This is a guest post by Amy Knapp. Learn more about how you can guest post for Daily Shot Of Coffee.
You think it’s something obvious like, “predatory multinational corporation,” “free-market capitalism gone wild,” or “death to mom and pop.” I beg to differ. Other than the creation of a coffee shop monoculture that wipes out local shops and sends community dollars way out of town, the main problems with Starbucks are the coffee, the customers and the baristas.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is so proud of the ongoing training offered to employees that he documented it his book, Onward. In the opening chapter, he tells a dramatic story of the declining quality of coffee at Starbucks. It was a great crisis. A world crisis even. People were paying $7 for poorly pulled espresso shots drowned in tepid milk, the disappointing flavour masked with sugary syrup. (That never happens anymore.) Schultz was devastated by the demise of his prized coffee. He decided to do something radical: he closed all of his coffee shops for two hours and had all the employees watch an instructional video. From that day forward, sophisticated urban-types the world round drank delicious coffee every day and lived happily ever after.
No, we all know that’s not how it went. Minimum wage baristas mostly just high-fived each other, took extra long cigarette breaks and clapped themselves on the back. Nine bucks and a whole evening off! The next day they went back to serving lukewarm, coffee-inspired beverages with eight tablespoons of high fructose corn syrup. (In their defense, they will remake it for you as many times as you like. Unskilled they may be; unfriendly they are not.)
Starbucks’ customers disagree on how coffee is meant to be ordered. Most assume the barista knows nothing at all about coffee preparation and go to great pains to specify the correct temperature, number of shots or pumps of syrup, size, variety of milk, amount of foam. For customers who truly hate coffee (most of them), there’s also whipped cream and a range of sweet sauces. The finished product usually needs further tweaking, which takes place at sidebar where you can add four varieties of sugar (raw, processed, honey, vanilla), more milk (soy, skim, whole or half & half), and a sprinkle of something to keep things interesting (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg).
Amateurs at Starbucks may falsely assume the barista knows how to make coffee. (They also use archaic terminology like “medium”). Huge mistake. If that were true, you could also assume that the correct amount of foam would be inferred from the style of coffee. A flat white, for example, has no foam. If your latte doesn’t have enough foam, perhaps it’s because you were expecting a cappuccino. If the quantity of foam needs to be specified, it suggests that either the client is misinformed about the type of coffee they want, or the barista is unschooled in the art of coffee-making. A latte with no foam, for example, is a flat white. A latte with extra foam is a cappucino. On the other hand, ordering a flat white with no foam is tautology, like ordering a coffee with a shot of liquid from coffee beans; it assumes the barista doesn’t know how to correctly assemble of the drink.
The most vexing specification concerns temperature. If you stand in line for more than three minutes at any Starbucks, you will inevitably hear someone order their coffee extra-hot. No one likes their beverages extra hot. Burning your mouth on a hot beverage ruins the pleasure of the drink completely. The only explanation for such a directive is that the coffees are not being served hot enough. I can substantiate this claim. My local Starbucks is famous for their special brand of lukewarm sludge. I can think of another offender just blocks from my old university. Across the street from that other Starbucks, kitty corner to JC Penney. You know the one.
“The Way I See It”
The way I see it, the word “coffee” is open to interpretation. More like a suggestion of some old-timey beverage your parents used to drink. Like Ovaltine or Tom Collins. Lucky for Starbucks, coffee (and by that I mean sugar) will never go out of style. Despite their incompetence, I still love their beverages (sugar). Also I’m addicted to coffee (sugar) in all its forms. Sometimes I forget it really is coffee (sugar). I’ll be sipping away at my extra-hot, tall, light soy, six pump, sugar-free, vanilla latte, no foam, no whip and suddenly wonder, did I forget to mention the extra-hot coffee bean juice?
Amy Knapp is a Canadian blogger and drinker of large soy lattes (one sugar, please). Educated in Law and the Fine Arts, her work champions the marriage of the creative and the corporate. She’ll probably like your band on Facebook if you ask nicely. Follow her on Twitter @JoyofWords.
Photo by Jason Hargrove