Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Poking the Mermaid...

An Open Letter to Starbucks (Because they asked...)
Dear Starbucks,

When you purchased Clover, you acquired sole access to a truly spectacular and groundbreaking coffee brewing process that blends the best parts of French Press and Vacuum brewing in a new technology. A better cup, by brewing every cup. But if all you are going to do is grind the same beans you have today, all it’s going to do is give America a better cup of mediocrity.

Stop telling America that burnt coffee is good coffee.

Stop burning all the character out of your beans.

Your "Pike's Place Blend" is a hesitant shuffle in the wrong direction. And instant coffee won't save you. Starbucks needs to differentiate its coffee from that brewed now by your two greatest competitors: MacDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

What does it say to you that the company that brought the idea of gourmet coffee to America is challenged by those two. Dunkin’ Donuts? McDonald's? Can’t you see that homogenizing your beans by roasting out the regional characteristics has made your coffee indistinguishable from the sludge that the donut shoppes pour?

You have become the Burger King of coffee, congratulations.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Starbucks has the market share and the unique position to teach America what gourmet coffee really is. By cornering the market on the Clover and restricting its sale to the Starbucks stores, you are even more in a position to give a better cup of better beans. By roasting single-origin coffees to a lighter roast you can teach America what gourmet coffee really is. You can differentiate from the fast-food franchises that challenge you. You can brew better good coffee rather than giving us a better cup of bad coffee.

Starbucks taught America that there was such a thing as gourmet coffee. Thank you. But you did so by creating an inoffensive product without differentiation from one cup to the next; scorching the regional characteristics out of it; serving it pre-ground and stale so that ultimately, we’re no better off than we were before you told us what was possible and then failed to deliver it. Failed to the point where we now cannot tell the difference between a five-dollar cup and a two-dollar cup at Mickey-D’s.

You can move the needle again, start innovating rather than maintaining the status-quo. Take those Clovers you’re hoarding and actually use them to their fullest advantage. Brew coffee roasted to highlight the regional varietals, teach us to differentiate between Ethiopian and Guatemalan beans, educate our palates to taste the subtleties of terroir. And let us enjoy an amazing cuppa while you turn your cafés back into cafés rather than the high-priced soft-drink stands they’ve become.

It pains me to say this because I know and adore a number of wonderful people that proudly wear the green apron, but Starbucks is the coffee of last resort. If there's nowhere else to buy a cup, I'll enter your establishment, but otherwise... no.  Your beans are charred beyond recognition.

I’m not alone in this feeling. You've turned coffee from something transcendent into a lowest-common-denominator softdrink. A better brewing process can't change that. Bad beans beget bad coffee no matter how you brew them. I maintain contact with beanheads across the country and we all say the same thing: until your coffee delivers on it’s promise… well, you could brew it in a golden chalice with water from the the fountain of youth and I wouldn’t accept it.

If you can't do this simple thing, then give the damn Clovers back. You don't deserve them.

1 comment:

  1. Can you please ask them to clean the milk steaming wands too, please?
    After all if I had wanted coffee flavored chocolate I would have ordered a Mocha not a hot chocolate, but since I DID order a hot chocolate is it really too much to ask that it taste like chocolate and not coffee?


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).