Has Starbucks Gone Too Far…
…Or are they just a repeat of history?
Mainstream coffee has never truly been about experiencing the quality in a good cup of coffee. What mainstream knows is a series of brand names, a few terms, and coffee socials over a lifeless black cup loaded with cream and sugar. Once coffee leaves the farms to the mills to exporters to the commercial coffee roasters and coffee shops, with the exception of a few specialty roaster-retailers, coffee aficionados and enthusiasts, and specialty coffee shops who care about the incredible characteristics of coffee – the beauty of “crop to cup” – coffee becomes a huge marketing ploy to maximize profits without the educational value attached.
We’ve all heard the news about SBUX closing stores, revamping themselves to become recognizable as a “local” coffee shop (15th Avenue Coffee & Tea), raising prices, lowering prices, adding breakfast, and so on. The problem I’m having with them raising prices for “specialty drinks” is that it further hazes the truth about what good coffee really is. What I find incredibly confusing is that they’ve lowered the price on brewed coffee and lattes – two of the most traditional drinks that may offer consumers the most visible taste characteristics. We’ve allowed coffee shops to offer less premier coffee, stuff a collage of mess in our drinks, and call it “specialty coffee” while jacking up the price. But of course we’re getting the classic ambiance and atmosphere. As quoted in the New York Times: “Connie Williams, 57, a saleswoman in Los Angeles…said the price changes would not affect her daily habit of buying a 12-ounce nonfat cappuccino ‘with a little shake of chocolate’ at Starbucks. ‘I’m hooked,’ she said. ‘It’s like asking a cocaine addict, If I raise my prices, are you going to buy less?’.” I think she’s been forced into a perception of what good coffee is. My RAGING question is what happened to SBUX?? Forty years ago when they were the start of what modern American coffee is, they would have pulled coffee off the shelves if it was more than a week old. And while they’ve done a decent job with their management structure, their team-friendly environment, and their accomplishments in social responsibility and fair trade, somewhere along the line they went for straight commercialization and forgot to hold true to their traditional values of fresh roasted coffee (even though they still roast their own) and what it means to truly be local (I guess that happened when their “globalization” commenced without carrying on the original passion of what SBUX once was). They became caught up in flaunting coffees in elegant packages from various regions versus translating them to the palates of the customer. Instead, coffee became and orgy of syrups, whipped cream and misperceptions rather than creating an experience based on the coffee region. Gee, thanks Howie.
I am not solely picking on SBUX; I am picking on the guilty parties responsible for the overall commercialization and exploitation of coffee. Unfortunately, this exploitation has continued over centuries and has even been a victim of the coffee-producing regions themselves.
The BIGGEST question I have is: Do consumers even know what they are buying?? The coffee industry seems incredibly complex with its collection of coffee-producing regions, terminology, cuppings, taste profiles, etc; however, it is relatively simple to understand the truth behind the illustrious bean. There is nothing wrong with blending; there is nothing wrong with roasting in large quantities. The main beef I have is when we market something of less value, allow our customers to buy in, and fail to educate them properly – because if they all really knew exactly what they were buying, they may not buy it after all.
As a consumer, I am guilty – we all are guilty – of assisting in the exploitation of coffee and begging for it in an adulturated form. Remember: The simplest things can provide the ultimate pleasure. Drink unadulturated coffee.
Reference: The New York Times
Next Week’s Blog: The Top 5 Things You MUST Know About Coffee