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...
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Terroirists

If a recent article in the New York Times‘ Style Magazine is right, then everything you think you know about terroir may be wrong. The article — Talk Dirt to Me — takes aim at some long-held thinking about the stuff that makes a wine’s flavor what it is: dirt. When terroir was first associated with wine, in the 17th-century phrase goût de terroir (literally, “taste of the earth”), it was not intended as a compliment. Its meaning began to change in 1831, when Dr. Morelot, a wealthy landowner in Burgundy, observed in his “Statistique de la Vigne Dans le Département de la Côte-d’Or” that all of the wineries in Burgundy made wine essentially the same way, so the reason some tasted better than others must be due to the terroir — specifically, the substrata underneath the topsoil of a vineyard. Wine, he claimed, derived its flavor from the site’s geology: in essence, from rocks. The concept of terroir is not the sole domain of the wine enthusiast, and neither are those misconceptions that may have commingled with it. The world of specialty coffee, too, has long grokked the notion of a “taste of place,” though its interpretation is frequently more nuanced, less rigidly constructionist than it appears in the world of wine. In recent years, the concept that one can taste rocks and soil in a wine has become popular with wine writers, importers and sommeliers. “Wines express their source with exquisite definition,” asserts Matt Kramer in his book “Making Sense of Wine.” “They allow us to eavesdrop on the murmurings of the earth.” Of a California vineyard’s...

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