In the last weeks I’ve heaped praise upon The Coffee Project and Peet’s for their very informative newsletter-cum-catalogs — they’re terrific examples of these companies’ efforts to make us all more aware of the diverse origins, flavors and nuances of specialty coffees. Today, by a stroke of fortuity [or keen marketeering, your pick] Starbucks Early Spring catalog arrived.

I begin by noting Starbucks has evidently tapped into the part of my cerebral cortex that screams “Buy it! Buy it! You really *need* this!” The Black Clay Pottery Mugs on page 4 were the first to trip this alarm. The Abaca Table Runner and Art Deco Coasters on page 5 set off bells, too. Do I *need* any of these things? ‘Course not… I merely covet them. A lot. Merchandising score: 5 out of 5.

Let’s turn to the educating the consumer aspect… On page 9 there is a one-quarter page blurb on the fundamentals of brewing: Freshness, Grind, Proportion and Water. And that’s about it. Mind you, this is a 24 page catalog. By my calculations, Starbucks — the Goliath of specialty coffee — devotes less than five percent of its very slick, very trendy catalog to truly informing its consumer about its raison d’etre: specialty coffee. But wait! there’s more….

Starbucks has introduced new “coffee stamps” to offer an at-a-glance summary of what the coffee inside the bag is all about. In Starbucks’ view a coffee is Bold, Mild or Smooth. Depending on where you sit, rolling the entire lexicon of specialty coffee into three little words is either a remarkable achievement, or an audacious example of dumbing-down the specialty coffee trade. From where I sit, it’s very, very sad. Education score: somewhere deep in the negative numbers.

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