Archive for the ‘caffeine’ Category

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?

sneak peek: inside 15th avenue coffee & tea

15th avenue coffee & tea -32.jpg
Picture 1.png
inside 15th Ave Coffee & Tea. More in the photoset [flickr].

Hot off the CF card, a whole bunch of pictures from the interior of the new 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea store, “inspired by” Starbucks and located in the former 15th Avenue shop on Capitol Hill (website: Almost everything from the old store was gutted and recycled; so during this afternoon’s preview we heard the words “repurposed” and “reimagined” with extreme frequency to describe the new decor and goals. The cupping table came from headquarters, the bar migrated from the recently renovated University Village store, a barn or two were repurposed like crazy, metals were soaked in water and left to rust, movie seats that would put modern audiences into back spasms were dragged in from somewhere, an entire philosophy text was turned into wallpaper, and pieces of a ship were dismantled — mast holes and all — to make a communal reservable table near the window. The effect, while overwhelming when cataloged, is one of a comfortable cafe with bins of small batch beans in the open for scooping and specialty whole leaf teas from Tazo in shiny chalkboard canisters for steeping. If anything, it reads as “typical upscale cafe” rather than a Disnified version that one might have anticipated from a corporate overhaul.

The store opens bright and early tomorrow, staffed by baristas in street clothes playing music over a state of the art sound system without a nearby LCD screen for making immediate purchases. You can get your drip coffee a few ways — through a French Press, a Clover, or dripped through ceramic filters — and shots of espresso will be hand-pulled with no frappucinos or smoothies in sight (though espresso drinks will me a tiny bit more expensive than usual). Snacks come mostly from Essential Bakery in Fremont and since they’ll be touching multiple “daypoints”, bottled beer and wine (one from Oregon represents the Northwest), sandwiches, and hand scooped ice cream are also on the menu.

As to the hypercritical question of the stealthiness of this endeavor, I don’t think that anyone is going to be “fooled”, nor is it clear that is their intent. If so, launching these test balloons (there will be three this year)in Seattle in a neighborhood with some of the most discerning and opinionated coffee consumers in the country wouldn’t have been the best strategy. Instead, everyone involved seems incredibly excited by the prospect of showcasing products they love in a comfortable setting. The “inspired by” in the name seems like a bit of a branding stumble; given the major departures from the look and feel of almost every other store in the massive fleet, it seems like a clean break from the recent past. I’m deeply dedicated (or tragically addicted) to our smaller local stores — my day is pretty much a disaster without at least one serving of Vivace and Victrola is a frequent office — but I don’t begrudge Starbucks for giving this a shot. In many other US cities, I admit that I’d probably be pretty happy to find one of these stores as an oasis in a desert of questionable quality coffee; in Seattle it’s a bit of a different story.

At this point, though, how it will feel beyond the repurposed furniture and decorations when people are actually inside serving and drinking coffee, meeting friends, or hiding behind their computer screens soaking in the free wifi is probably the most important component of this re-imagined experience. That test starts tomorrow; let us know what you think.

in other blogs : starbucks gets into the coffee & tea trade, city explodes

this 1977 photo of the original starbucks courtesy of by Seattle Municipal Archives [flickr] arrived via our group pool [#].
  • One of the oldest Starbucks stores in the city, originally slated for closure during last summer’s massacre [mb]; didn’t actually close as originally reported (and commenter corrected) last month [chs]. Instead, it’s being “reborn” as “15th Avenue Coffee & Tea”, one of three debranded, alcohol-serving, live-event hosting cafes being tested in the city after months of observation of other less corporate neighborhood coffee houses. [seattletimes]
  • Unsurprisingly, Seattleites are horrified, both by the mainstream’s late arrival to the scene and the arrival of a “stealth” Starbucks [chs], certain that the company’s moves to address complaints of impersonality will fall flat. [slog]
  • The less enraged might say that imitation is a form of flattery [seattlest] or the more optimistic think that it’s “Not a bad idea. Coffee/bars are a hit” [twitter/moniguzman]
  • You’ll be able to find this new highly controversial Fifteenth Avenue store by looking for the cafe painted the same color as the salvaged wood planter box in front of Smith [voracious], a decoration concept gone too far, allegedly inducing Linda Derschang’s “blood to boil”. [slog]

New Economy Closing Times

Recently a number of places in North Seattle have been trimming their hours of business, closing an hour or so earlier than when the economy was booming. Off the top of the head, these include places as diverse as the Barnes & Noble at UVillage (10pm instead of 11pm Mon-Sat), Tangletown Zoka (10 instead of 11) and the Wedgwood Starbucks (9pm instead of 10pm). The first of these, coupled with the temporary shutdown of the large corner Starbucks there for renovations, has really turned the Village into a ghost town after 10. A micro-trend in today’s economy, or a coincidence? Anyone notice other Seattle area retailers or restaurants giving up on the late-night crowd?

everything’s live somewhere: starbucks meeting here today and on twitter

Wonder what’s happening in McCaw Hall today for the Starbucks shareholders meeting? Brew up a cup of VIA and tune-in to Twitter:

SBX_IronChef is livetwittering the Starbucks meeting

If you’re lucky you can flip between this and Gary Locke’s confirmation hearings [] as a way of getting in shape for for the office-based multitasking required for when the NCAA tournament starts.

(via starbucksgossip [#])

Instant Coffee Instant Replay


CeRo might have beat me to it (curses!), but I’m bound and determined to get my cinematography online in order to qualify for an ’09 Oscar:


What really strikes you about this product is the texture: it’s definitely not your father’s Folger’s Crystals. Not sure if that’s part of the secret process, or just an artifact of how much the freeze-drying process has advanced in 25 years. The actual taste of the brew seems surprisingly mild and smooth for Starbucks, which has a reputation for darker (or ‘burnt’) coffee. This definitely tastes a lot better than the stuff from your office’s never-cleaned coffee brewer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a net win for taste stability compared to the vacuum-packed ground beans that many institutions rely upon.

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).

Olive 8’s coffee bar: a great addition to the downtown coffee scene

The Olive 8 building may be ugly and drab on the outside (seriously, what were the designers thinking with those mesh patterned windows that look perpetually dingy?) but the spacious, light-filled first floor lobby is lovely, providing a charming backdrop for drinking what very well may be the best latte I’ve had in my life.

Nestled around corner from the front door, the coffee bar at the Olive 8 at first blush resembles any other coffee bar you see downtown until you realize that instead of offering the same old scones and muffins you can get just about anywhere, they have on display a collection of meats and artisan cheeses. Their torta rustica is a fine breakfast and if you want something more muffiny, so is the Nutella brioche. There’s even a yogurt bar to allow you to customize your yogurt breakfast or snack.

The coffee is the true attraction, though. Each cup of drip is individually brewed from your choice of beans, each exquisite espresso drink carefully crafted. The bar offers your choice of handmade syrups, including a ginger syrup that makes me want to weep for the pleasure of drinking it.

Trust me, I don’t usually get this excited about coffee but being someone for whom coffee is by necessity a special treat rather than a daily diet, I’m always thrilled when my special treat really is special. Regular coffee drinkers deserve a great coffee experience, too, though, and I can definitely recommend the coffee bar at the Olive 8 for that great coffee experience. Next time you’re in the vicinity of Olive and 8th, stop in and have a cup.

Touring the city with food and drink

A friend told me a few years ago that one of the most surprisingly fun things to do in your own hometown is take a guided city tour. Being the sort of person who doesn’t like to take guided tours of other people’s cities let alone mine, I scoffed–at least until I got roped into offering the friend of a friend a customized tour of Seattle and in doing research on our destinations discovered that there are a lot of places to go and things to do and see in this city that it’s impossible for any one person to keep track of them all.

If you look hard enough, you can probably find a tour that fits your personal taste; if taste is on your menu, though, you should seriously consider the Seattle Food Tours. One takes you through Belltown, sampling along the way such tasty treats as artisan breads, BBQ pork, handmade chocolates and more. The other guides you through the Pike Place Market, pointing out all the hidden treasures that the Market’s often-confusing layout can hide away from the casual eye. In addition to learning more about some of the food that Seattle has to offer, you’ll be introduced to the city’s history, architecture and public art–not a bad deal at all while you’re being introduced to great restaurants you might otherwise never have known.

Savor Seattle offers a tour of the Pike Place Market as well, guiding you through the Market that includes tastes of salmon, coffee, Washington artisan cheese and fresh season fruit and they also offer a three-hour tour of downtown Seattle that presents local Washington wine and microbrew beers, seafood, cheeses, pizza, tapas, and more.

Follow up any of these tours with a stop by the Burke for their “The World in Your Cup” exhibit on coffee which includes free tastings every weekend through June.

Afternoon Starbucks, now smaller and 100% more caffeinated

It seems like we can’t go more than a few hours without news of layoffs these days. Today it was another 6,700 jobs and another 300 under performing stores from Starbucks.

On the (somewhat) positive side, CEO Howard Schultz will take a massive paycut (from 1.2 million in 2008 to 10K in 2009). Now, while I don’t really expect that paycut to result in him ‘sharing the pain’ with his laid off employees, it’s at least a good faith step for him to take and I applaud the effort.

In other interesting Starbucks cost-cutting news, they are eliminating the constant brewing of decaf coffee from their stores after the noon hour. Apparently this will result in a $400 million savings by September. Don’t worry, you can still get your decaf coffee, you’ll just have to wait the 4 minutes it takes for a pot to brew.

Now this move actually surprises me. I don’t drink decaf. I’m lucky that my body doesn’t have a problem with caffeine, even if I have it right before bed. But I do know people who can’t tolerate the caffeine, and for most of those people, it’s a lot more important for them to have decaf after noon than it is before. So I’d actually expect Starbucks to sell a higher percentage of decaf coffee AFTER noon than before.

It’s no secret that I prefer the small, independent coffee shops to Starbucks. But regardless of my coffee choices, I still feel badly for Starbucks employees. Here’s hoping they all land on their feet.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.