Thursday, May 25, 2006

Starbucks Rant

Yesterday I promised some bitching about Starbucks so here goes. First I think I should give a little background. I was first introduced to espresso back in 1992 when I worked for a coffee shop during college. A grade school friend hooked me up with the job, even though I did not know a thing about coffee. But she taught me everything she knew, and I started to really get into it. I read several books on the subject and did a lot of experimentation. It has become another one of my obsessions.

While I worked at that shop, I happened to make a latte for the cousin of the owner one day. He thought it was so good that he started to pass it around to the rest of his family to taste, and the next morning I was made shift supervisor. I developed quite a following and had customers who keep track of my schedule and would insist that only I make their drinks. Since then I have continued to study the subject. To my wife’s chagrin I have seven espresso machines in my home. I buy raw coffee beans from Brazil and Ethiopia and roast them myself. I guess what I am saying is that I know at least a little bit about coffee.

I also have to admit I am a purist when it comes to coffee. So my comments only really apply to the traditional espresso drinks such as espresso, macchiato, cappuccino and latte. I won’t touch a frappuccino, caramel-thingamabobs or whatever else is on the menu. I do not drink the drip coffee either. I do not like to add flavors to my coffee, so I will drink only pure coffee and milk, perhaps with some sugar if I’m having espresso.

My first problem with Starbucks is the paper cups. When I worked at a coffee shop at least 80% of the drinks were served in porcelain, and I took pity on those who had to consume their beverage in their cars. It took me a while to get used to the idea of drinking espresso drinks out of a paper cup. Would you drink champagne from a paper cup? Would you foie gras off a paper plate with a plastic fork?! Paper cups are so rampant now that if you asked for a "regular cup" at a Starbucks, people just look at you like you are crazy. Unfortunately this attitude has spread throughout the industry and now it is hard to find a place that uses a real cup. I like to have an espresso mid-afternoon, so I will sometimes stop by a local independent shop near my office that makes good coffee, but I have to bring my own demitasse.

In the last few months I have taken up the unfortunate habit of drinking my morning coffee on the way to the gym in my car. Like everyone else I am pressed for time. It is unpleasant, but gets the job done. I find the milk has a good mix of carbs and protein to fuel a morning workout and the caffeine helps boost my energy. I used to make the coffee myself, but the pump on my machines are loud and will wake up my two year old daughter, so I am forced to go to buy my coffee. Unfortunately, where I live Starbucks is the only game in town.

The second problem with Starbucks is the poor quality of the coffee itself. Sure they can add enough sugar, chocolate or whipped cream to make drinks people will want to buy but, the basic espresso base to their drinks is just terrible. I will never order a simple espresso at Starbucks because frankly it is just disgusting. The beans are over roasted and the shots are too long (watery) with no crema (the beautiful golden cream that floats to the top of a perfectly drawn shot of espresso). Nowadays, the baristas don’t even make the coffee anymore. They just press a button and it comes out a spout, and frankly for all the money these machines must cost, they suck. I could make better coffee with a moka pot on a stove top. Not only that, they will serve the infernal concoction in a paper cup! It is no wonder the drinks are so laughably large. People have to dilute the coffee with a liter of milk just to mask all the bitterness. So I will usually order a latte which is mostly milk. It is the hardest drink to screw up. You just heat the milk up and throw the coffee in. How could you screw that up? Well, they burn the milk. They keep the milk out too long making it separate and get watery. They sometimes dilute the coffee with water. Yes! I actually saw a barista topping off the coffee with water before adding the milk!

If Starbucks cannot get the quality right, you think they could at least get consistency down. The one thing that Starbucks is supposed to have going for it is consistency. It is like the McDonalds of coffee. Sure the food can suck, but at least you know what you are getting, and you can go to any Starbucks and know exactly what to expect. Well that is the story at least. I always order the same thing from Starbucks, a tall double latte, and it never tastes the same. Sometimes it will taste ok and other times it is just horrible, and that is just from one location!

Ok, enough ranting about Starbucks. I feel better now.

Oh, and BTW, I ran for an hour this morning. I have to check my HRM again, but I think it was 4.2 miles total. Tomorrow is an hour swim.

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Anonymous jp said...

I couldn't agree with you more about Starbucks.

Check out the following link...I think you'll like it.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Myles said...

I once wrote a paper in grad school about the evils of Starbucks and similar organizations. Love the post!

5:33 AM  
Blogger Double-Barreled said...

I'll admit, I'm awfully fond of the flavors; nonetheless, my biggest complaint is when I request something irregular, e.g., a lower temp, "Don't steam the milk very long, just froth it so that it's around 110 degrees" so that I can actually drink it soon. The "barristas" act like I'm crazy, and I've had one say, "I have no control over that" I also hate the new trend to have young children at Starbucks late at night. Young children should be at home, not in a coffee house.

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Dan Field said...

I have found one way to get some consistent results from Starbucks, albeit with drip rather than espresso. I ask how fresh the drips are, and they check the timers without hesitation. I order whatever was just brewed, if anything. Often, they say something is due to be brewed in a few minutes and offer to start it early for me, and I accept. I'm usually pretty happy with whatever they're dripping when it's very fresh.

I've yet to have a tasty cup of drip from Coffee Bean, unfortunately. I love Seattle's Best, but they are now owned by Starbucks and mostly only to be found inside Borders bookstores.

10:15 AM  

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