Why Starbuck’s Ruined Coffee

3 Jun

I served a special customer today. It seemed to be going fine, they smiled as they ordered, I handed them the exact change, and I stamped their loyalty card. They then found their way to two immaculately clean seats, and my barista quickly and effectively made them two quality lattés, complete with foamed milk art, in two nice, warm, and clean cups I might add. And as I placed the cups before them, not a single drop having spilt onto the supporting saucer, I did not realize my world was about to be shattered. They had said a premature thanks, because when they took a sip and realized that the excrement that had just sullied their lips was not to their liking and was in fact…… too milky?!?!?!?! Yes I know, latté literally translates to milky, but I guess that’s beside the point… or is it?

Coffee Star Logo

So let’s rewind about four years where I fell in love with true coffee and its potential to warm the soul. After relocating to France for a semester abroad in 2009 I was alone scared and in need of homely comforts. I had tried some croissants with espresso and had liked the experience but some diluted part of me missed that watered down “brown water” I drank back home. I had always liked “Coffee” but to me “Coffee” was a brown liquid, overheated in a glass pot for 30 minutes and thrown into your cup by waitresses everywhere in hopes that you’d stop complaining; the famous endless cup of Joe. Well three weeks into this experience I started dating my beautiful Cinzia, my Italian girlfriend. And one very special day she heats a pot of milk, throws on her mocha (metal espresso stove top peculator for North Americans, and not that weird chocolate coffee), and then she mixes the two. “What’s this?” I innocently ask. “A latté, haven’t you ever had one?” she responds. “No, I don’t believe I’ve had” and with that all those flavours of Brown Canadian Diner Water came back to me, but they were richer, creamier, and oh so delicious. After that point I discovered cappuccino, macchiato, Americano, and the classic corretto. I was falling in love with coffee.

Fast forward to present day, well I have good news to report; I was recently appointed a position as supervisor at a small and growing coffee house / bakery. I was hired with the purpose of becoming an assistant manager in the coming months. It’s called Euphorium Bakery and while I liked my first UK job at Pret a Manger, this is a step in the right direction for me as it entails more responsibility, and greater room for advancement, AKA I feel challenged. More importantly I get to work with some great baristas and some really great coffee product. But what I quickly realized was that the classic Italian seven coffee choice menu is gone, No, now there are thousands of coffees on the menu.

Let me explain, the menu may look simple with only seven or eight choices, but what they don’t tell you is that each option can be broken down into: extra hot or regular, dry or regular, skinny, soya, or whole milk, or semi-skimmed if you want to screw with people. Then there’s the cup; round, tall, large or take away. Then there’s regular strength, strong, one, two, three even four extra shots. Let’s not forget the flavours; caramel, vanilla, butter cream, crème caramel, etc. Chocolate powder on top or none? Cinnamon on top or none? And to top it off regular or decaf. If you don’t understand, well don’t worry, I have trouble myself. This is a common conversation for many baristas… keep in mind this is the English language:

“Two triple shot semi-skinned Americanos, extra hot, three quarter’s full, one double skinny latté take away”
“Americanos take away?
“No americanos to stay, oh and one half shot, dry, soya flat white, decaf in a large cup”
“Got it!”
“Got it?”
“Not really, but I’m ready for any complaints, cheers!”

The point is it’s madness, if you actually crunch the numbers, based on the variables listed above, there are about 40,320 coffee combinations. So much so, that you might never serve the exact same coffee combination twice in a day.

What happened to coffee? In Italy, where the original formula comes from, as all these names are Italian, there seems to be maybe seven types of coffee. Sure they have decaf, but tops, if you crunch the numbers, maybe there are 42 to 160 combinations, if you ask for anything else they’ll simply stare and laugh. What they do is great, but that’s all they do! What happened? Starbucks happened! The founder of Starbucks has been quoted as saying he took his inspiration for his business model from Italy. The term that people think is from Starbucks, you know, barista, that’s actually Italian. The perversion is that Starbucks couldn’t be further from the Italian model save a couple of names. They took the coffee experience and multiplied it, quadrupled it, warped it, and quite literally confused it, complete with its own bizarre language. I’m not trying to say their coffee is bad or anything, but what they have done to the minds of people is unforgivable. They sold the idea, that every individual should have their coffee their way, and no two drinks should be alike. Consequently coffee has become a labyrinth of choices, where most people don’t quite even know what they’re ordering or what they’re drinking but I’m sure they’ll have a damn intense opinion on what’s right and what’s wrong!

The irony is, having talked to some Londoners and locals, English people used to make fun of Italians for having so many variations on the “Brown Water”. To them, there was filter coffee, instant, and all that other un-pronounceable crap. Now it seems through the popularization of coffee choice, they are some of the most confusing and pretentious coffee drinkers I have ever seen. They have chains emerging that think that the only way to beat the competition is to have more possibilities, more choice, more craziness, and worst of all strong opinions on what is the RIGHT, TRUE coffee should be. But what can be the RIGHT TRUE coffee when there are 40,320 nominees? Thus, this latté is too milky!

To finish off this rant, I’d like to add a short story. There is an old school Italian native that lives one block from the shop. He’s a nice kind old man that barely speaks any English, but is still quite a pleasure to serve. Every single day he comes to the till and orders two espressos take away. No foam, no extra hot water, no decafs, no skinny, no chocolate, no nothing. Two espressos to take away. It’s a beautiful and simple act that reminds me that things don’t have to be overly complicated to be beautiful. So what if the only coffee your local diner serves is the classic drip coffee we all know and love, at least they’re proud enough and confident enough to know there’s beauty in simplicity.

Cheers

DD

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