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Gifted Gourmet

The mystery of the elusive "short" cappuccino

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article in Slate

Here's a little secret that Starbucks doesn't want you to know ...

The drink in question is the elusive "short cappuccino...

This secret cappuccino is cheaper, too ...

Economics has the answer: Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do...

It's not hard to identify the price-blind customers in Starbucks. They're the ones buying ...

Starbucks, with its coffee supremacy, can afford this kind of price discrimination, thanks to loyal, or just plain lazy, customers.

Starbucks' gambit is much simpler and more audacious ...

For extremely interesting economic details, do read the actual article ... :shock:

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I can't decide whether Starbucks is the ultimate expression of capitalism, or the most evil empire on earth.

Both options, of course, being completely free of hyerbole or exaggeration. :raz:

Seriously, though - I honestly can't decide whether I admire Starbucks for its ability to play the coffee-drinking public like it does, or whether it just makes me mad. Maybe it's both? In any case, I'll be giving the short cappuccino a try, and we'll see if it makes me a Starbucks coffee (as opposed to corporate) believer - nothing has yet.


Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

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interesting article, but it doesn't change the fact that their coffee still tastes like it's burnt to a crisp.

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interesting article, but it doesn't change the fact that their coffee still tastes like it's burnt to a crisp.

To me, this just makes the whole Starbucks phenomenon more interesting - they are not just catering to the tastes of the American public, but actually dictating what that public will like. FASCINATING!

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yeah... i can't decide if they're smart or sneaky. there are a ton of drinks that starbuck will do (and i assume that their employees are trained to make) that aren't on their menu. looks like they only put things with a high margin on the menu board, though. they purposely direct their customers to high margin items. makes great sense to me (if you're trying to make a profit).

next time you're in a starbucks that isn't too busy, ask the "baristas" what other drinks they make that aren't on the menu. there's quite a few, including employee inventions that i'm sure starbucks corporate wouldn't encourage.

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i'm convinced there's something about that burned flavor that people like. i mean, above and beyond starbucks' marketing prevalence. a lot of people i know, even when they have access to coffee that i consider better--and admit that it's better and more interesting and flavorful and whatnot--still go to starbucks, and say they just like that flavor.

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i'm convinced there's something about that burned flavor that people like.  i mean, above and beyond starbucks' marketing prevalence.  a lot of people i know, even when they have access to coffee that i consider better--and admit that it's better and more interesting and flavorful and whatnot--still go to starbucks, and say they just like that flavor.

It's the only coffee that doesn't taste bitter, sour or nasty to me. And I always order a short latte or americano - better coffee/milk or water ratio.

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My college student daughter works for Starbucks. She's worked for them for two years, before that it was Coldstone Creamery her Senior year in High School.

I can say that they take good care of the employee, vs. what you would get at the fast food places, department stores, etc. They are real flexible with their High School and College kids hours, cutting them slack final's week, etc. When my daughter come home to spend break with us, they just put her on the schedule at one here that is easier for her to get to. They offer insurance to their shift leaders, she gets a small tuition reimbursement, the pay is above average. I think she's thinking about going over to a new Johnny Rocket's that's opening up close to her school when she goes back next week, though.

I can say that they have several decent whole bean coffees. My daughter will also bring a bag or two home when she comes to visit. The employees get a pound a week free, and she doesn't consume that much, so we have had an opportunity try a few. The Shade Grown Mexican was pretty nice, and I think there was a South American coffee she sprung on us one time, and hubby enjoyed it. I don't care for the house stuff, though.

She likes most of her customers, and is on a first name basis with several of them. I think it is the atmosphere in some of the stores that don't do as much traffic. It's like the water cooler at work, I think, only you get to chat with people you don't have to work with all day long.

What gets her is the customer who comes in with stereotypical laundry list of a coffee order. The there are those that want "low fat" frappicino's which are physically impossible to prepare because of the premixes. Or those that want a "Green Tea" frappicino because it is not fattening :rolleyes:

It's good for kids to work with the public. I think every kid should do some customer service at some point in their lives, and learn a little bit about humanity. There are all kinds of people out there! I certainly learned quite a bit about life in service jobs my first few years in the "real world."

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My cousin is currently in business school (Joint MBA-MD program, actually - she's the bomb - and in tons of debt!), and they read this book in one of their classes: Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. It definitely touches on what Anne mentions - that Starbucks treats its employees well (for instance, providing health insurance after a barista's worked for them for six months).

These are the sorts of details that help me see Starbucks as less of an evil empire, though the fact that they tend to crowd smaller establishments out still gets me riled...and I'm back to where I was.

The capitalist in me is so impressed, but the slumbering bohemian likes somewhere a little more authentic-feeling, somewhere that feels connected to the world around it, rather than a little bit of corporate development plopped onto the corner.

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I've heard folks ordering a "doppio"? (no idea if that's spelled correctly) in SBs but I've never stuck around to actually see what it is they were getting. Is that code for a short capppucino?

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I've heard folks ordering a "doppio"? (no idea if that's spelled correctly) in SBs but I've never stuck around to actually see what it is they were getting. Is that code for a short capppucino?

No - it's "doppio" for double - as in a double shot of espresso.

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I've heard folks ordering a "doppio"?

No, a doppio is a double espresso. I ordered one once in a Charbucks and the conversation went something like this: me: I'd like a double espresso. Clerk: A doppio. Me: yes, a double espresso.

Oh, and it was crap. So, "doppio" is really bucks-speak for "crap."

So, yes, a cappuccino made with only twice as much milk as needed will be better than one made with four or eight times as much, but still not worth paying $2.35 for.

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This will be quite lengthy, I warn you all; this is the 'college student daughter' mentioned in the previous post under this name.

The reason a short latte/americano/cappucino tastes better is the fact that it does have a better coffee-milk ratio. The tall size is not really all that great a value, for all it's cheaper. The best value on the menu is nearly ALWAYS the 'grande' size; In a latte it's the more balanced milk-syrup-espresso ratio, in hot teas it has the best ratio of tea-water.

As to the 'I've seen starbucks employees make drinks that aren't on the menu' comment-yes, there are plenty of drinks that are in the 'lexicon' that don't show up on the menu at a given time, either because they aren't being "seasonally offered" or because they have, technically, been taken off the menu. We can make drinks as long as we have the components to make them. They took the 'Mocha Valencia' off the menu a while ago; we still have valencia syrup (for shaken tea-lemonade), and of course we still have mocha. We also offer Peppermint Mocha all year round, though we only advertise it on the menu in winter. The reason these things aren't on the menu isn't a scam... it's just that if we showed EVERY LITTLE THING that we can offer on the menu, it would be even larger than it already is, and then people would complain that there's too much to take in. (trust me, I already hear that complaint ad infinitum with the current menu size)

As a Starbucks employee, I actually do not indulge very much in coffee-I took the job because I needed cash, and the benefits package is, as mentioned, really excellent. Health insurance, paid vacation, short-term disability, stock options, the CUP fund, which takes care of employee/partners who find themselves in dire money straits suddenly, even Tuition Reimbursement. That's not the point, however. Part of the training I receive as a starbucks Barista includes pretty constant coffee tastings. I will admit that there are many coffees that Starbucks offers that I positively can't stand. Most of the Asian-Pacific coffees I have tasted have been absolutely disgusting to me; I can see the 'burnt' designation that some people have used to describe them. However, these coffees are also labeled 'extra bold' or 'bold'-Not for nothing. And no barista worth their salt would not have a given adjective to describe them. "Earthy", "Smoky", "Herbal." In other words, it tastes like burnt wood and grass. Anyone notice these are similar terms used in wine tasting? Not everyone likes an 'earthy red', nor does everyone like a 'white with hints of cedar'. To its credit, Starbucks DOES try and make blends that cater to as many tastes as possible. I personally enjoy the 'Guatemala Antigua', 'Casi Cielo', and 'Yukon' blends-these taste more like the kind of coffee I enjoy.

To the person who talked about the double espresso-That's actually one of the more difficult drinks to make for a customer, if only because, if the shots are timed incorrectly, of if the espresso sits too long in the line-up of drinks, yes, it does taste very bad(Just like a connoisseur would not exactly prefer Skol vodka over, say, grey goose). However, a freshly-made (within about a minute and a half for a doppio or trippio espresso withOUT any milk/syrup) shot of espresso that is made 'to standard' is very tasty. If you like espresso. If you don't like espresso, expecting to like a double-shot is about like expecting a novice to appreciate the finer qualities of wheatgrass. It just ain't gonna happen. I'm sorry, maybe you should try a Caramel Macchiato instead. There's no shame in liking vanilla syrup and caramel to cover up the flavor of espresso. Some people just don't like the taste. There IS a reason it's the most popular Starbucks espresso beverage (and possibly, second only to the Caramel Frappucino the most popular starbucks beverage of all). It's yummy. It tastes like caramel and happiness. Do you want me to not offer espresso to people who ask for it? That's like holding the waiter responsible for the patron ordering Tuna Tartare.

On top of THAT, we have a policy at Starbucks that if any drink does not meet with the approval of the customer, we will remake it, or make them something else. I've had dedicated 'mild' coffee drinkers hate the particular brew of the week for Mild bring it back in return for a bold, or an americano, or a latte-for no additional charge. I've also added things to drinks to make them more what the customer wants after handing them off, and taken several espresso beverages back (or offered to simply make them something else, and let them keep the original beverage) when they were not what the customer expected. I have wasted quite a bit of coffee. But it wasn't a waste, because the customer told me what he wanted, even if it was after ordering and receiving it. Maybe he made a friend with the extra drink! I don't care. As long as he can't complain about my service, or my product.

The point I'm trying to make is that starbucks isn't exactly a place where you go in and just ask for "whatever" drink. The thing to do is to ASK the Barista how he/she feels about a given coffee/tea/espresso drink/pastry. We're actually pretty honest, when it comes down to it, even if we try to be tactful about it. I've never told someone, "Oh, I LOVE Kenya." or "That low-fat Brownie is to DIE for." I also try very hard to help people buying whole bean coffee who aren't quite sure what they're looking for. Starbucks trains its employees heavily for a reason. We're there to answer people's questions. Would you balk at asking a Home Depot employee which kind of lumber to use for... I don't know... something you need lumber for? Or what kind of drill bit is best for some weird installation? Honestly, with my utter lack of mechanical skill, I would be asking for step-by-step instruction on how to hammer a nail into a wall without screwing up the wall. And then I'd ask if there was a class.

Please don't kill my mom for this. She mentioned the thread in passing, and being the (well maybe not 'devout') starbucks employee that I am, I felt the need to speak up. I'm strongly considering getting my own 'participant' account on this forum, since I apparently can't keep my fingers still on the subject. My mom has been cooking very good food since she's been reading this forum (and actually, her cooking before that was pretty awesome too), and she told me not to get my feelings hurt if this gets deleted. I told her I'd just repost once I got my own name.

Then you'll have to read it all again. :biggrin: And the second time, you'll remember it, because you'll go "Hey, didn't they delete this before?"

Off my mother's coattails now. Best regards,

Savannah (Starbucks Barista Extraordinaire)

edited to add: There are several outright lies in the article cited; for one, a short cappucino gets HALF the espresso of a grande or a venti. That's why the Grande is the better value-it's about four oz more volume than a tall, and has twice the espresso. There IS a way to make the appropriate amount of foam for a 20 oz cappucino. There's a technique that all baristas are required to learn, called 'microfoaming'- you can make microfoam for any amount of milk, GIVEN that you start off with the right materials (COLD milk, a clean pitcher, a clean milk wand) and you do it properly. I've made DRY cappucinos in the venti size, and only needed to resteam the milk once. (for those that don't know, a dry cappucino has almost no milk and is entirely foam)


Edited by annecros (log)

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FYI My daughter informed me that the "short" size is the children's portion, meant for small hot chocolates and such. When a small child comes in with a patron, she makes sure to inform the adult that they have this size available.

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hey Savannah/annecros... it's really interesting to hear the viewpoint of a starbucks barista. i thought that was a great (long) post.

i think that some people on egullet are a little hard on starbucks. from the little i know, it seems their business practices are pretty good and fairly ethical, especially in regards to their employees.

as far as taste/quality... i think you'll find that the coffee nerds (i say that with love; i'm becoming one, too) will never be satisfied with anything that a large coffee chain can deliver. just by nature of the beast, they cater to what makes them money, often the lowest common denominator. i think, on the whole, starbucks coffee is overroasted, but there are some roasts that are pretty good anyway. overall, i won't complain, though, because i think the coffee-culture that they've helped to create is good.

oh... and i mentioned the "drinks not on the menu" because i think it's great. i think people would get more of what they want if they told the starbucks employees what they like and ask them to recommend something. naturally, because of the lack of space on the menu board, starbucks won't ever put up every drink they can make... so, they put up the drinks that are 1)most popular, and 2)have the best profit margin. makes sense to me! but if what you want isn't on the board, just ask! it's most likely that you'll get something you're much more pleased with.

edited for grammer.


Edited by lostmyshape (log)

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She likes most of her customers, and is on a first name basis with several of them. I think it is the atmosphere in some of the stores that don't do as much traffic. It's like the water cooler at work, I think, only you get to chat with people you don't have to work with all day long.

I stopped in at one this morning (mostly because they have egg salad sandwiches which is great when I need a quick breakfast) and the gent behind the counter, Beau by name, asked me out...

go figure

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Thanks lostmyshape. The little one went back to school yesterday :sad: , but I emailed her a copy of your post. Maybe she will get off her bottom and register herself.

I felt like it would help to offer the insight of a real life barista. There are two sides of the counter, after all. Most of these kids work really hard. I am impressed by the loyalty that Starbucks inspires from these kids. It is telling, I think. Like everywhere else, there are those employees that don't have that great an attitude...

Just like you don't go into Starbucks and order a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, a coffee nerd doesn't belong in Starbucks, either. A big enough nerd would be equipped enough at home to take care of whatever cravings they are subject to.

But, stepping up from Folger's, Starbucks is a pretty good place to start. I doubt that unless you live in a very crowded metro area, you will find a mom and pop coffee shop that staffs with the well trained, friendly, and enthusiastic employees you find at most Starbucks. I may be wrong though. I do not consider myself deep in coffee knowledge, at all. It seems to me, that at least in my area, there weren't any mom and pop shops until after Barney's and Starbucks started doing thier thing. I couldn't have purchased a premium cup of coffee if I wanted to.

I think the hardest part is the first order. I remember my first visit to a Starbucks. The barista asked me what I wanted, and I gaped at the menu board and told them that I didn't have a bloody clue!

:biggrin:

I've learned a lot about coffee just having her around. I've learned to appreciate things that I would not have learned about had I not given them a try. It's all good.

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She likes most of her customers, and is on a first name basis with several of them. I think it is the atmosphere in some of the stores that don't do as much traffic. It's like the water cooler at work, I think, only you get to chat with people you don't have to work with all day long.

I stopped in at one this morning (mostly because they have egg salad sandwiches which is great when I need a quick breakfast) and the gent behind the counter, Beau by name, asked me out...

go figure

HOLY CRAP!

Nobody asked me out at Starbucks today. Harumph.

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oh... and i mentioned the "drinks not on the menu" because i think it's great.  i think people would get more of what they want if they told the starbucks employees what they like and ask them to recommend something.  naturally, because of the lack of space on the menu board, starbucks won't ever put up every drink they can make...

Thank you for this "insider insight"! Now that we know about this, we can continue to pursue the employees with our requests ... and make the other customers wonder how we know something that they do not ... :laugh:

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She likes most of her customers, and is on a first name basis with several of them. I think it is the atmosphere in some of the stores that don't do as much traffic. It's like the water cooler at work, I think, only you get to chat with people you don't have to work with all day long.

I stopped in at one this morning (mostly because they have egg salad sandwiches which is great when I need a quick breakfast) and the gent behind the counter, Beau by name, asked me out...

go figure

So what did you tell Beau?

And Savannah, thanks for your time to explain all the mechanics of Starbucks. I do not necessarily consider them evil, they have taught a lot of Americans about coffee beyond folgers. The way I look at it is Starbucks was my intro to a world of pleasure that I have gone beyond them. I do have an occasional nonfat latte, but that is about all. Otherwise, i try to support my locally owned coffee houses. keep more of the money here, Seattle has enough already.

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For a "bargain" (maybe) at Starbucks I tend to order a doppio machiatto. From friends who have traveled- they say that this comes out more like a cappuchino in Italy? Two shots of espresso and a bit of foam. $1.70

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I think (am lead to believe by others who have traveled there extensively) that a typical cappuccino in Italy is more like a 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 ratio of foamed/steamed milk to espresso. That means typically a single shot of espresso that's about 60 - 80 ml or 1 - 1.5 oz with about 5 to 6 oz of milk.

Closest thing at Starbucks is probably what I order when I'm stuck with no other decent coffee or espresso options (which happens often when I travel for work reasons). That order is a short latte with an extra shot - about 2 oz of espresso with about 5 - 6 oz of milk. But I do that rarely because their espresso blend has some troubling taste artifacts that even sugar and milk can't hide very well.

And like many others I appreciate the post by a Starbucks barista. I have seen high enthusiasm, interest and motivation levels in many Starbucks in my travels but as they open more and more outlets in a wider variety of areas I perceive them having difficulty maintaining those standards. But despite that - from a customer service standppint there are many independent coffee houses (perhaps a majority) that could and should take a page or two from Starbucks book on training and put it to good use.

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