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Coffee bean ruminations

StarbucksWhile I’m typically a big Starbucks fan, a devoted (some might say slavish) follower of the McDonalds of internationally standardized, excellent coffee-to-go, I never buy their beans or ground coffee for home. I get my home supplies from Whole Foods Market, in keeping with my objective to consume more organic things – and also, quite simply, because Whole Foods’ coffee is much, much better than Starbucks’.

This begs the question: why can’t Starbucks sell ground coffee that tastes good at home? Admittedly, I’m a snob and I have high expectations. Here in Toronto, there’s enough on offer in terms of coffee (organic, fair trade, micro-roasted on the premises, etc.), and it all costs more or less the same, so it’s not necessary to buy beans from Starbucks.

This week, as the result of an embarrassing lack of planning (or an unawareness of the dire state of my coffee supply), I ended up getting some Starbucks ground coffee, sort of at the last minute. ‘Buying’ isn’t quite accurate, because a kind colleague had given me a Starbucks Christmas gift pack containing a small bag of coffee beans and a gift card. To get it ground, I went back, bought a second bag, and had the baristas grind it all up for me (who, incidentally, appeared to be scared of their industrial grinder – funny given that they handle high-pressure coffee makers all day long).

But, the truth is: at home, the coffee just isn’t anywhere near as good as it is when Starbucks brews it up for you. Here are some theories to explain it all:

  1. Starbucks uses different beans/blends for its own brews in-store.
  2. Starbucks has better/different brewing equipment. Or better water. Or those baristas really know what they’re doing.
  3. The packaged experienced of asking for a “grande mild,” being asked, “Do you need room for cream or milk?” and getting a steaming paper cup with the brown sleeve actually creates much of the value of the experience, and that’s what you’re really paying $2.00+ for. The flavour is in fact secondary when it’s embedded into the experience.

I’m not sure which one it is, but I’ll admit that the third one seems most likely to me. I prefer to think of it not as a critique of globalization or a conspiracy theory, but rather a kind of postmodern irony that I joyfully choose to engage in several times per week :)

One Response to Coffee bean ruminations

  1. Carsten Knoch December 26, 2007 at 6:20 pm #

    Remarkably, Starbucks doesn’t have ready-made decaf drip coffee in Germany. I was sorely disappointed this morning at Frankfurt central station when trying to obtain my usual mix of half regular, half decaf. The baristas told me that “in American they have that.” Yes, I know :) It was a little weird. It’s like they’re still learning ;)

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