Starbucks’ Extreme Makeover Continues

Continuing its excruciatingly public extreme makeover, Starbucks does a full-court press (release) on… a new coffee blend. Oh, goody.

Sure, while most every other coffee roaster in the land releases new roasts seasonally — you know, to align with new coffee crops and all that — Starbucks’ latest blend is different, apparently. Word is, it’s not… you know, burnt. More, Howie would have us believe this is a pivotal event in Starbucks’ history, even suggesting that it’s a peek into a future that isn’t steeped in an espresso + milk monoculture:

“We’ve been so focused on espresso … that we haven’t done anything to reinvent brewed coffee,” Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said in an interview.

Profoundly true. Not only has Starbucks done virtually nothing to reinvent brewed coffee — or even support it — their general disregard for drip coffee, press coffee and the like spilled over into the marketplace, where thousands upon thousands of competing independents likewise ignored the possibilities of unique origin coffees. Unless, of course, they could chuck it in a portafilter with decent results. It’s fair to say that only very recently, I’d say the last five or six years — or a time line roughly consistent with the rise of the Cup of Excellence auction program — that the indie retailers have promoted non-espresso coffee with particular enthusiasm. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

And then Howie slips in this dubious bit…

Mr. Schultz says he believes Starbucks has underplayed its expertise in selecting and roasting coffees, something its main competitors don’t specialize in.

It’s left as an exercise for the reader whether Schultz is suggesting Starbucks’ ground-game at origin is better than that of Peet’s, Green Mountain, Stumptown, CounterCulture, Intelligentsia, The Roasterie, Terroir, Thanksgiving, and a few hundred assorted smaller roasters, or whether he doesn’t view them, individually or collectively, as his competitors. Either way, it’s a low blow. And one that may well come back to haunt him.