The Great Starbucks Coffee Mystery

We received in the mail an announcement of the opening of a Starbucks Coffee shop. Included with the announcement was a coupon good for a free "coffeemaking kit." Oh, we eagerly trotted down to the shop and got our free "coffeemaking kit" which consisted of 4 ounces of Kenya coffee, a plastic spoon and printed instructions on how to make coffee. Woooo! Ok, it's free. What do you expect? So, we eagerly trotted back to the house to try this wonderful coffee. Well, it turns out that their Kenya coffee is a dark roast and personally, we find it strong and bitter. So, we threw the remainder of the coffee in the dustbin. We wondered, though, why Starbucks would pick such a strong bitter coffee to put in their free sample since we figure that coffee drinkers who like that stuff are in the minority. Wouldn't you pick a blend which had a more general appeal? Little did we realize that this was a sign...

Thinking that we were just the victim of a poor selection by Starbucks' marketing staff, we trotted ourselves back down to Starbucks to try out a lighter roast coffee. After all, we wanted to try this wonderful coffee that everyone was talking about. We enter the shop and are greeted by the clerk. We asked what type of coffee do they have and he directed our attention to the menu on the wall. He then asked what coffee we were presently drinking. Gevalia, we answered. With a puzzled look on his face, he asked what was that? Our defense mechanism signaled us to be alert. What? Starbucks, the company that is so wonderful, such coffee experts, doesn't know their competition? We explained to him that they were a mail-order outfit in Sweden. No, he hadn't heard of them and couldn't recommend a Starbucks blend which might be equivalent. He suggested we try the house blend. Everyone likes the house blend, he said. One sip of this, he said, and you'll never drink "that Swedish stuff" again. So, we eagerly trotted ourselves back home with 8 ounces of this precious house blend coffee. We brewed a pot and sure enough, it is darker roast, stronger and more bitter than the Kenya blend. Ack, this stuff was awful! No way are we going to drink this stuff, so we decided to throw the rest of THIS batch of coffee on the compost pile.

After Hurricane Fran, we had to stay home with the children since the schools were closed. Well, driving around we decided to trot ourselves down to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee. After all, they have all those lovely pastries, too, so we thought we would treat ourselves. We were surprised to find that your only choice of coffees was the two blends that they happened to be "featuring" on a particular day. Yes, we were surprised that they didn't freshly grind and brew all their different blends. After all, this is the great Starbucks. They are the best, we keep hearing. But what the heck, we'll get to try another blend and see if we can't find some coffee which hasn't had the crap roasted out of it. We walked out with a cup of this precious fluid in our hands, took one sip, gagged. This was the darkest, strongest, most bitter coffee we had ever tasted, and they had brewed it so strong, you could strip paint with it. You'd have to water this stuff down to get espresso! We wondered what in the world can these people be thinking?

Deciding to give them another try, we trotted ourselves down to Starbucks planning to explain to them that we found the Kenya and House blends to be too strong and bitter since they were dark roasts. The same salesperson who sold us the house blend recommended the Costa Rican blend. He indicated that it was milder. Ok, we said. We'll give it try. At last, we thought, some decent coffee. Again we brewed a pot, and again we were aghast to discover that this "mild" blend was only marginally less dark roasted, less strong and less bitter than the house blend. Another small pile of dark roasted bitter coffee beans relegated to the compost pile.

Ok, we said. One more try. This time, we are going to tell them exactly what we want. We will tell them that the blends we have tried are all too strong, too darkly roasted and too bitter. We will tell them that we want a mild roast coffee. So, guess what? Yes, we trotted ourselves back down to Starbucks one more time. We were greeted one more time by the same sales person, whom we think it appropriate at this time to describe. He is young. We wondered how much coffee-making experience he had. He has neatly trimmed hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. Hmm, we noticed that the coffee shop is also very neat. Coffee shops should have places to sit and read. Maybe a sofa. Newspapers should be lying about. For some reason, the term "sanitary" comes to mind. One doesn't drink sanitary coffee. He was soooo enthusiastic. Was it because he is a Starbucks plant straight from the Northwest? Or was it because he had fallen for the Starbucks myth and was soooo happy to be working "for the best?" He was a little arrogant, sort of like a young republican. Scary. He seemed to be hinting all the time that he knew more than you did, so take his advice and be grateful that you have the privilege of tasting the precious Nectar of Starbuck!

So, we explained that we wanted a mild roast. The house roast was too dark and strong and bitter. He moved to grab a bag of the Costa Rican blend and I stopped him, explaining that I had already tried it and it was too dark and strong and bitter. His face grew puzzled, no doubt a skill he has practiced so as to be able to properly respond to dissatisfied customers according to the Starbucks corporate manual for sales persons. Here are the comments he made to me:

  • "Perhaps you aren't familiar with our coffees." -- Yeah, but we think we are beginning to get the picture.

  • "What sort of coffee maker are you using?" -- Oh, right. We're 43 and we still don't know how to brew a good cup of coffee. Is that what you suggest? We told him a Braun coffeemaker. We wonder why he didn't then try to sell us something "better".

  • "What type of filter basket do you use, cone or flat bottom?" -- What? Are we going to go New Age over this? Do we need to brew your coffee under a pyramid or while holding magic crystals or maybe perhaps we should try channeling? Cone, we told him. Hmmm, he said.

  • "Maybe you are grinding your coffee beans too fine." -- Uh, huh. We guess that will make the beans lighter roast and less bitter? Come on, you moron. We are making our coffee less strong that you do in the shop. We don't think we're grinding our beans too fine.

  • "Well, I don't understand. Everyone loves our coffee." -- It is all becoming clear here. This guy is a corporate robot. Brainwashed. Incapable of free thought. We considered asking him to turn around so we could see if there were an access panel on the back of his skull that we could open to reveal circuitry and blinking lights. And maybe we could pull his batteries out and put him out of his misery. Erase his pre-programmed speech circuits and set this robot FREE!!
Well, it has become clear to us. For all the hype and excitement over Starbucks coffee, we find it all comes down to marketing hype. For all the different varieties that they have for sale, they basically only offer a limited range of coffees, all dark roast and bitter. We find most of the Starbucks employees arrogant. Rather than admit that they only carry dark strong bitter blends of coffee, they feign puzzlement over why you don't like their coffees. They tell you that everyone else loves their coffee. Nope, we don't believe it for a minute. We figure there are only two kinds of people who say they like Starbucks coffee: those who like dark strong bitter coffee, and those who are trying be a part of the coffee craze.

Incidentally, if you are a Starbucks lover, you shouldn't necessarily take offense at this last statement. If you are in the first group, it's your privilege to have your likes. If you are in the second group, well, the feeble-minded fad-followers have always taken offense at any criticism. So, just tell yourself that you are in the first group and you won't be offended. (To all of you in the first group, we apologize for sending all of those in the second group over to your group.)

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