Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

"I Liked Their Old Stuff Better"

When a band gets too popular and its hipster fans get a little put out, it always seems that the new music gets denigrated due to its commercial success by its fickle fans. So while the old Vivace on Broadway was special, charming, etc., let’s take some time to judge the new location in the Brix condos on its own merits. I agree with Voracious that they did a good job of retaining the feel and decor of the old place, especially keeping in mind that retail in condo buildings usually means Quiznos.

Yesterday was the first day of business; when I showed up at 10am their was a minor glitch that only permitted them to pour shots, so they offered me a gratis espresso. (Thank you, Vivace.) I came back later for an americano and all was well. So what do you think?

Espresso Vivace
700 Broadway E

Starbucks to Introduce More Automatic Espresso Machines

One of the complaints from coffee connoisseurs about Wal-Mart McDonald’s Halliburton Starbucks is their use of automatic espresso machines. Last year, when an internal Howard Schultz memo was leaked, we learned that even he didn’t like the machines [starbucks gossip]. He said, in effect, that it took some of the magic away from the Starbucks experience. The machines are tall. You can hardly see the barista make your drink (although the new ones are 7 inches shorter). Further, pushing buttons for your espresso shots is a lot less romantic (at the very least) than watching a good barista grind the coffee, pull the lever manically to allow the espresso to fill the portafilter, and then tamp it down while wiping excess espresso grounds from its edges. Pulling a good shot is a craft – both art and science – and the automatic espresso machines, even if you have to adjust for the grind, turn that craft into an ATM transaction.

So, why the announcement today that Starbucks is adding more automatic espresso machines even after Schultz said they were a mistake? [p-i] There’s a big hint in my description in the paragraph above. Go to Vivace, Fuel, or Victrola and watch one of the baristas pull a shot. There’s quite a bit of espresso that ends up on the counter and floor. I find it irrationally comforting to think that the barista is willing to waste half a portafilter’s worth of espresso to pull me the perfect shot. But for a corporation like Starbucks, waste is its worst enemy. Automatic espresso machines eliminate waste (and reduce training time and cost). This is the difficulty of being Starbucks. At once you have to act like the cutthroat mega-corporation that you are and market yourself as the quaint, local cafe that you haven’t been for 15 years. It’s an impossible position. This, put simply, is the root of a lot of the animosity Starbucks generates in Seattle (this animosity seems localized – Midwesterners love Starbucks and can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t). Most of us who lived in this area in the early 90’s remember the old Starbucks when it was more like Victrola. Ok, maybe Café Ladro. Regardless, we remember when it had authentic charm rather than the synthetic Las Vegas-like charm we’re accustomed to now.

To put it another way, Starbucks is like the ex-girlfriend who outgrew me and went on to become a huge success. She developed a certainty of purpose (really, she just lost her charm) and we became incompatible. I understand and don’t begrudge her success but that doesn’t mean I have to like her.

Other news from today’s shareholders meeting:

  • Not content to sell coffee, tea, pastries, CD’s, DVD’s, books, espresso machines, coffee makers, mugs, and a myriad of other stuff, Starbucks launched its own social networking site. (I feel like I’m writing an article for The Onion.) [mystarbucksidea]
  • Starbucks bought a Ballard-based company that makes something called the Clover which, I’m told, is similar to a French Press.
  • There is a new rewards program for people who use the reloadable gift cards. If you use one, in April you should start accruing credit for free shots of syrup and drinks.
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