I’ve been thinking about how back in the day Starbucks was the best coffee one could buy. I lived on the stuff myself. Now its a bit substandard compared to a myriad of less bitter, less over roasted coffees. So what the hell happened? Well, it was a combination of two things:
1) Starbucks has expanded dramatically! According to seattlepi.com, starbucks has grown from just over a thousand stores in 1997 to over 16,000 stores in 2007. With all mass-produced products, there is always a drop in quality control, and Starbucks is no exception. Point in case, the automated coffee makers they installed circa 2000. As someone who was, at the point of the implementation of said machines, a loyal Starbucks customer, I have to say that the quality drop of there brewed espresso on my palette was significant! I realize they did this to “standardize” but there is nothing standard about coffee. Humidity, temperature, storage, and a myriad of other factors will affect the taste of each shot of espresso. Which brings me to the next reason…
2) Starbucks was never that good! Yes, there, I said it. Starbucks tasted awful, even in the early 90’s. And the reason was partly due to standardization. Asides from Espresso, French, and Italian roasts (and maybe one or two others), Starbucks insisted on roasting their coffees the same roast. But anyone who knows ANYTHING about coffee roasting, knows that one cannot roast say, Sumatra as say, Ethiopian Haraar. The Hararr requires a lighter roast in order not to contrast the chocolaty blueberry taste, where as the Sumatran coffee requires a darker roast to accent its heady flavor. But why didn’t we notice this at the time? Why didn’t we know that Starbucks didn’t make a decent cup of coffee? Well, because we didn’t know any better? Why didn’t we know Folgers tasted like crap before we started drinking Starbucks? Our palettes were simply not refined enough to know.
In the last few months, Starbucks has recognized they’re going astray. They’ve taken one or two steps in the right direction, one or two in the wrong direction. They’ve closed 600 stores and said they would start to eliminate the breakfast foods in order to focus more on coffee. Still, they have the breakfast foods, and they’ve failed to embrace that standardization is not the answer. With the addition of Pike’s Place Blend, they’ve given us yet another substandard coffee – one that’s a one size fits all solution, and a miserable one at that. Its sad that a company who consider themselves a dealer in gourmet coffees sells a coffee that is no better than McDonald’s or 7-11.