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wordwiseguy

Starbucks: Good or Evil?

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Here in Birmingham, folks where all in a tizzy when we got our first Startbucks. 5 million local locations later, including 2 with drive-thru service, a wide-eyed, highly caffeinated city asks the scalding question: Is all this Starbucking a good thing?

I mean, after all, there are other options, right? Most cities, yes. But here in the Ham options are limited. You can get a good cup of coffee, but inconsistency reigns at local coffee houses and what you experience is largely a product of who happens to be scheduled. Oh the agony of walking several blocks only to see that today's barrista is one the bad list.

Ok, this might be a small exageration. Fine. But we were all wishing for a Starbucks in Birmingham and now we have them everywhere. So, are we happy? Sure. But what about the rest of the country?

Is Starbucks good for the coffee world or the evil java empire?

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Starbucks Bad.

One Fella's Opinion

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I'm ambivalent about Starbucks. On the upside, they pay their staff better than similar chains, and give benefits. They also pay their coffee growers well above market rates, almost-but-not-quite what the fair trade people pay. These are good things.

On the downside, their prices are insanely high and their product is, quite frankly, poor-to-mediocre.

At my day job we've just recently switched from a local distributor to a "proudly brewing Starbucks" format at our in-house coffee bar. Our traffic has plummetted, though with the increase in prices we're coming out somewhat ahead in $ at the actual coffee bar. I'm down about 200 cookie sales/week, though, on the resultant reduced foot traffic at the bakery counter. I drink a lot of it, because it's free for staff, but I sure don't enjoy my cup of coffee very much anymore.

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Starbucks gets a modest amount of support from me because they did hire me when I was pretty dern close to destitute my second-to-last year of college and paid me enough that I didn't have to eat the grounds to get by.

Beyond that, they're pretty industro-edible like McDonald's salads. I'm firmly ambivalent at worst because I can't hold a grudge for people who've helped me out.

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Starbucks did play a role in getting America to discover that coffee was more than just Maxwell house french roast. Now we want more than just another nonfat triple venti with caramel. Have you noticed that all those very comfortable chairs have been replaced with McDonalds type hard seats? And why are they so quick to put the lid on the cup? At the local houses here, the baristas take pride in their pour of the frothed milk into the coffee and their ability to pour the designs. Starbucks, if there is no other option, it is the McDonalds of coffee but it is not evil, just not all that good.

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Evil, except for the pumpkin spice and gingerbread lattes. Those are good enough to make selling my soul worthwhile. :biggrin:

K

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I always talk out of both sides of my mouth on this issue. (Perhaps I do that on most issues...not sure.)

I don't think their coffee is great and I think their espresso is worse. Harsh, far too hot, and they try to make you embarass yourself by saying 'dopio' instead of 'double' or 'grande' instead of 'medium'. They seem to be taking over the world and making everyone believe that the only reason for coffee is to make a shot of espresso to put in the bottom of a bunch of creamy foam with sugar on top.

That said, their coffee is better than most chains and therefore when I am in unfamiliar territory while travelling I like to be able to stop and get a cup of coffee and know what to expect. If I know of a local coffee house, I'll stop, otherwise I thank my lucky stars that they wanted to build three between my hotel and my meeting location.

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They are mostly good, some bad, but not evil.

GOOD: Starbucks has raised the bar of expectation for your average coffee drinker, who previously was getting morning joe at the gas station or something like it.

GOOD: The corporate policy of pushing fair-trade coffee and the issues behind it to the forefront of people's minds (or at least into their sphere of awareness).

BAD: Awful prices. I can go to a real coffee shop and get a proper small latte, with a correct 2:1 ratio of milk to espresso, for $2 or slightly more. At starbucks, I'll be paying $2.60 for the 'tall' size, then have to add $.55 for each additional shot, ideally 2 of which are required for the proper ratios for their 12oz size.

BAD: Their espresso is consistantly "passable" quality, no more, no less.

So in general, I guess I like the existence of Starbucks much more than I like actually going there and buying their products. :hmmm:

Andrea

in Albuquerque

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That's sort of quasi-evil. Sort of the splenda of evil. Certainly understandable. Sadly, my biggest Starbucks addiction is the tripple grande raspberry latte. Unlike your drinks, you can get my favorite anywhere. So I have no excuse. :sad:

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Amen to that. There is a certain comfort level in unknown cities, etc. I remember once I had this insanely early flight leaving Jacksonville, FL. I was barely awake and incoherent. Then, there it was, at the end of the main terminal, just before the concourse for Southwest, a Starbucks. A bright, happy Starbucks. People where frothing, steam was rising from the behind the machines. A line stretched out the door and I jumped right in.

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Put me in the fan column.

In my recent past life, I lived in Regina, Sasakatchewan; I worked as the general IT god for a building materials retailer. Like most IT jobs I've worked, if I wanted to get anything done, I'd have to get to my desk before everyone else did so I got a good hour or hour and a half of work done before the phone started ringing.

Not a single one of the local coffee houses thought that 6:30AM was an appropriate time to be open, but the single, solitary Starbucks did.

Product-wise, it's not great; hey, it's Starbucks. But their lack of turnover ensured that my quad grande Americano would be slipped in between other drinks and waiting for me by the time I reached the counter, and it was served with a grin. When you're going in to face 200 grumpy users every damn day without the budget to make them smile, you learn to take your blessings where you can find them.

I'm now in a city that doesn't even have a Starbucks; yes, they still do exist. (We won't talk about whether Charlottetown's a city or not). The local coffee houses are shit; the espresso will have grounds in it, will be burnt, and is horrifically overpriced ($2.75 for a doubleshot - my quad americano was $3.10. Want a quad at the only place open before school? $5.50). But the alternative - Tim Horton's - is too dire to contemplate...

I'm a fan 'cause it could be a hell of a lot worse.

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What a quandry. And that's the rub isn't it: While there is better, there certainly is worse. It never ceases to amaze me how some cofffee shops, who in name state very boldy what it is that they do, can get coffee making so wrong, so often.

So here's a vote for consistency, even if it is consistently mediocre.

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I suppose I do have to add one thing that puts me in the ashamed list for continued support of starbucks. Every morning, I drink my morning cuppa from a Starbucks mug because I like drinking out of glass coffee mugs, and they used to sell one that was perfect. So I bought it.

Overnight companions know she's special when I make her coffee in my starbucks mug and give it to her.

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In many Starbuck-less cities, the fear is that Starbucks will come in and cause local coffee places to go out of business. From what I understand this isn't really happening to a large extent. If anything, Starbucks raises the bar, so to speak. It forces local places to compete and carry a good product at a reasonable price. If they can't then they deserve to go out of business.

Getting a Starbucks can educate those who don't know what "good" coffee tastes like and they, in turn, will expect the same whether they buy coffee at Starbuck's or a local java joint.

Starbuck's are faux-coffee houses. They have chairs that aren't that confortable, they have okay music providing fake atmosphere where customers sit and chit-chat over coffee while other customers stand beside them eavesdropping while waiting for their lattes because there's no other place for them to stand.

But Starbucks hasn't got a thing on a local joint that can offer better chairs (sometimes couches), books and games and newspapers and unique music creating authentic atmosphere.

While having a Starbucks on every corner is too much, I say having a Starbucks in my community has been [Martha] a good thing [/Martha].

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I'm a fan 'cause it could be a hell of a lot worse.

Sums it up exactly for me. And locally, it's been a hell of a lot worse. Before Starbucks came to our city, the quality of available lattes was somewhere between horrific and sorta drinkable. Man, I have paid a bunch of money for some really, really bad coffee. Then I had my first Starbucks latte and was impressed with how smooth it tasted, and that the espresso-to-milk ratio seemed balanced.

A few days later, I had a latte at a local Borders store, and it was one of the most godawful concoctions I have ever tasted. I took it home and put even more milk in it, and it was not rescueable. Chocolate didn't even help; it just wasted the chocolate. I don't know what they did to it, but somebody should have had to atone for that.

I go to Starbucks exclusively now. I'd rather shell out $3.30 (including tax) for a consistent, very drinkable and even enjoyable product, than any smaller amount of money for something that has a good chance of being downright awful. Yes, it's the McDonald's syndrome. Every Starbucks latte tastes the same, and every Big Mac tastes the same. Consistency may equal mediocrity, but that's better than having a less-than-even chance of purchasing something edible.

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Starbucks is safe. Their drinks are consistent; they are never awful; they are never great. It's easy with the right gear to make better drinks at home; it's easy to find much worse drinks at other coffee shops; and depending where you are, it may be easy to find better drinks at another coffee shop in town. I'm ambivalent when it comes to Starbucks - I often find myself in a Starbucks when I'm in an unfamiliar city or an airport, but I never go to Starbucks when I'm in northern CA.

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I used to feel the way many people on this thread seem to - Starbucks is at least consistently mediocre - and their big fancy frothy drinks are nice indulgence every once in a while (once a season).

However, it seems to me that the quality of their espresso-based drinks has taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last year or two. The fancy frothy drinks are still a sweet treat - but they don't really have anything to do with espresso, but instead are heavily laden with sugars and flavorings.

So, when considering Starbucks from an espresso perspective, I vote Evil. But, from a liquid dessert perspective, they are fast, consistent and relatively inexpensive ( frappucino = slice of chocolate cake).

I must admit, though, I live 2 blocks from Zoka Coffee Roasters in Seattle - and have one of their perfect americanos almost daily, so I may be a bit biased. :wink:

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Gee, a topic dangerously close to religion, or maybe politics. :wink:

Starbucks bad, in my book, if for no other reason than the predatory way they place new locations. If they really were going into neighborhoods without decent coffee options, it'd be fine. In my experience, though, what they do is set up a new shop across the street, or half a block away from an existing independent coffee shop. Here in Oakland, they opened one on Lakeshore Ave kitty-corner across the street from the Jahva House (independent, coffee + live music kind of place). The Jahva House wound up moving downtown, and it's unlikely that Lakeshore will get another independent coffee place. Who'd be that reckless, given the existing Starbucks?

They also opened one directly across the street from Gaylord's on Piedmont Ave, less than a block from Peet's and two independent diner/doughnut/coffee shops. Piedmont Ave is long enough and gets enough foot traffic, they could have chosen a different site and still have counted on enough business to make a profit. (In fact, they could even have benefited the neighborhood by helping to draw more people to a currently not-busy-enough section of the street.) Grr.

I haven't given Starbucks my money in at least 5 years, and I intend to keep it that way.

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It's all about choice, kids.

Not so much about politics. Or at least I don't think so anyway. If there are other choices, and the market is interested in something other than McDonald's or McCoffee, or whatever, Starbucks doesn't fight so hard. They are in business to sell stuff and if the market is not interested, they don't sell as much stuff so they don't open as many stores. Market forces prevail in the most real sense.

Here in New Orleans, we have tons of coffee and always have. We are either the #1 or #2 coffee port in the world and one of the largest coffee roasters on the planet. People here drink coffee all day long, hot or iced, cold weather or hot, and we have not seen the attack of the Starbucks that many of you seem to be afflicted by.

There was a good article in the Picayune, just this morning, covering this subject. It says alot about Starbucks and alot about New Orleans. If you are interested in this thread you shoud probably take the time to read it.

Grande Latte? We don't need no stinking Grande Latte

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I'm ambivalent about Starbucks.  On the upside, they pay their staff better than similar chains, and give benefits.  They also pay their coffee growers well above market rates, almost-but-not-quite what the fair trade people pay.  These are good things.

On the downside, their prices are insanely high and their product is, quite frankly, poor-to-mediocre. 

The fact is these to go hand in hand. The reason why Starbucks has to charge higher prices is so they can give better salaries and benefits and pay the growers above market rates.

I have no opinion about Starbucks -- I probably go in there 4x a year.

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Here in New Orleans, we have tons of coffee and always have. We are either the #1 or #2 coffee port in the world and one of the largest coffee roasters on the planet. People here drink coffee all day long, hot or iced, cold weather or hot, and we have not seen the attack

Right. Instead, you have like what, a dozen or so Cafe Du Monde stores? LOL!

EDIT: Only seven CDM's so far. But I think you have another small beignet/cafe au lait chain, Café Beignet taking up the slack, right?

DOUBLE EDIT: 24 PJ's and 13 Community Coffees as well, not to mention 3 or 4 other smaller chains. I think the Coffee chain biz in New Orleans is pretty saturated.

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Look, Big Boy, the point here is that we have an indiginous coffee culture and don't need a bunch of panty waist yuppies from Seattle coming in here and telling us that we need to start ordering in foriegn language mish mash when all we really want is a cup of decent quality, very strong, coffee with hot milk in it.

Perhaps in New Jersey you need that kind of help. :raz:

Edit: CC's is an incredibly high quality chain, and their outlet on Royal St. is my favorite coffee drinking spot in the city (with the CC's at Magazine and Jefferson running a close second). And PJ's started with one little place on Maple Street in a bad location (you couldn't even see it from the street) and turned it into a seriously successful concern. Not only that, PJ's is owned by a really smart woman who did it on her own, primarily with women running everything. This may not be so remarkable today, but in New Orleans in the early Eighties, this was not the sort of thing that happened everyday. But all of their success has been based on selling something that people want in a way that was familiar and palatable. You can spend as much money as you want here, but chances are, if it's below average in the taste dept., it ain't gonna fly.

So there.

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Here in New Orleans, we have tons of coffee and always have. We are either the #1 or #2 coffee port in the world and one of the largest coffee roasters on the planet. People here drink coffee all day long, hot or iced, cold weather or hot, and we have not seen the attack of the Starbucks that many of you seem to be afflicted by. 

Yeah, but do you drink it with that powdered non-dairy doesn't-exist-in-nature so-called "creamer?" Like they do in places like Natchez? :blink:

Dude, that shit is so nasty it ought to be illegal. :raz:

K

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Here in New Orleans, we have tons of coffee and always have. We are either the #1 or #2 coffee port in the world and one of the largest coffee roasters on the planet. People here drink coffee all day long, hot or iced, cold weather or hot, and we have not seen the attack

Right. Instead, you have like what, a dozen or so Cafe Du Monde stores? LOL!

EDIT: Only seven CDM's so far. But I think you have another small beignet/cafe au lait chain, Café Beignet taking up the slack, right?

DOUBLE EDIT: 24 PJ's and 13 Community Coffees as well, not to mention 3 or 4 other smaller chains. I think the Coffee chain biz in New Orleans is pretty saturated.

Yet you still can't get a truly outstanding espresso in NO (or at least I wasn't lucky enough to find one). CC had a passable cappa when I was there but not exceptional. But their coffee was indeed very good.

Starbucks has educated the public about specialty coffees and also raised the bar for consistency among independents. It's not that tough to deliver better quality than Starbucks but achieving that kind of overall ambiance and consistency is something that some independents could do better at.

In January or February they'l open less than a block away from our new store and I can't wait. We'll look even better than we already do by virtue of comparison and our business will probably increase.

I like them for the reasons that others have stated (although I find their sweet frou-frou specialty drinks to be revolting). They do engage in a few under the radar practices that are troubling but legal, For example.... once they have a few locations pen in a given community they often search to find out who the best pastry supplier is that sells to local independent coffehouses. Then they cut an exclusive supply contract with that baker which disallows them from selling to the other coffeehouses. Oh well. We're opening our own in house pastry kitchen that can and will run circles around anything I've ever seen in a Starbucks in terms of baked goods. That works for us but a smaller shop or one just getting established might be negatively impacted in such a scenario.

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