Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I Dislike Starbucks

This grande milkshake set me back $4.84, 8 grams of fat and 28 grams of sugar, without whipped cream. It was ok.
For a store that sells something as simple as a cup of coffee, Starbucks stirs up a lot of strong feelings. Starbucks takes heat for using anticompetitive practices, for mistreating their workers and even for allowing customers to carry guns in its stores. It receives praise for being a "pioneer in the area of corporate responsibility" and for having a "commendable" and "exceptional" commitment to fair trade.

For my part, I don't like Starbucks at all. Here's why:

1.  The coffee is terrible. I know, this is when a Starbucks defender will say, "You must just not like strong coffee!" Wrong. I love strong coffee. But it has to be strong in the right way. Starbucks coffee is strong only on the surface. It tastes burnt and abrasive as it goes down but has no other discernible flavor. Good coffee, on the other hand, is smooth on the way down with a rich, earthy (yes, "strong") flavor underneath. In other words, Starbucks coffee is strong in the wrong way and weak where it matters. As Consumer Reports observed, Starbucks coffee is "burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open". And once past the harsh, burnt taste as it first hits your palate, it tastes like water.

2.  Starbucks has tricked its customers (and the broader public, I think) into a preference for "coffee drinks", not coffee. Good old fashioned coffee is delicious, but as I mentioned their coffee is not, so they hide that by adding copious amounts of dairy, sugar and flavorings. As Slate correctly observed, the greatest fraud Starbucks has worked on the American people "is not charging $4 for a latte but rather giving adults permission to drink milkshakes, on the pretext that they are merely tea or coffee". Those high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar venti milkshakes should not be consumed everyday. And they are not coffee.

3.  Speaking of which -- the "tall", "grande", "venti" thing. Who gave Starbucks permission to rename "small", "medium" and "large"? I find it arrogant. It is a transparent effort to differentiate Starbucks from the truck selling coffee on the street, and in undertaking that effort Starbucks has made up a vocabulary that doesn't make any sense and asks all of us to use it. (On what planet is the shortest called "tall"? Why is a "large" ("grande") a medium? Why is a 24-ounce skinny iced caffé mocha called "venti", when "venti" in Italian is only "twenty"?) Worse, somehow Starbucks has brainwashed many of its customers into acquiescing in this hijacking of the English and Italian languages.

4.  Pricing. I need not dwell on how expensive Starbucks is ($2 for a small? Really?). I'm getting at something else: On my last trip to Starbucks (which was for research purposes), my small coffee cost me exactly $2.01 after tax. Two dollars and one cent. I did not have a penny, so I ended up with 99 cents in change. That's insane. No store should set prices like that. Certainly not one that's on every corner. And it's not as if I ordered something obscure. It was a small coffee. I have since learned that Starbucks has admitted the $2.01 price "wasn't an accident". Starbucks wouldn't give the reason, but I suspect the idea is to encourage customers who are already dipping into a third dollar to pay for a small to up their purchase to a medium.

5  Sizing.  This is not unique to Starbucks, but 12 ounces is way too big for a small coffee.  The industry standard for a cup of coffee is 6 ounces.  And the "grande", which is Starbucks's most popular beverage size, has 16 ounces -- almost three times the regular serving size.  We already have a portion size problem in America, but with Starbucks it is arguably even more insidious because it creates caffeine dependence in their customers, which, of course, is exactly what they want. Indeed, research has shown that Starbucks coffee has considerably more caffeine than the same serving size from Dunkin' Donuts. All of this causes caffeine-addicted customers not just to crave coffee, but to crave Starbucks coffee, even though it tastes awful, because other coffees will not adequately satisfy their bodies' dependence on caffeine.

I am sure there are many other reasons to dislike Starbucks.  If there is anything else about Starbucks that irks you, or if for whatever reason you wish to defend it, please feel free to do so in the comments.

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10 comments:

  1. That's a pretty strong rant, most of which I agree with. Much prefer Dunkin' Donuts for coffee!

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  2. While sipping my home-made coffee, I reflect on all the people who come to me to supply them with "a decent cup of coffee". Then again, I'm only a four-star chef with a pretty damm fine palate. If Maxwell House floats your boat and finds your lost remote, then what do I know? Just for kicks and giggles, try this one little thing...get your nose into your favorite canned coffee and have a deep sniff. Now, open a bag of Starbuck's coffee and inhale same as before. Which smells better to you? Do the same with imitation, then real Bourbon vanilla, it's an eye-opener! Go one step further and chew on some fresh oregano or basil, then some dried...keep it up.

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  3. Could not have agreed more with all the points stated here! I was mentioning to my father how I personally do not like the burnt taste of their coffee.

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  4. Absolutely the WORST coffee I EVER tasted is Starbucks. Any 7/11 or buttf*ck nowhere gas bar convenience store has coffee that is far better, and a LOT less expensive. But as any glance at popular television programs, music charts, or bestseller lists will show, popular tastes pretty much means no taste at all.

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  5. I just had a cappuccino at starbucks it tasted so burnt that I'd rather have the Nescafe Cappuccino! (in fact that IS what I always have for a cup of cappuccino ) I guess the only thing (in beverage) I'd have is the hot chocolates.....

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    1. I am so sorry you had to suffer through that horrible cappuccino.

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  6. As a barista at a locally owned coffee shop that roasts their own coffee beans I can whole heartedly say that this entire article is true. Their coffee beans are mostly double roasted thus burning the beans and their dark roast are scorched beans. Not only are their beans burnt, their hot milk based drinks are burnt as well. Their 'normal' milk temperature are around 150-160 degrees. That milk is burnt and will taste insanely bitter on top of the already burnt and bad espresso beans of theirs. They hide all of their terrible tasting 'latte' by coating it with an insane amount of sugar. And frappucinos aren't coffee no matter how much 'caffeine' is in it or how much it taste like coffee. Coke has caffeine, but that isn't coffee. Coffee flavored ice-cream isn't coffee either. It's a milk shake. I worked at Starbucks and got another job at a local coffee shop and I don't regret it.

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    1. This is very thoughtful analysis, thank you. We had not considered the fact that their milk is burnt, not just their coffee, but that is absolutely true. All best wishes to your coffee shop. It is nice to have your perspective as a someone in the business of making good coffee..

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  7. Ha! So true! I usually get Starbucks if I go to B&N bookstore but always wondered if I was the ONLY one that didn't really like it a ton. There have been drinks that I've been "into" for a short time. Usually I order an Americano because it's slightly less bitter. And, yes, I've NEVER been able to bring myself to say their sizes like that! I always say the "normal" names. And if course they repeat it back to me in "proper" terms! Thanks for this!

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    1. Obviously you have good taste, MG. Keep up the good fight against made-up sizes! It's weird that they think that's OK and we'll all just go along with it.

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