Tag Archives: Starbucks

Putting the Cafe into McCafe

Did you know that the first McCafe was built in Australia in 1993? It took eight years for the concept to be launched in the US.

Before I got pretty serious about coffee (but long after I gave up instant coffee), and before I gave up McDonalds for a year (three months and nine days ago), I held McDonalds coffee up as a bastion of consistently average coffee. It’s the mean, mode and median of coffee. It truly is average. Which means there’s a lot worse.

That’s pretty much the same conclusion a coffee reviewer came up with when he recently tried the coffee for the first time.

“Just as McDonald’s buys food staples from multiple suppliers in huge lots to blend out the flavor profile to a single, consistent stew spread across entire nations, their coffee is little different. Although their supply chain for coffee appears to be a lot more thoughtful than the one for, say, beef, another difference is that McDonald’s makes bigger, nameless vats of “mutt” coffee from multiple suppliers who each produce vast nameless lots of “mutt” coffee.

But as we mentioned up top, the espresso here may not be good, but it isn’t outright awful. And therein lies the marketing foolishness of Starbucks: years of dumbing down their product to fill an ever-expanding armada of cafés has made it rather push-button and brain-dead. So much so, that any fast food chain with an ounce of ambition, such as McDonald’s, can make a relatively legitimate quality play for their customers. Slap on a recession and a cheaper price tag, and Starbucks is suddenly dog-paddling to stay afloat in the deep, rapid waters of fast food competition.”

Starbucks: Overconfidence in advertising

These are some advertisements from a current Starbucks campaign

I’ll take “nothing” – I love how if you switch the “not” and the “just” around you get a pretty accurate understanding of the product.

That’s right people. Starbucks are the coffee house of choice for Vampires. They put “heart” into every cup. That’s a whole lot of blood – and explains why it tastes so bad to the average daywalker.

Caffeine Hit

Ever wondered just how much caffeine is in your morning cuppa? No? Well, I have, so this article was interesting to me.

Apparently Robusta has twice the caffeine content of the much nicer Arabica. It also produces a better crema – but tastes like burnt rubber (kudos to Coffee Dominion for that description). I wonder if there’s a link between caffeine content and crema?

Anyway. Here are some figures from the article by Jerry Baldwin – one of the cofounders of Starbucks (he sold his share in 1987).

“In a couple of studies testing 90 different Arabica cultivars, the caffeine content varied between 0.42 and 2.9%. My morning cup would then vary between 84 and 580 milligrams, depending on which of these varieties was in my cup.”

“If your morning cup came from a commercial roaster who included Robusta in the blend, we have another level of complexity. Caffeine content in these coffees, in one study, varied between 1.16 and 4.0%. A straight 12 oz. cup, using 20 grams of the 4% coffee, probably wouldn’t taste very good, but would definitely provide more buzz: 800 milligrams of caffeine.”

“An espresso made from 100% Arabica, on average, has about 70 milligrams of caffeine per shot; a 12 oz. cup of drip coffee made my way in a press pot, using two scoops of coffee per 12-ounce cup — would have 200 milligrams.”

Coffee and the global financial crisis

 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed globally every year. It’s big business. And you thought I’d chosen such a niche topic to keep writing about. 

The coffee industry is facing problems though. The tough economic climate means people are cutting back on expensive coffee, and even drinking instant. Partly thanks to Starbucks’ new instant product. Via. Which gives me one of those involuntary shudders.

This discussion – particularly the impact of the economic climate on coffee purchasing – was the topic of a recent post from Hungry Magazine

“VIA™ also focused me on what’s not happening at the local level. If you recall, I mentioned I just drank French pressed whole bean grocery store bought Starbucks. Up until a few months ago I was an exclusive Intelligentsia and Metropolis coffee drinker. But with the economy tugging at me and 12 oz of locally roasted beans costing $11.99 or so, I started experimenting with the $8.99 and $6.99 options available at the grocery store. I was convinced I’d probably end up where I started from, but I needed to see what was out there.”

The post drew some interesting comments from the CEO and bean buyer from Intelligentsia Coffee – arguably the pinnacle of the “specialty coffee” movement.

One of the economic problems facing the coffee industry is best expressed by these two maps. The countries producing coffee are very different to the countries buying it. Picture one represents coffee producers, picture two coffee drinkers. 

Here are the pick of the comments from Intelligentsia buyer Geoff Watts. 

“Your average coffee farmer today is making less money per pound of sold coffee than his grandparents did, in real (unadjusted) dollars, despite drastically higher living costs and production costs.”

Meanwhile, the mainstream first-world consumer has held stubbornly to the idea that coffee is a cheap luxury, that the $1.00 bottomless mug is somehow a right or a deserved privilege.

It is this very attitude that will continue to ensure that the modern smallholder coffee farmer has little hope of escaping a life of extreme poverty.

Cheap coffee (and by “cheap” I mean low cost, which typically equates to low quality) is one of the many forces shackling the developing world and suppressing opportunity for advancement for a huge chunk of the planet’s population who depend on coffee to make a living.

I would argue that even downright crappy coffee ought to carry a higher price tag than it currently does, especially considering the higher production costs that most farmers face today.”

Instant gratification

Those of you who don’t read the links in my daily links post may have missed my sneering references to Starbucks and its decision to start selling instant coffee. $1 a pop. In store. Coming soon.

This is a terrible mistake. Instant coffee – no matter how good the science behind it – is still dehydrated coffee being rehydrated. It’s got none of the elements of a good cup. Wikipedia has a breakdown of the process.

People in America can now get free samples via the Starbucks website. Yay for them.

I can’t understand why people drink instant coffee – other than that it’s instant if you’ve already got boiling water.

Here’s some startling US facts about instant from the Consumerist:

“The instant coffee market is bigger than you might think — accounting for 40% of the global coffee market. It’s less popular in the US than overseas, taking up only 9% of the US coffee market as opposed to 60% in Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom.”

Starbucks is cutting stores and staff all over the world. And this is their solution. Budget, low quality coffee for those feeling the economic pinch. The launch has received coverage from the Times Online.

“Starbucks said last month that it would cut 6,700 of its 167,000 staff and shut about 1,000 under-performing outlets, as its after-tax profits for the three months to the end of December fell 69 per cent.”

Here are some more instant instant coffee facts… and a nice little quote about why this has “bad idea” written all over it.

“In the US, instant coffee is synonymous with cheap and tasteless. The global instant coffee market is worth $17.7 billion, just $700 million of which is sold in America. Instead, Americas drink brewed, or filter, coffee – 65 billion cups of it a year.”

“Starbucks, best known as the home of the $4 latte, is gambling its luxury brand by entering the instant coffee market. As John Quelch, a Harvard Business School professor, said: “Instant, soluble coffee has long been an unspeakable wasteland. Conventional wisdom would be that no premium brand should go near it.”

Update: From a second Times Online story.

“Starbucks reckons that 80 per cent of UK households have instant coffee, an £800 million market. Darcy Willson-Rymer, its UK manager, said that its new coffee would sit at the “premium, even super-premium” end … “We’re competing with instant coffee, but we’re comparing it to ground coffee.”