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Hello to all the Coffee Lovers out there,

I have a question for you from someone(me) that doesn't know a lot about high quality coffee...

What kind of quality do the larger coffee chains have? poor, ok, good, or great quality coffee products...

I'm interested in the chain stores like starbucks, coffee bean and tea leaf, peets coffee, etc....

I would love to hear your opinions on who is the best out of those three or other big chains and why...

Thank you for your help in advance,

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Robert -

Great question, however you must take a moment to define the quality that you are seeking.

In coffee there are many attributes and control points that are used to define quality. Also the definition of quality differs greatly between buyer and seller.

For example, I enjoy coffee brewed using the drip method, roasted to a northern Italian or full city level where the acidy overpower the body producing a bright and lively cup. If I am served a very dark roasted full body coffee without lively acidity how do you propose that I define the quality of the beverage?

Or are you asking about the quality of their buying practices as related to green coffee grade?

Do you define quality based on espresso or drip coffee? Will quality be defines by sales volumes or average cups/day.

The short answer is that each company (brand) that you mentioned has a very good reputation in the coffee industry for purchasing very high quality specialty coffee and other gourmet quality coffees. Others that purchase quality coffee include Dunkin' Donuts, Caribou, Dunn Brothers, and Timothy's. These companies purchase some of the best coffees available at the quantity needed to supply their stores. Higher quality coffee will always be available, but at smaller quantities that are roasted by smaller roasting companies.

Think of a pyramid with the top point representing quality and quantity. Respected coffee companies purchase as high in the pyramid as possible.

Zoka in Seattle, Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown in Portland, Counter culture in Durham, The Roasterie in Kansas City, PT's in Topeka are all companies that stay on the peak of the quality/quantity pyramid.

Robert, Please let me know if this answers your question. If not, I am happy to answer a few more coffee inquiries.

All the best,

Spencer

"Wine give rise to dreams: Coffee to thoughts"

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Wow thanks for alll your help so far...I am learning a lot just by the one post. I am very intersted in learning so I'm gonna ask a few more questions while I have you here...

What is most important in a quality cup of coffee? Growth, Harvest, Drying, Roasting, Grinding, Brewing? and why?

Could you also tell me a little about the process of how a coffee bean gets from the cherry(on the tree) form to a cup of coffee?

I would also love to hear any other great coffee roasters/shops on the west coast that you know of(where I'm from).

Thanks again for all your help...I am completely new to this and am trying to soak up as much as I can...

Have a great day,

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[...]

I would also love to hear any other great coffee roasters/shops on the west coast that you know of(where I'm from). 

[...]

Not sure where you are in California...

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the small batch coffee roasters I can vouch for are Ecco Caffe, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Sweet Maria's.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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What is most important in a quality cup of coffee? Growth, Harvest, Drying, Roasting, Grinding, Brewing? and why?

Every control point in the coffee supply chain is important - coffee quality can only be maintained or preserved, not increased, and very easily decreased. Any changes made to the way coffee is prepared, milled, processed etc.. it will change the characters in the cup!

Could you also tell me a little about the process of how a coffee bean gets from the cherry(on the tree) form to a cup of coffee?

Please read Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast

I would also love to hear any other great coffee roasters/shops on the west coast that you know of(where I'm from).

Ecco Cafe, Groundworks, Barefoot Coffee Roasters

Thanks again for all your help...I am completely new to this and am trying to soak up as much as I can...

Have a great day,

"Wine give rise to dreams: Coffee to thoughts"

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What is most important in a quality cup of coffee? Growth, Harvest, Drying, Roasting, Grinding, Brewing?

All of the above... and I'm not being cheeky by saying that. However, it is safe to say that the best roasters obtain beans ifrom sources who ensure that all the steps of growing, processing, shipping and storage are done properly. And the best cafes source beans from the best roasters (or source and roast their own by similar standards).

It may not surprise you to learn that some of the best roasters and coffee professionals in the field today have culinary backgrounds (Andrew Barnett of Ecco Caffe among them). Roasting is a culinary art, a science and a craft - the same can eb said of coffee preparation but most especially espresso preparation.

If any single component in the long chain of processes is not done correctly - from soil preparation and maintenance all the way to choice of tools, grinding, tamping, pulling a shot and steaming the milk - the results will be less than stellar.

do you think that the big chains like starbucks, coffee bean and tea leaf, peets, caribou, dunn brothers, timothy's, etc. can have equall or greater quality coffee than the smaller guys?

No they do not ever achieve that now and I doubt that they ever will. Even in the very best and busiest cafes with the highest level of baristas working the bar - it is always a challlenge to maintain consistency - but it can be done in a single cafe or in by a multi-location independent operator. Espresso Vivace, Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, Murky Coffee, Gimme Coffee, Spro and Stumptown Roasters come to mind when I think of quality driven multi-location independents who are doing it right. There are others but those are the ones I've visited personally who have at least two (and in some cases up to five) locations and are doing it the right way.

Companies like Starbucks et al are able source high quality beans when they choose to but various factors such as an inability to get beans from the roaster into the cup in less then 14 days.... increasing use of automated equipment.... lack of adequate training or lack of ongoing training.... loss of focus due to a desire for increased sales of peripheral non-coffee related items.... the need to cut costs in pursuit of higher profits for increased stock prices of publicly held companies.... it's a really looooong list!

Of the really big chains I've goten my most consistent experiences (in terms of cup quality) at Peet's locations.

As big a factor as any (and this affects many middle of the road so-so quality independents as well) is the fact that the best coffee operations - roasters and cafes - are run and staffed by people who love coffee. Everything about it - from bean to cup. These are people who live and breathe coffee and are in for a love of and passion for the coffee business - not because it's the latest profit making bandwagon to jump on.

I'm not naive or idealistic - many of us in the business have both a passion for coffee AND a desire to make a good return on investment and a very comfortable living. But I think you'll find many of the best people in the industry to be folks who got into it because they have a passion and the rewards followed by virtue of their dedication and hard work.

Could you also tell me a little about the process of how a coffee bean gets from the cherry(on the tree) form to a cup of coffee?

Way, way too complex a topic to get into in a single forum post - not to mention that my knowledge in this area falls short of many. But a good place to get reading recommendations is from UK based coffee savant Jim Hoffman's Coffee Reading List. The Uker's book All About Coffee will have the best info about growing and processing, Schomer's book on Espresso Coffee Preparation is a concise guide (and fun read) for how great espresso is produced in a cafe environment and the Illy book Espresso Coffee: the Science of Quality lends great insight into how much stringent scientific research has gone into the pursuit of coffee andf espresso quality.

I would also love to hear any other great coffee roasters/shops on the west coast that you know of(where I'm from). 

What eje said :biggrin:
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I should say, Ecco Caffee and Sweet Maria's are, to the best of my knowledge, exclusively coffee Roasters. And Sweet Maria's, despite carrying a wide variety of green beans, only roast a single variety of Decaf, Espresso, and Drip coffees every Monday.

Ritual now has a couple shops in San Francisco, and both roast their own beans, and are well regarded for their Espresso. Blue Bottle has a cart at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market and a "kiosk" on Hayes in San Francisco. It looks like they also have carts at a couple East Bay Farmer's Markets. Do they brew coffee or make espresso in Oakland? On their website mention pickup times at their "Beach Street Location". Is that just offices?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Do they brew coffee or make espresso in Oakland?  On their website mention pickup times at their "Beach Street Location".  Is that just offices?

I believe they roast there and you can pick up beans. Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe in Oakland uses Blue Bottle beans but their espresso drinks - although better than average - don't measure up to the quality served on the Blue Bottle carts or at the Hayes Valley kiosk.

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Like most things, this gets down to what you really like.

Not being facetious. At our cafe we serve Intelligentsia beans, yet, despite the fact that we're serving some of the best single origin coffees on the planet every day, a surprising large number of people want "the darkest thing you have", or "just give me the house coffee." There seems to be a limit to what emotional investment many folks will make as regards coffee.

People like what they like and often can't be bothered to move up the chain without being confronted on it. Taste can be a weird thing - guy stormed out angrily today because we'd eliminated a 20oz. serving of what he wanted from the menu - we didn't think that size drink showed us in the best light.

I guess that's saying that if you're choosing to go out and experiment, that puts you in a discerning minority of coffee consumers, so good for you - the industry thanks you!

So "best coffee at big chains"... if it's retail beans to brew at home, could be Caribou - they've done some surprisingly good blends that rate highly on Coffee Review. Could be Peet's. A whole lot of people buy Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts beans, so there's some safety there. Green Mountain is served in a ton of gas stations, yet is hugely respected in the quality segment of the coffee industry.

But as you're in SF, have to think once you've experimented with the breadth of what Ritual, Blue Bottle or Ecco can offer, there's little chance you'll go back to a "major" chain's offerings again.

Rich Westerfield

Mt. Lebanon, PA

Drinking great coffee makes you a better lover.

There is no scientific data to support this conclusion, but try to prove otherwise. Go on. Try it. Right now.

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if it's retail beans to brew at home, could be Caribou - they've done some surprisingly good blends that rate highly on Coffee Review.  Could be Peet's.

I don't claim to be a connoissuer, or even very knowlegeable, but Caribou and Peets are my two favorites.

But I'll admit that when in doubt I just ask for "what's dark".

SB (doesn't care for Starbucks though)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Can anyone tell me more about Dunn Bros.??

There is a new location that just opened up near me, with another location in the general area as well. From what I know, they roast all their coffee in house, which seems unique for a "large" multi-location chain spread across many states. Also, each store is supposedly locally owned and operated.

How do they stack up? Against Starbucks, Peets, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc.. I plan on checking them out this weekend (to buy some beans and to grab a drink), but I'm not an expert on judging coffee places.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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What is most important in a quality cup of coffee? Growth, Harvest, Drying, Roasting, Grinding, Brewing? and why?

For some people, positive social and economic circumstances of the production of coffee can also add to the positive experience of drinking it. Sorry that sounds very worthy but you know what I mean.

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Can anyone tell me more about Dunn Bros.??

There is a new location that just opened up near me, with another location in the general area as well.  From what  I know, they roast all their coffee  in house, which seems unique for a "large" multi-location chain spread across many states.  Also, each store is supposedly locally owned and operated.

How do they stack up?  Against Starbucks,  Peets, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc.. 

As always - it should be about the quality of the coffee, espresso and espresso drinks first, service and ambiance second and then... if and only if all else is equal... I will choose an independently and locally owned operation over a chain.

As a franchise / independently owned operation I think a Dunn Brothers store has a better chance of being above average than a Starbucks, Caribou or Peet's. I know they do in-store roasting - that's not necessarily a sign of quality but at a minimum indicates that you'll get freshly roasted beans - a great place to start.

I've heard that they do coffee tastings / cuppings periodically that are promoted as public events and that fact impresses me. I hope you'll visit and report back on your experience.

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Aroma is an Israeli chain that dominated the tiny country, and has been so successful that Starbucks has failed to take root despite several attempts.

They just opened their 2nd location out of the country last week, two blocks near my house in Toronto (the other is in New York). Suffice to say that their coffee is fantastic. I'm not a big coffee drinker, but what I love is a good strong espresso with lots of flavor. I find Starbucks et al to be watered down, and their espresso horrendous (drinking it out of a paper cup??)

Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com
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Can anyone tell me more about Dunn Bros.??

There is a new location that just opened up near me, with another location in the general area as well.  From what  I know, they roast all their coffee  in house, which seems unique for a "large" multi-location chain spread across many states.  Also, each store is supposedly locally owned and operated.

How do they stack up?  Against Starbucks,  Peets, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc.. 

As always - it should be about the quality of the coffee, espresso and espresso drinks first, service and ambiance second and then... if and only if all else is equal... I will choose an independently and locally owned operation over a chain.

As a franchise / independently owned operation I think a Dunn Brothers store has a better chance of being above average than a Starbucks, Caribou or Peet's. I know they do in-store roasting - that's not necessarily a sign of quality but at a minimum indicates that you'll get freshly roasted beans - a great place to start.

I've heard that they do coffee tastings / cuppings periodically that are promoted as public events and that fact impresses me. I hope you'll visit and report back on your experience.

I did visit a store to pick up some beans and to have a drink and jsut hang out. I bought a half pound of Sumatra for $5 to take home. It's good. But I'm not enough of a coffee guy to tell how good it really is. The espresso based drink was tasty, but it's loaded up with milk and chocolate and what not, so it's hard to judge teh quality of the coffee in that drink. (but the overall drink was tasty). I don't typically drink espresso, so I can't comment on that. (didn't have any).

Overall, I liked the vibe/feel of the place. To me, that's good for a place you want to hang out in in addition to picking up some beans for home. Free Wi-fi with no registration pages or anything? Sweet. :)

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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