A Serious Eats reader asked this week what people order at Starbucks, and (unbidden) lots of people chimed in with other musings on the mega-coffee chain. Here’s my riff:
Triple-tall with room Americano. I add some half and half and vanilla powder to it (with caution – I have dropped two of those lids in my drink). Mostly I make my own coffee at home. For a while, when I was avoiding coffee, I drank a lot of green tea (matcha) lattes and Frappuccinos. That habit got a little expensive, and probably fattening.
Starbucks could be better, but it could be worse: I hate the waste of all the double paper cups, even if they are 20% post-consumer or whatever. The coffee is just not that good, but Americano is better than the brewed stuff. I like that, here in the UK, all the espresso drinks are made with fair-trade coffee. I like the fact that, if I need coffee anywhere on the planet for medicinal purposes – e.g., stepping off a redeye – I can get just the dose I need and it will taste OK. The first time I tried Starbucks, I think at O’Hare, the pastries were locally sourced and quite tasty; now they uniformly suck. (If the previous two sentences that gave the misimpression that I’m a seasoned world traveler, I apologize.) Really, though, in the UK, Starbucks is still way above the other chains (mostly Costa and Caffé Nero), which always seem to be in utter chaos, and you just end up feeling sorry for the immigrant workers who have to resort to these shit jobs. Working at Starbucks seems to offer workers an opportunity to develop a more professional image, and I like that, in the US, this 500-lb gorilla chain offers health insurance, although it doesn’t have to. My lefty friends are free to chime in and demonstrate to me that it’s all a mirage.
As to whether they put local coffee shops out of business, I think the jury is out. One study I read suggested that Starbucks actually raised the standards of coffee production in many communities, and if local shops were able to improve their product, they did well. Whether that’s sustainable or not, I don’t know.
I think all the snootiness – precision, really – about what things are called actually contributes to their speed, efficiency, and above all accuracy, which – believe it or not – the hospital industry envies greatly. Forcing customers to use specific lingo means you have an order that can be repeated, and means you don’t have to rely on your barista’s interpretation of what you asked for, which can lead to mistakes.