Many people point to Starbucks and say the coffee is terrible, the coffee beans are “burnt” and the taste too-strong and acidic. Yet so many people love Starbucks and the growth of Starbucks is no mistake (over 116 stores in Arizona alone).

So I know the differences, but many people don’t. For you coffee buffs please take 10 seconds and explain to the masses what makes Starbucks something you will never approach.

Arizona Coffee

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  1. In short, it’s a huge compromise of quality in exchange for the illusion of consistency.
    It’s true that Starbucks roasts their beans much darker than most of the industry prefers. It’s also true that they fail to have a roasted-on date on their coffee beans.. even behind the counter. (I should know.. I once worked at one)

    I’m under the impression that the darker roast is intended to mask the diminished flavor due to the (severe) lack of freshness of the coffee beans. The drip coffee is often much stronger, which is true, I believe for the same reason.. compensation.

    They have actually helped to spread the popularity of specialty coffee in the same way that McDonald’s helped to spread the popularity of hamburgers.

    They are also contributing greatly to what so many of us are working against. When a customer comes into my shop and asks for a caramel macchiato, I know instantly that the green giant has bastardized the consumer’s concept of the complex, sweet, and beautifully balanced drink known to the rest of the industry as a macchiato.. a shot of espresso marked with frothed milk. No more than 2oz. total for a single shot, and no more than 4 oz. total for a double shot(and that’s pushing it.. it’s only enough to fill a demitasse, if that).

    The espresso is pulled at such a low temperature compared to what is normally desireable. I found out why. The espresso “blend” (they call it “espresso roast”.. also a HUGE misconception.. again, helping to farther consumer ignorance) is roasted so dark.. it’s literally charred. Even when pulled at the relatively low temperature, the shots will literally burn within 10 seconds if not infused in milk, water, syrups, etc… In reality, it’s not burned, so much as the crema has settled, thus exposing the charcoal-ey goodness that is so dominant in a bean that was blackened months prior to use.

    Either way, it is absolutely NOT what I would consider to be palatable espresso.

    Because of customer’s experience with BAD espresso, most people are under the assumption that espresso is, by nature, a black, bitter brew whose only purpose is to provide a drug to the consumer, who prefers a bucket of milk and a cup of sugar to be mixed with it to mask the horrible flavor of the so-called espresso.

    Think of it this way. It’s kind of like a baker sourcing a supply from the top 2% of the world’s supply of flour, and then baking a loaf of bread until the exterior is not a golden brown, but is blackened.. like burnt toast.

    It’s just not right.

  2. Wow, that’s a very comprehensive overview Jason. Have you ever read the book “Pour Your Heart Into It” — by Schultz. It’s very good, slighly off topic, but worth mentioning. It’s more of a business book than a book about coffee.

  3. Thanks, Chris. I guess it helps having worked on the bar at one myself. I really enjoyed the customer interaction, but I was constantly frustrated not being able to give them better than what we had to offer.

    No, I haven’t read the book. In fact, I haven’t ever heard of it. I’ll see if my library has it as soon as I’m done with “The Devil’s Cup”. About half-way through it right now, so soon.

  4. I’m impressed that Jason was able to write that explanation in 10 seconds!

  5. AC

    From customer side – the apparent lack of competence in 50% of the people
    behind the counter coupled with their lack of knowledge about coffee was always a problem for me – but even if they were all “perfect” nothing could make up for a bad
    espresso –

    I have not even thought about going into a Starbucks for over 5 years – I don’t think I am missing much. I do believe that people need to get out and try the small coffee shops, coffee bars, local roasters and when you find what you enjoy, keep going back and make sure you let them know you appreciate their efforts!


  6. I will drink drip at *$ when it’s the best option, which, unfortunately is often the case when traveling. Although I co-own a pretty good shop in Pgh, I also have one foot in the convention industry, which means I get a lot of hotel and convention center coffee — often *$ kiosks, although I’ve had much worse.

    Much as we all loathe to admit it, *$ is largely responsible for allowing us to do what we do – and earn a living at it.

    I’d be interested in Jason telling us what % of customers actually asked for straight espressos, “real” macchiatos or even Americanos – drinks where the char would be most apparent. My guess is very few. We tend to equate *$ with lattes and syrup, so for the most part they’re not really even in the same business.

  7. I think that while starbucks is annoying, I have grown to enjoy the burnt taste of my latte. I rarely go there though, too expensive. I help market for another coffee shop here in North Florida. The coffee, I mean the actual brewed stuff, is much better than Starbucks.

    Starbucks excels at what is called interuption marketing. They have enough resources (money) to push they’re way into your neighborhood or bizness disctrict and force you to have only one choice for coffee.

    Not cool.

    Although, they’re logo is awesome. So iconic and round.