Posts Tagged ‘starbucks’

The “New” Starbucks Experience: Open Thread

On the heels of 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, comes the news that Starbucks is planning another “neighborhood” coffee shop called Roy Street Coffee and Tea to open this fall.

Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t really like Starbucks’ coffee. However, I never really had a problem with the company. They have done a lot for the coffee culture in this country and I believe they are part of the reason that coffee shops (in general) have a much higher success rate as businesses than restaurants.

Plus, no matter how many Starbucks there are in this city, the small independent coffee shops are doing quite well. So I certainly don’t see them as a big evil corporation. From what I’ve read, they try to do good and working there is a pretty good experience (unless of course, you were one of the many they laid off over the past two years).

However, this whole rebranding just doesn’t sit well with me. It feels like they are trying to be something they aren’t. I’m all for their baristas pulling shots by hand again and trying new things (like the pour over brew), but why not just embrace the fact that they’re Stabucks? They are the big giant coffee shop with the green sign and the modest siren on the door. They are the ubiquitous coffee shop. The one I can find in every town I visit, and I can always expect pretty much the same thing.

I know when I go to Dallas for a trade show, without a car, that I can find predictable coffee in the Starbucks in the hotel. I know that I will pay a reasonable amount for it, and that I will get what I expect.

I guess I just wish they would stick to what made them popular in the first place.

But that’s just me. What do you think?

New Starbucks product: VIA

starbucksvia1Living in West Seattle as I do, whenever I come into the city proper, I will pass by the Starbucks Center. After 4 years plus, it stands to reason that I have passed by a LOT, which has given me ample time to idly think about what goes on inside those walls. Sometimes I wondered if there were any oompa loompas in there working away feverishly to be paid in joyous coffee beans, but I have never had occasion to actually go inside and see for myself. So this afternoon, when I finally stepped off the elevator on the 8th floor and was escorted into the office, I felt a little like Charlie Bucket stepping into Wonka’s factory. Sadly, there were no hands in the walls that grabbed my coat or lickable snozzberry wallpaper.

Walking into the room where we’d do the tasting, I was overwhelmed by the aroma of coffee, not unlike the pleasant chocolate aroma that overhangs Theo’s Fremont factory (tours: $5!). I wondered if being around such a fantastic smell permeates your being as it does when you are surrounded by the theobromides at(again) Theo. The great smile and enthusiasm of Starbucks’ PR representative, Sonya, is an argument that it indeed does. I immediately decided that I wouldn’t mind working there.

In any case, I, and the smattering of other “press” in attendence, was there to preview Starbucks’ latest product line: VIA. VIA, if you haven’t heard, is instant coffee. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had a cup of instant coffee prior to today. Sure, I’ve had some crystals in my pantry, but only to use in baking. The reputation is as such that I always felt, why bother? If I want something fast and caffeine filled, I need only brew some tea. The overview of instant coffee manufacture only reinforced that opinion. Sure, our tasting was being led by a company man, but I don’t have reason to doubt that his synopsis: low-quality coffee combined with bottom-line-improving quick and dirty techniques are what go into the average grocery store brand. Isn’t that the story of most mass-produced products on our shelves?

starbucksvia2VIA’s story is different, we were assured. VIA was the brain child of Don Valencia [pi], former R&D executive at Starbucks, whose first instant coffee experiment is what brought him to Schultz’s attention. Almost two decades later, that same R&D department that Valencia founded has discovered (and is patenting) an entirely new method of turning brewed coffee into powder. Sadly, we weren’t let in on the top-secret scientific details. In addition to this new breakthrough, Major Cohen, our coffee experience specialist (read: guide), assured us that in order to produce VIA, Starbucks is not only using the same quality beans used in brewing operations, the same roasting and brewing process is duplicated as well. And finally, they also add microground beans to the final product. The result is an entirely new process of manufacture and, they hope, an infinitely better product and experience.

So, we brewed up our two cups of instant (Columbia and Italian roasts). And by brewed, of course I mean, poured hot water and stirred in the coffee. And I…well, I liked it. I preferred the Italian roast, but that’s just my personal coffee preference anyhow. The flavor was clean and crisp. While not a perfectly thick and slightly sweet Italian espresso, it’s not meant to be. Rather, it’s meant to duplicate a drip coffee and it does so nicely, even rounding out with French Press-y bean remnants floating around the bottom of your cup. I really hate to be all company shill-like, but I think they have a good product on their hands.

If you’re interested in trying out VIA yourself, packets for purchase ($2.99/packet of three) and home use will be available in Starbucks and select Target stores starting tomorrow in the Seattle metropolitan area (and in Illinois).

No laying off on layoffs

Starbucks announced Thursday that they would be laying off 100 global store development employees, including 25 here at the Seattle headquarters.

From what this story said, the “global store development” division of the coffee giant works in facilities, design, construction and real estate. The company chief operating officer gave the usual press-fodder about “providing the best quality product to our customers” and completely ignored any acknowledgement that the economy is at a current state of absolute suck. I suppose that’s not in his job description, but c’est la vie.

If company-wide layoffs have trickled into things at Starbucks, I wonder which corporation might be next.

new daily brew

photo by josh [flickr].

Starbucks is rolling out the signage for their new Pike Place Roast. I noticed one of the stores prepping for tomorrow’s big event this evening on my walk home from work.

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.

Wal-Mart and Starbucks: Jump to your own conclusions

Social scientists from Columbia University, on their never-ending quest to stereotype us, have come up with the maps below that show us the density of Starbucks and Wal-Marts per capita.

Wal-mart vs Starbucks per capita

Of course, no conclusions are actually derived from this data. That would be bad science. Instead, the maps are provided to us without explanation. So, if you jump to any conclusions, it’s your own damned fault.

This is what I like to call “tabloid science”.

[via kottke, columbia university]

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