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Starbucks downward slide?

So went to my local Starbucks yesterday for my afternoon latte treat and to my shock and absolute dismay, the espresso machine is now fully automated!!! What gives? Plus I did not like my latte.

Now I can always get a latte at a local provider, but they are not as accessible as SB (that is another discussion). Am I stuck with ordering just bold coffe at SBs from now on?

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  1. Starbucks was always the worst coffeehouse around with barristas who have no clue so I don't see how it can get worse with automated espresso machines.

    8 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      You're entitled to your opinion, but the vast majority of indie AND chain shops in North America would not exist if Starbucks had not created the market for espresso-based drinks. I speak for many coffee geeks who were introduced to the world of "specialty coffee" at Starbucks and who now eschew it, but respect it.

      1. re: John Manzo


        Coffee culture existed for a very long time in San Francisco well before uber-Starbucks started out in Seattle. Think back to the fifties with the "beat generation." Peets coffee was an East Bay landmark years before Starbucks was even a gleam in their founder's eye. When I landed in SF in 1986, there were MANY thriving coffehouses. I think due to the high rent and multiple roommates, San Franciscans used their coffee places much like living rooms.

        Respect for Starbucks, much like respect for McDonalds for popularizing the hamburger and fries:).

        1. re: drmimi

          Right, and everybody went to this "landmark." And the entire world is San Francisco. I'll wager that most SFers never set foot in a "beat" coffeehouse; regardless, this is an irrelevant point since the coffee culture that exists now has nothing to do with the "beats" and everything to do with innovations from Seattle. How many SF indie coffeehouses serve "lattes"? All of them? Thought so. Proof of the influence of Starbucks, like it or not.

          Here in the real world, the vast majority of coffeehouses would not exist had Starbucks not lubricated the market.

          1. re: John Manzo

            well actually lattes DID exist in SF long before Starbucks and gthey were served in coffeehouses in SF long before Starbucks. Having said that, I completely agree with your major point. I have said the same thing for quite some time to those that tsk tsk Starbucks.....and having lived in SF for 20 years now..trust me..San Franciscans truly believe it IS the entire world. It can be pretty insufferable.....

            1. re: John Manzo


              I'm a native Chicagoan- only lived for three years in SF proper- additional 2 in Oakland (back in 1986-1992). I've spent more of my life in Chicago, NYC, Philadelphia, Bakersfield, Las Vegas and Modesto. Now living in Petaluma California.

              Coffee culture is not unique to San Francisco. I think SF owes much of its coffee culture to its Italian and Greek Immigrants. I even remember having cappuchino in my childhood (grew up in the 60's and 70's) in Chicago. Guess that happened 'cause my parents loved Folk music and were very Bohemian compared to most African Americans.
              Europeans drank coffee in volumes in coffee houses long before Starbucks was a phenom.

              But the original coffee culture-- Gotta hand it to the Ethiopians/Eritreans for that. I didn't have the real deal until I was introduced to coffee made in Ethiopia (the birthplace of the coffee). Once I had that-- all other coffee is just a pale imitation.

              1. re: honkman

                Starbucks did nothing special-- then who did, Gloria Jean's? Barney's? Coffee Beanery? Chains popularised the concept, indies perfected it. When I was in college in Portland 1982-86, there were "specialty coffee" stores like Kobos that sold beans and supplies, but it wasn't until years AFTER Starbucks and Nordstrom Cafe opened that Stumptown evolved as a third wave coffeehouse. I would never choose Starbucks when an option like Stumptown exists, but if it weren't for Starbucks, Stumptown wouldn't exist in the first place. Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver came after the advent of Starbucks there... I could go on and on. And on.

                1. re: John Manzo

                  In general, I agree with you -- the market for $3 or $4 coffee as a commodity available in any city with more than 10,000 residents (and a whole lot of smaller towns) was brought to its current saturated state by Starbucks.

                  They weren't the first everywhere -- Gloria Jean's had the Midwest for a long time, Coffee Beanery was in the Mid-Atlantic, and Peet's held the Bay Area before Starbucks was ubiquitous.

                  That was years ago, though, and Starbucks are everywhere, so it's hard to imagine a time when there were espresso-oriented coffeeshops and no Starbucks.

                  That said, Starbucks definitely popularised the latte but it certainly isn't a Starbucks innovation -- lattes have been drunk in Little Italies around the country since the waves of Italian immigrants came in, and in Italy since long before that... and a latte is the same as a café au lait, or a cafè amb llet, or a café con leche, or your choice of "coffee with milk" in almost any European language.

                  That they're called latte after the Starbucks method argues for you, but a rose by any other name, etc.

                  I would say that the vast majority of new INDEPENDENT coffeehouses have sprung up as a feel-good-about-supporting-the-little-guy alternative to Starbucks, but there are a number of indies in most larger cities that predate Starbucks and its massive overtaking of the speciality-coffee market. I worked in one in New Jersey, and we had a bunch of competitors, a ways before the first B&N-with-attached-Starbucks moved in.

              2. re: John Manzo

                I agree....in my little corner of the world there was not one single coffee place in my mid-sized city (100,000+). Then 13 years ago Barnes and Noble opened a store with a cafe inside that served Starbucks. Thirteen years later there are three Starbucks and at least six indy operations (several of which have multiple locations) in the city, not to mention the innumerable espresso machine that are in nearly every restaurant (a situation that did not exist a decade ago).

                In my little city at least, Starbucks (through B&N) did create a market for upscale coffee. I'd agree that the Starbucks' product itself is not as good as what can be found at most indy's, but it is a far sight better than Micky D's which was the primary option before the evil empire came to town.

            2. Totally! I've never been a fan of Starbuck's.
              Do you have Dutch Brother's Coffee stands
              where you are? They are the best , I think
              they are regional though.

              10 Replies
              1. re: ergozum

                No Dutch Brother's here. I'm in Boston.

                Starbucks just feeds my addiction and it is truly a love/hate relationship. If I can get decent coffee at a local java shop, I go there first, but I like bold coffee and Dunkin' Donuts which is very popular up here, just doesn't do it for me :)

                1. re: kate used to be 50

                  Although they're shuttering stores from coast to coast, Krispy Kreme makes some of the BEST coffee available from a chain. Really, they spent a LOT of money getting just the right blends. Not a fan of their donuts, but the coffee is worth the side trip.

                  Starbucks is just too bold-bordering-on-skunky for me.

                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                    Either they made different coffee when they ventured into Canada or your coffee tastes are way different that most of us here in TO.
                    We found there coffee terrible.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      Can't vouch for Canada, but in Northern Virginia, the KK coffee is still good. Maybe they're cutting corners since the collapse of the donut market and the subsequent "downsizing?"

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        They were a disaster here. They lasted about two years or so. You couldn't get near one when they opened up. They the No-carb craze hit and they were virtually vacant.
                        We have Tim Horton's Donughts up here and they are a license to print money. So I've always wondered if KK were to expand it's horizons a bit, would it have done better.


                      2. re: Davwud

                        Agreed, the KK in Calgary had very subpar coffee, IMHO.

                        1. re: Shazam

                          They serve modestly competent espresso. But if you want real garbage dump coffee in Canada, two words: Tim Hortons. Horrible even by donut shop standards.

                          1. re: John Manzo

                            But see, you're a coffee house coffee lover. I'm not. I like a regular ole cup o' joe. Coffee flavoured coffee as it were. I'm Martin and you're Niles or Fraser.

                            Uncle Timmy has the best doughnut shop coffee.


                            1. re: John Manzo

                              I must disagree. I'm nutty enough to sometimes blend and roast my own beans (from Sweet Marias). But, for donut shop coffee, Tims is VERY good. If you disagree, you haven't had the pleasure of being exhausted on a long drive through the boonies and not finding a Tims around. Can you spell heartburn?

                              I should add, though, that Tim's blend presumes drinking your coffee with 18% cream and sugar. I suspect they assume that few customers want their coffee black.

                              Country Style in Canada also has decent donut shop coffee, but most donut shop coffee in North America is just swill.

                              1. re: embee


                                Just past the customs kiosks in Windsor there is an Uncle Timmy's. I stop there every trip back from the in-laws.
                                Just a little reminder that I'm back on the good side.


                  2. Yes, I am a fan of KK coffee, but they have pulled out of New England. SIGH.

                    1. They have had the automated machines here in California and when I drive to Detroit, in all the *$...like for more than 3 years. I assume its to save on waste/ freebies...used to be they would have to make two shots at a time, and throw one out...or ppl figured it out and said, hey just give me that one instead of throwing it out...i know i did;I'd pay for one add shot ad get two...or pay for three and get 4...now it spits out one at a time...and flavors are consistent between *$ stores

                      1. There are many reasons why they've gone to automatic machines. For one thing, they are faster, and barristas can do other things while waiting to draw the shots. They require less skill, and thus less training. And another reason, somewhat of a surprise to me, is that barristas were starting to encounter repetitive stress injuries.

                        I'm generally a fan of Starbucks, but the move to automatic machines is a travesty, as it marred the chain's basic unit -- a shot of espresso. The espresso is now noticeably less rich, a fact that even Howard Schulz concedes.

                        1. I'm 100% with Dave F. here. I've never been a Starbucks basher, and I think they've singlehandedly improved Americans' expectations for and exposure to espresso-based drinks.

                          That said, I'm not a fan of automated machines either. I've had some fantastic coffee from these machines in Italy, but I'm not holding my breath that Starbucks is using the same technology or process.


                          NYCnosh* http://nycnosh.com

                          1. Having made several of my latte trips to Starbucks recently, my opinion is - I'll stick with the "tall" bold coffee.

                            and thanks jfood - Education between tall and small is obviously needed. Also, why go from English to French to Italian (Tall-Grande-Vente)?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: kate used to be 50

                              The "tall" is actually the second size up -- you can ask for a "short" of any hot drink... and in point of fact, in Asia, the things on the menu are "short", "tall" and "grande" -- the "venti" thing is strictly US/Canada only.

                              "Grande" (grahn-day) is Italian as well... why they couldn't stick to "small, medium, large, fatpigsize" in English is beyond me.

                              1. re: kate used to be 50

                                Mods nixed my response, sorry guys. So let me try with less flame.

                                - would like the cashier to actually leave me room for milk if i ask
                                - still do not like cutting and placing my own cream cheese on the bagel (yes I know its law in certain states)
                                - still think the size names are silly, tall should not be the smallest (thanks ubergeek letting us know that you can go off menu with a smaller).
                                - if they are going to automated espresso, will soon have a more fully automated that will allow even more choices. Coming soon is guava flavored espresso :-((.

                                Yet I stop every day while traveling and get my large coffee, room for milk, in a double cup with a sleeve. We all have our idiosyncracies.

                                1. re: kate used to be 50

                                  I have taken to giving in to paying an extra 50 cents and ordering the lattes from Starbucks with an extra shot of espresso - then they taste more like the "good" lattes from most other coffeeshops.

                                2. Starbucks, FEH!

                                  The chain killed our local cafe chain, Deaf Dog Cafe in November. A sad day in Petaluma. Starbucks is the ultimate in vertical intergration. Cute little thingies to buy and CD's just tasteful enough to not challenge the mind.

                                  I find Starbucks prepared coffee too bland and lifeless. Peets (a Northern California chain) has stronger coffee but tends to be a bit acid.

                                  So I have started buying whole bean shade grown fair trade coffee from Trader Joes and make my own in the morning. Really don't need all the calories from a Latte.

                                  I try to go to local coffee/resturant shops- Buster's Cafe in Petaluma, Pho Lang in Petaluma and Cafe Santa Trata in Santa Rosa.

                                  1. Bah. In California, Coffee Bean is way better. I live in Canada and I much prefer The Second Cup and some local roasters for home -brewed coffee.

                                    Starbucks is strictly pop coffee. On the other hand, I do like how they have lots of non-coffee drinks.

                                    1. It's another step on the standardization and portion control that is the signature of such places as McDonald's. McDo is famous not for good food, but consistent food. And StarSchmuck's is milking the same cow. It was obvious in Canada this past summer. Every coffee shop in Montreal had absolutely wonderful pastries. Every one, that is, except Starbucks. They had the same bland crappy pseudopastries that they serve in every airport in the States. The same powdery "scones". The same spongy muffins. Ick.

                                      1. I have always found the decaf varieties at Starbucks to be uniformly terrible. Their soy lattes are okay; Second Cup still uses a better soy brand.

                                        The only coffees I enjoy at Starbucks are their Breakfast Blend and House. But it's just like every other place I go to - there's only a few things I like, and everything else I hate.

                                        1. I made an omission. The other coffee culture communities include the Middle East. My hometown Chicago has a huge population from the Middle East (especially Assyrian and Lebanese true for other parts of the Midwest US) and Greece.

                                          I remember those tiny bitter cups of coffee with Baklava. Yumm!

                                          None of the pastries at SB come close.

                                          These days I get my coffee from a Vietnamese owned Donut shop and Noahs Bagels in Petaluma when I am on the run.
                                          Vietnamese style coffee is also a taste sensation.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: drmimi

                                            Amen to that. Vietnamese style coffee is the way to go. What someone needs to do is set up a vietnamese style coffee house. Theonly problem is the coffee takes too long to brew for todays rush rush americans.

                                          2. I am truly lucky to live in a neighborhood where locally owned coffeehouses which serve truly outstanding coffee outnumber Starbucks.

                                            If I'm going to be away, I buy my iced lattes with no ice, pack a cooler, and add ice as needed.

                                            Go Day's!

                                            1. Here's a hillarious (but somewhat long) article about basketball and the growth of Starbucks by Sherman Alexie...

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: HoneybeeSF

                                                The Sherman Alexie article was fantastic. He really captured coffee drinking in a special way.

                                                1. re: HoneybeeSF

                                                  Great piece, thanks for posting. Shoot, didn't think I'd ever read this board and here's a fantastic thread first time out!

                                                2. My experience has been different. For all the attempts at standardization, there are still differences from store to store and barista to barista.

                                                  A new Starbucks in my neighbourhood, which opened with the automatic machines, makes extremely good lattes. They are much better than those from two other Starbucks I go to from time to time (one automated; one not).

                                                  I don't believe it is fair to compare Starbucks with indie places run by coffee fanatics. The problem with indie stores is their very nature. Your favourite place (or mine) is just that, a place. It can't be everywhere. In Toronto, I much prefer Hollywood Gelato, Mercury, Mercurio, and Jet Fuel to Starbucks. But Starbucks are ubiquitous, and better them than burned robusta swill -- any day.

                                                  Starbucks is selling a lifestyle (for lack of a better word). They made decent coffee widely available, and this wasn't true before in North America as a whole.

                                                  For drip coffee, they have their own roasting style. Everything is roasted to dark, darker, or darkest. This works for some beans, but not for others. Some beans (Sumatra; Ethiopian Harrar) are delicious when very dark. Others (Ethiopian Yrgacheffe; Guatamalan Huehuetanango) taste better when roasted to a much lighter state. But Starbucks' roasts are positively pallid when compared to Peets. I like some blends; dislike (even loathe) others.

                                                  With espresso, Starbucks goes the other way. Their espresso is lighter, sweeter, and less acid than most Italian shots. Their straight shots are not my favourites, but the milk-based drinks are where they excel. Most of these are really dessert beverages or shakes, but I like their double tall lattes very much. Their snacks and sandwiches are generally bad to awful, and getting worse each year.

                                                  Here in Canada, Starbucks came on the scene very late. Second Cup and Timothy's have been established much, much longer. To my taste, Second Cup (franchised by major chain operator Cara) has coffees different from, but similar in quality to, Starbucks. I find Timothy's coffees less likable, but their espresso shots are arguably more authentically Italian in style. Both of them sell much better food than Starbucks.

                                                  (I think Starbucks has handled the "Quebec problem" by franchising their Quebec stores and letting them find their own non-coffee suppliers. Can anyone from Montreal confirm this?)

                                                  1. I can forgive them until the gingerbread lattes go away.