Insert Groundless Starbucks Reference Here

Insert Groundless Starbucks Reference Here

If you could get past its provocative title — Is Stumptown the New Starbucks — or Better? — you might think Time’s Josh Ozersky has penned a decent enough article on the leading edge of specialty coffee today. But… damn, the phrasing here is loaded for bear. Coffee aficionados have been asking the question over and over again: Is Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland, Ore. — the most conspicuous exponent of coffee’s “third wave” — the new Starbucks? Um, no. Coffee aficionados *haven’t* been asking that question. Coffee aficionados are pretty well versed in the routinely awesome coffee that Stumpies has been cranking out year after year after year. Coffee aficionados don’t have to question Stumptowns’ authenticity, or transparency, either. Coffee aficionados have probably noticed, too, that Stumptown Coffee Roasters hasn’t had to cover up its logo like a scarlet letter when it opens a new storefront like, well… You Know Who. Wait, you haven’t heard of the third wave? Get with the program! In cities across America, a fervid generation of caffeine evangelists are changing the way we drink coffee. They tend to be male, heavily bearded, zealous and meticulous in what they do. Hey, lookit that! It’s another funny stereotype. We’re only just two graphs in and we’re two for two, already. And gosh, it’s pretty much true, too, save for James Hoffman who really should consider sporting a soul-patch at the very least. (He’d banish the Harry Potter look thataway, I’m certain.) And pity the non-hirsute women of coffee who — apparently by way of not being zealous enough to grow a beard — are missing...
Still Crazy About Seattle

Still Crazy About Seattle

Despite the rain, and the blustery breezes. Despite the strep throat, and bronchitis. Despite the fact it would appear the city of my birth might see me catch my death, I love Seattle, still. Seattle remains a guiding star for coffee. From Vivace to Zoka, Trabant to Victrola, Tully’s to Caffe Vita, and — of course — the omnipresent Starbucks and hundreds of happy, independent retailers, coffee houses, espresso carts and hole-in-the-wall walk-ups, the city teems with caffeinated masses, most of ’em tanked up on some damn fine coffees served by folks who know their way round the business end of a portafilter. I’m impressed as I can be with places like Stumptown that hold daily cupping events so folks just walkin’ in off the street can sample a flight of coffees from all over the world, and compare and contrast flavors and aromas, body and balance, while elbow to elbow with the pros. I hope I can stay longer next time… provided the place doesn’t kill me,...

Coffee Notes from All Over

The cool kids at Barismo do a deft take on a David Letterman style top-ten list with 10 Reasons Coffee Doesn’t Taste Like the Bag Descriptions. Number 10 – Juan Valdez is dead. Get over it. Number 9 – The marketing team ran out of ways to say, “tastes just like coffee, but better.” Number 8 –  Two words: cat poo. Okay…  none of these are actually on Barismo’s list, I’m just feelin’ punchy. Despite the fact that it gets a lot of the salient facts about coffee and health right on the money, I got a beef with the recent NY Times’ health article — Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions — for perpetuating the myth that Howie Schultz was the founder of Starbucks… When Howard D. Schultz in 1985 founded the company that would become the wildly successful Starbucks chain, no financial adviser had to tell him that coffee was America’s leading beverage and caffeine its most widely used drug. The millions of customers who flock to Starbucks to order a double espresso, latte or coffee grande attest daily to his assessment of American passions. To set the record straight, Schultz *left* Starbucks — the company founded in 1971 by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker  — to start his own coffee company, Il Giornale, in 1985. Two years later Howie bought out the original Starbucks’ stakeholders with the profits from his new company and the help of a few investor friends, and bundled everything under the name of the coffee company that made its bones on Pike Place… Starbucks. So there. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation...

Starbucks Stumbles, We Eat Schadenfreude Pie

It’s enough to make even Motley Fool cheerleader Alyce Lomax choke on her coffee. Consider — 600 store closings (or 12,000 job cuts) 1000 additional job cuts at the home office a first ever quarterly corporate loss, and diminished expectations for the rest of the fiscal year. But wait, there’s more! Remember Starbucks’ purchase of the Clover brewing system? How they’ve made this innovative brewing system unavailable to every other coffee shop on the planet so they can have it all to themselves? Yeah… well, there’s a little problem: “…I’m standing in line at a hilltop Starbucks in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood — one of Clover’s beta sites. I do a taste test: a cup of Clover coffee versus brewed coffee. A young barista tells me they’re out of the first two specialty coffees I request and suggests instead Starbucks’ everyday blend, called Pike Place. During brewing, the barista stirs the grounds into the Clover with a clunky rubber spatula — not a metal whisk — and pours the concoction into a crummy paper cup. I smell, I sip, I inhale. I can’t tell which cup of coffee is which — and neither is anything special. Is it the beans? My palate? After a few minutes, I finally pick it out: This coffee tastes a little bit like hype.” Thus, even while we empathize with folks who’ve been cast loose from their paychecks (sorry, really… and best of luck) witness our collective grim delight in watching the coffee giant get its comeuppance. Let me offer two cautionary notes… Firstly, Starbucks’ rising tide lifted with it the status and visibility...

Coffee Notes from All Over

Nick Cho makes his debut this week as the Coffee Nazi — or something like that. From the glossy web pages of U.S. News’ Money & Business section, to the frenzied spaces of Boing Boing and MetaFilter, Cho’s Murky Coffee was grabbing headlines as the coffee shop that wouldn’t serve it the way the customer wanted it. “It sounds like a cheesy sitcom scene: Man goes into coffee shop. He orders his favorite drink, a triple shot of espresso over ice. Barista declines; he says the drink goes against company policy because pouring espresso over ice ruins the quality of the coffee. Man gets angry. He leaves a tip with an expletive scrawled across it.” It didn’t end there, of course, as the customer blogged about the experience — complete with a snapshot of the explative-laden dollar bill he left as a tip. (Yes, he hated the experience so much he left a tip. Go figure.) And that led to the colorful, open letter from Murky’s Cho. Oh, the calamity. Starbucks gets “back to basics” by… introducing smoothies? How does this get back to the core that Howard was talking about not so long ago? “One of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past,” he wrote. “Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee.” No worries… the Jamba Juice gambit will surely make folks focus on the coffee. Meanwhile, in light of Starbucks’ malaise, how are independent shops faring? Just fine,...
Science, Magic and Starbucks

Science, Magic and Starbucks

So this weekend I’m catching up on a collection of blog essays — continuations and corollaries on the never-ending debate of what constitutes science and magic in the world of, er… speculative fiction1 — when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an altogether apt metaphor for the state of Starbucks. From a post by Ted Chiang on the effects of the Industrial Revolution: Before mass production, technology usually involved the personal touch. Every artifact was the product of an individual’s care and attention; every tool was born of a conscious act. If a device worked well, it was usually because someone had been concentrating really hard when they made it. After mass production, that was no longer the case. The personal touch vanished from many aspects of daily life. Voila. There remains only one remaining bit of existential inquery: is a great cappuccino the result of science, or magic? Discuss. P.S. If you’re not familiar with Ted Chiang’s work, try his award-winning short story, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. When you’re talking about the magic vs. science debate, it’s perhaps best to use the biggest possible basket you’ve got, the better in which to deposit the arguments and theories therein, and also to pack a lunch ’cause you may be at it a while. As to the debate itself, see the July 14 Bloggled entries in the sidebar....
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