35 AM on March 22, 2008


I like Starbucks coffee. I like my coffee strong. I don't think it's burnt tasting at all. Yes, I've tasted many other coffees, and like some of them as well, but many of them are too mild.

At the Starbucks I go to most often, when I buy an (overpriced) butter croissant or a (less overpriced) Hawaiian bagel, the server ALWAYS offers to microwave or toast the food for me.

The only espresso I buy at Starbucks is one sort of mocha or other. I prefer my coffee black, but if I sweeten it I like it sweetened with chocolate.
posted by lhauser at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2008


Coffee is a caffeine-conveyance mechanism with a pleasant ritual attached -- it's not fine wine, it's not gourmet chocolate, it's coffee.

No, it's exactly that kind of experience - just like a good wine or good chocolate. To argue otherwise (and argue for McDonald's coffee, AARGH) just proves that you don't actually like or understand coffee at all.

To you, you might as well eat a No Doze pill. That's not coffee. I don't drink coffee soley for the caffiene, I drink coffee because I like how it fucking tastes when I brew it right. It's complicated. It has antioxidants in the oils brewed into every cup. It has antidepressent qualities. And I like the fucking taste.


I've written this so many times on the net I have a keyboard macro for it:

When coffee is properly prepared it is sweet and rich, chocolaty and velvety - not bitter at all. It requires NO sweetners or milk or other ingredients.

If your plain coffee isn't sweet and drinkable plain, you're doing it wrong!

It's just coffee, and it is one of the most complex and difficult to reproduce flavors known to man. Harder to fake than wine, harder to fake than chocolate. Note that there are no passable "artificial" coffee scents or flavors. They can almost fake chocolate, but they can't even touch coffee.

Preparing good coffee properly means a few things: Good pure water at the right temp, freshly roasted whole beans, ground ONLY just before you're ready to brew.

These things do NOT happen at McDonald's, or Denny's, or even Dunkin Donuts. Their coffee comes pre-ground in mylar packets, which have been sitting in boxes in warehouse for months.They don't have a proper water heater for proper coffee. They don't have the time for brewing individual cups.


Look, you want a good cup of coffee? A good cup of coffee is brewed individually. It doesn't come out of an airpot, or a drip basket, or a carafe. At a good coffee house that takes real coffee seriously, they'll hand-brew you a cup when you order it, in your own little brew basket. They'll grind the beans right then - just like you do for espresso - and carefully pour barely not-boiling water over it.


"It's just coffee? Get over it?" No. No fucking way am I ever going back to drinking Denny's coffee. Fuck all of you crazy motherfuckers, I'll move to Italy, France or even Brazil if it means I can still have good coffee.

Look, I remember what this country was like before real coffee was available. It fucking sucked, ok? It sucked so much it was one giant electrified sucking machine.
posted by loquacious at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: one giant electrified sucking machine.
posted by Rumple at 1:10 PM on March 22, 2008


loquacious ... have you actually been to McDonald's lately? You do realize their new stuff is quite popular, right? You know that Starbuck's got dinged by Consumer Reports (who favors -- you guessed it - McD's coffee)? You did hear that Starbucks is running scared because Deutsche-Bank lowered its stock-target price 14% based on the popularity of McDonald's coffee? And that the normally skittish and conservative McD's is gonna be installing mini-bars in most all their locations (at apx $100,000 a pop)?

SOMEbody sure likes their coffee. ;)
posted by RavinDave at 1:45 PM on March 22, 2008


... have you actually been to McDonald's lately?

No, and I have no intention to do so. It's not going to be possible for them to compete with the coffee I take the time to brew at home.

OK, perhaps they could put an actual coffee roaster in some locations, import green coffee, roast it, rest it, grind it and brew it. They could possibly make the best coffee, ever. I might even try a cup.

I'm not going to hand them any of what little money I have without screaming like I have an angry lobster in my shorts.

But I will certainly give it a shot if I ever find myself in a McDonalds for some insane reason.

I have serious doubts about whether they can get it right, though. Coffee is just one of those many things that comes out better if you actually love what you're doing. I can't see burger-flippers caring or loving coffee.

I love coffee. People often remark I make some of the best coffee they've ever had, hands down - and this is coming from people who truly love coffee. There's a mad science and art to it that can't ever be boiled down to a simple corporate training video and a set of fancy coffee tools.

It can't be packaged and branded. Starbucks tried and failed to do this. McDonald's will have about the same amount of success - at making good coffee.

They'll sell the hell out of it, sure, to people who don't know any better - but that doesn't make it good coffee.

SOMEbody sure likes their coffee. ;)

SOMEbody sure likes Britney Spears, Enya, Yanni and American Idol, too. That doesn't mean that they have anything resembling a clue.
posted by loquacious at 2:09 PM on March 22, 2008


Is McDonalds actually going to brew coffee at the store, or are they following the lead of (A&W?) and pre-brewing it, concentrating it to syrup, and reconstituting on-site?

Kind of like how Tim Horton's does donuts these days. Ugh.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2008


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