Wednesday, August 10, 2005

I think I've got a caffeine crash hangover. In addition to my normal morning americano at home yesterday, I had meetings with three different people at four different coffee shops (assuming you're willing to count Starbucks). Fortunately, the coffee got progressively better from one shop to the next. Still, even as I'm nursing today's morning americano, I'm a bit groggy.

And now that I've made my own little dig at Starbuck's expense, I'll go ahead and officially weigh in on the whole Starbucks-is-evil vs. Starbucks-is-beautiful debate. Having worked for Starbucks myself, I think I'm qualified.

In the Starbucks is evil category:
1. I used to think their coffee was very good . . . and then I moved to Seattle. They are still above average, and in most parts of the U.S., they still do represent about the best you can get. But overall, not that great.
2. The consistent quality of coffee at Starbucks is going down. It's a simple supply issue. The bigger the chain gets, the more they have to compromise quality in order to maintain their product consistency - there is a finite supply of high quality beans in the world.
3. The bigger the chain gets, the less they are able to live up to their supposed corporate ideals relating to the environment, fair trade, coffee knowledge of their baristas, etc.
4. Does Starbucks even sell coffee any more? All of their promotions these days relate to the latest frappucinos, food offerings, and gift items.
5. The automated espresso machines in use at their stores produce inconsistent, lower quality shots. They have a new automated machine being market tested in a few stores around town here, and they are definitely better, but there's no replacing the touch of a barista packing his/her own shots by hand.
6. Corporate greed. There are still lots and lots and lots of places in the U.S. and abroad for Starbucks to put new stores - they don't need to put stores directly across the street from mom & pop stores. It's just bad form.

In the Starbucks is beautiful category:
1. Starbucks has almost single-handedly raised the bar of coffee quality. Consider that the vast majority of people pre-Starbucks thought that quality meant buying Yuban instead of Folgers.
2. In exposing the U.S. to the world of espresso, they actually created business opportunities for mom & pop espresso shops. The truth is that many of the shops that Starbucks is ruthlessly putting out of business would never have existed in the first place if Starbucks hadn't made people aware of good coffee. Thousands of these shops will continue to thrive in the face of the competition.
3. Even though many of their stores are stale, corporate looking, and unappealing, they do put a lot of effort into creating spaces where people want to spend time. Business meetings would still be taking place at Denny's if Starbucks hadn't created better environments.
4. Even though their ideals may be slipping, Starbucks has to be credited for being a major coporate front-runner in giving a rip about the environment. They encourage and reward employees for being conscious of ways to improve their environmental practices.
5. Starbucks training model works hard to instill a basic coffee knowledge in its baristas. A lot of time is spent in training before a barista ever steps onto the floor.
6. Starbucks does care for its employees. Despite competing in a fast-service environment, they pay their people better than most, and offer basic health and investment benefits to part-timers. I literally can't count the number of church planters that I've met that have been able to care for their families because of this. Mom & pop espresso shops can't afford to do this. Heck, most big corporations don't do it for part-timers. They do.
7. Starbucks spends a lot more money in local community improvement projects than their corporate counterparts. Employees at all levels are given freedom and backing to suggest, plan, and execute programs, and the company will pay for them.

These are obviously not exhaustive lists. I'm sure later today I'll have a bunch more items myself. But it's a start. I know some folks that are extreme Starbucks junkies who offer nothing but praise. I know some folks that are extreme Starbucks haters who offer nothing but venom. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

posted by Steve at 6:05 AM
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I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
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victrola coffee
zoka coffee
university of washington
church of the apostles
quest church
sanctuary church
shoreline vineyard

sites i visit

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generation me
jesus and the restoration of israel
god's continent
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gustavo gutierrez: essential writings
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garlands of grace
twenty poems to nourish your soul
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made to stick
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hit the bullseye
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they like jesus, but not the church
the great omission
charisma: the gift of grace, and how it has been taken from us
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a perfect mess
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leaving church
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personal knowledge

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managing conflict in the 'new world'
music review: over the rhine
film review: bonhoeffer
music review: fighting jacks
film review: the passion of the christ
how reality tv changes lives
the best tv article you've ever read
corks & caps: a wine lover's story of change
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