My first Starbucks experience was awful, but I tried it again years later. I figured I made a mistake, but as I had been getting more into espresso and coffee roasting, I?ve learned I didn?t make a mistake; Starbucks coffee is crap. Why is it crap? Why is their coffee so bitter? These are the questions I?ve attempted to answer overtime simply because so many people love their drinks.
I lived in Paris for my last two years of high school, and at the time, I was cheap. When we went out to a cafe, I would get espresso, but not because I loved espresso, rather because it was the cheapest thing on the menu. However, I started to enjoy it quite a bit. It had such a strong, rich flavor. The first time I drank espresso, it tasted as if I melted a piece of chocolate in my mouth made of coffee. My palette was only in its infancy.
I returned to the US, and I was on my way to my recently deceased grandfather?s house to help my mom and my aunt clean stuff out. On the way, we stopped at Starbucks. They got lattes, and I asked for an espresso. The baristas were shocked that anyone would want just a shot of espresso. They insisted it wasn?t enough liquid. I acquiesced and ended up with four shots of espresso in a cup. I wasn?t planning to drink it all, and I put a regular amount of sugar in it. Then I took the first sip ?.
Image courtesy of Sweet Maria?s.
Their espresso was so bitter. I had such a terrible experience, I decided espresso was best had in Europe. I wasn?t into other espresso drinks, so I didn?t have espresso for a number of years. What I didn?t know is that half the problem centers in Starbucks? inability to roast coffee well. In the early 2000?s, 3rd wave coffee wasn?t yet a thing, and the main coffee explosion was the Starbucks variety (2nd wave coffee).
This is properly roasted coffee.
Years later, my wife worked at Starbucks for a few months, so I tried a few drinks here or there. I liked a cappuccino, but it required quite a bit of sugar to taste decent. I thought, maybe this is an acquired taste. I got a superautomatic of my own, and as my coffee experience got better, I was having trouble going to Starbucks. This was back in 2013 when third wave coffee was still in its infancy, so there wasn?t much choice when it came to good coffee while traveling. DC had just one place, Northside Social. Pittsburgh had about three good shops in the city like La Prima.
So I looked up the CEO?s email and emailed him, but it bounced back. I?m not sure why I didn?t make a Twitter account at the time. I dug around to find some important person who then sent my email to Craig Burrows who was the executive in charge of roasting at the time. We had a polite exchange where I told him the coffee I?ve had sucks. He asked where I had an issue, and I said a few different Starbucks locations around the US.
Out of this discussion, I learned one thing: Starbucks coffee tastes burnt, but no matter where you go, that burnt flavor is consistent. They had consistency, and they wanted to have a known flavor even if it was gross with milk or sugar. One potential issue with doing medium roasts at that scale, is having a consistent flavor from shop to shop, but you can go to any Starbucks anywhere and drink the same crap coffee.
Again, why? They buy so much coffee that it must be super cheap relative to the price they sell it at. They should be able to get good quality beans, but once you hit that second crack in the roast, it?s hard to tell beans apart.
The light bulb went off: I knew the answer. They don?t want you to buy a shot of espresso. Espresso is not as profitable as espresso drinks. The only way to push espresso drinks with fancy syrups and names is to make sure as a stand alone, the coffee tastes like someone scrapped the burnt bits of toast into your mouth.
Milk is super cheap relative to coffee, so the profit margin is high. This is especially true for milk substitutes where because of the offset from not using the other milk, the added charge is pure profit. They could easily make good espresso if they tried, but they won?t. Their machines are geared to make espresso, but I?ve never seen a straight shot of theirs look good. I suspect they don?t care either.
I don?t have a grip with Starbucks. I rarely drink espresso out anymore because I?d rather not ruin my palette with bad espresso. I wanted to share my experience and thoughts on the matter because I think it is important to know the reason behind things. Who knows, maybe they will change. They have started offering a blonde roast, but I haven?t tried a straight shot of it. The blond is okay in an espresso drink, but I?m interested in the espresso.
If you like, follow me on Twitter and YouTube where I post videos espresso shots on different machines and espresso related stuff. You can also find me on LinkedIn.
Further readings of mine:
My coffee setup
Artisan coffee is overprice
The Tale of the Stolen Espresso Machine
Affordable Coffee Grinders: a Comparison
Espresso : Grouphead Temperature Analysis
Espresso filter analysis
Portable Espresso: A Guide
Kruve Sifter: An Analysis