Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chains >
Oct 11, 2007 11:31 AM

StarBucks VS. Second Cup

I have been so disappointed in Second Cup lately I only tried some of their stuff coz i had a gift card and some BoGo coupons. I really don't understand why they're everywhere in Quebec now... I tried a couple of there summer drinks & I was fooled because their Passion Green Tea Chiller was actually decent but on other occasions when i purchased their over $4 Chocolate granita or their Strawberry Lemonade I honestly have had better tasting slushies than their water downed tasteless Chillers. Last week I got to taste their butter pecan drip coffee (had a sip off my aunt) and that was ahright.

If I'm not at my local independent cafes I definitely go over to StarBucks and pass right by a Second Cup Oh and the new one that opened up by my house, I had a raspberry white choco scone that tasted of cigarette smoke Um how the heck? when all the establishments now are non-smoking ~ yes I remeber when we use to have a Dunkin nearby back in the day when u got your donut late in the day it would sometimes taste like smoke coz of all the Smokers in there
But c'mon Second Crap Cup get it toghether even their tea bags aren't worth it. I've had better tea at Tim Horton's (and I don't even like their donuts just their <Gourmet Tea> selection

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I by far prefer the chilled/blended drinks from second cup, they are not one big ice chunk! The chocolate chiller is my favorite, I cant really speak for the fruit drinks, but anything with the vanilla as base would be tasty :)

    1. Neither is as good as it could be, but they're making money, so...

      Second cup has a wider variety of beans and roasts, though some locations rotate and others don't. But they do not have good quality control and things differ greatly from one franchise to another. At many of the locations shared with a Harvey's (same franchisor, BTW), the staff often has no idea how to brew the coffee, pull a shot, or make the drink you want - even when they refer to the manual. Their cold drinks are mainly artificial and extremely sweet, But their food offerings, though often not to my taste, are of better quality than those sold at Starbucks. The only explanation I can think of for the smoke is that the staff is smoking where the stuff is stored.

      Starbucks beans have a distinct style that people tend to love or hate. Their new automatic espresso machines are lousy atmospherically but probably better for consistency. They are corporate and seem to pay much more attention to staff training than many (though not all) Second Cup franchisees. Their cold drinks taste more natural and you can vary the sweetness of many (though they don't necessarily tell you this). I don't understand Starbuck's food. With a very few exceptions, virtually everything I've tasted there ranges from just edible to awful.

      13 Replies
      1. re: embee

        I like Starbucks' baked goods (especially good for a chain -- leaves Dunkin' Donuts stuff in the dust) and thought their breakfast sandwiches were reasonably respectable (again, better than most chains), but I'm not a fan of their lunch sandwiches.

        1. re: bachslunch

          I basically agree, though I've found that their Turkey sandwich is an excellent fall back lunch when I don't have time to make my own or go get anything else. Roast turkey, swiss, lettuce, whole wheat bread. Granted, nothing special, but also nothing to screw up. Overpriced, yes, but also reasonably healthy as opposed to the other options I've got near my office.

          1. re: ccbweb

            To each their own, I guess.

            I find the sandwiches at Starbuck's edible, but not good, Although they sound tempting, they are expensive, skimpy, pre-made and wrapped sandwiches that taste banal. I'd take a Tim's (non-breakfast) sandwich over a Starbuck's sandwich any day - and I'm NOT a Tim's person.

            I have no Dunkin Donut's with which to compare baked goods. I gather Starbuck's baked goods differ from place to place. In Toronto, everything I've tried, with one exception, I've disliked. Things vary among sickeningly sweet, gummy, and just plain weird. The "reduced fat" stuff evokes a strong "why bother"? (It's not like this stuff is low calorie.)

            The one exception has been sugar free miniature cheesecakes. They come from Carole's Cheesecakes and I find these delicious (even if not on a low carb diet). But these are rarely available.

            My wife likes the fruit & grain bars and the pom-bran muffins at breakfast.

            1. re: embee

              It may be that Starbucks in Toronto has crummy baked goods -- I've never tried them there. All the ones I've been to in New England have had very good bakery stuff. And regardless of place, I'm not keen to give a go to "reduced fat" baked goods as you often aren't sure what odd things might be lurking in them, plus why bother? I'd rather do without and just indulge in the real thing once in a while.

              We don't have Tim Horton's in Boston, but they're in Rhode Island. Thought the donut I tried at one in Providence was actually okay if not major-league special. Dunkin' Donuts food in my experience has been wretched except for their cookies, which are fine -- their donuts are surprisingly bad for a place with "donuts" in their name, leaden and tasteless "sinkers" in the bad sense of the word.

              1. re: bachslunch

                Dunkin Donuts was run out of Toronto several years ago and Krispy Kreme failed almost from the get-go. Tim Horton's is a very skillfully managed operation. While I don't go there often, Tim's can be a lifesaver in many places. They have an iconic status in Canada that likely won't be repeated in the US.

                Tim's theme has long been "always fresh". Until they sold to Wendy's a few years back, this was true. Then, in the great American fast food tradition, fresh baked goods disappeared. Things began to arrive at stores frozen, in a partially or fully baked state, to be "finished" using some kind of microwave boosted technology.

                Wendy's sold them off and is now gone, but "alway's fresh" didn't come back with their exit. Indeed, many Tim Horton's stores no longer even bake on site. But their sandwiches are made fresh. Though they don't sound nearly as tempting as those at Starbuck's, they taste better and are much more generous, for much less money.

                The low fat craze seems to be overtaking Starbuck's in Toronto. They've just changed their milk drinks from whole milk to lowfat, apparently responding to customer demand. And "reduced fat" baking is becoming the norm. But the stuff wasn't good before these changes. I have heard that Starbuck's allows Montreal locations, which compete with a French pastry culture, to have more latitude in choosing baked goods to sell - I don't know whether this is actually true.

                1. re: embee

                  I haven't really bought much of Starbucks baked goods but I do recall sitting out in the terrase one morning and over at the next table he commented to his friend "The pastries are really good here when it's fresh in the morning"

                  I just remembered I did try something out by the cash recently... They were selling chocolate covered pretzel sticks. It came out to less than $2 for 2 big sticks that was a shocker in itself;0) oh btw
                  it tasted ahright.

                  1. re: embee

                    Tim Hortons is execrable. Especially their "coffee."

                    Starbucks has always allowed "latitude" with bakery provisioning- they all source locally, at least to some extent. If their baked goods are better in Montreal, it's because they have better places to purchase from.

                    Montreal is still a minuscule market for Starbucks so look for that quality to decline as they move into the city's nooks and crannies. Incidenally in Canada, Starbucks' largest markets per capita are Van-Vic (of course) and then Calgary, which has more than twice many per capita as does Toronto. We now have more than twice as many Starbucks as Second Cups here, which I lament since at least Second Cup uses traditional semi-auto espresso machines (non-top-of-the-line Brasilias and Simonellis but still machines that can in principle make a proper espresso or cappo), whereas Starbucks has those horrible superautos.

                    1. re: John Manzo

                      I'm not a Tim's fan except when I'm on the road and the choice is between Tim's, McD's, and a stomach ache. Although I've never been a donut junkie, I liked some of their donuts before the Wendy's era ruined them, back when they were much better than the stuff sold by their competition. (Their sour cream donuts didn't leave a fat coating in my mouth years ago.)

                      Tim's coffee is also better than the coffee served by their competition. They expect you to drink it "double/double". That's too sweet for me, but with 18% cream and a pinch of sugar, I can drink it if there's nothing better around. Tim's served black, I can't stand. But I can't stomach the coffee at Coffee Time or most indie donut places no matter how I doctor it.

                      Tim's bagels aren't real bagels. Their sandwiches aren't exciting but (as I noted earlier) they are fresh, generous, and cheap. That's more than I can say for the Starbuck's sandwiches in Toronto, which are pre-made and plastic wrapped, skimpy, and expensive.

                      But you can't say that Starbuck's is unable to source good baked goods in Toronto. It's that whomever selects these in Toronto either has no palate or else a sick sense of humour.

                      The auto espresso machines at Starbuck's are probably a mistake. They ruin the ambiance (the stores no longer even have the aroma of coffee). But I can understand their likely position that they increase consistency and speed up service. The (very new) Starbuck's on my corner had the new machines from day 1, and I've never had to wait while a novice barista or malfunctioning machine produced a dozen garbage shots in a row. One of Toronto's best indie coffee places (Mercury) is almost across the street. I go there when I can - it's in a different league altogether. But the wait for coffee there is often just too long.

                      The problem with SC is that many of their employees (and, by extension, their franchisee owners) don't know how to operate the machines. We have some good SC stores around here, but several stores in this area are a joke - most of their "coffee agents" literally can't pull a shot.

                    2. re: embee

                      Oh, I wouldn't say Krispy Kreme failed from the get-go. They opened one in Richmond Hill, and had to have rent-a-cops and traffic cones to manage the traffic. Some people waited in line for 45 minutes at the beginning.

                      KK's problems were three: lousy master franchiser, lousy doughnuts outside of the hot ones (which were great when they were hot and fresh; all the other ones were terrible), and finally, no coffee. To a Canadian who's grown up on Tim's (and before that, Mr. Donut), not to have a hot cuppa joe with your doughnut is unthinkable.

                      KK's hot doughnuts are a great once in a while treat, but you can't eat them on a regular basis; they're just too sweet. Tim's wide variety of pastries, bagels, etc. mean you are not always eating the same thing, and I completely agree their sandwiches are a good value, and relatively healthy. My daughter's soccer team always found a Tim's for lunch on weekend tournaments - no parent would ever consider McD's or BK.

                      Finally, I much prefer Second Cup to Starbucks. No pretentious ordering process, no self-important "baristas", and a good choice of dark, medium, and light roasts for those of us who just like plain coffee and not espressos, etc.

                      1. re: KevinB

                        The KK in Don Mills had the hot donuts did always have coffee - usually several varieties of coffee, which wasn't actually awful. But once the novelty wore off (a couple of months, max), it was usually deserted. I see KK kiosks with packaged donuts around Toronto, usually at gas stations, but I seldom see anyone buy one.

                        1. re: embee

                          Don't disagree with you at all; once the novelty of their hot doughnuts wore off, the traffic in Richmond Hill wore off as well. That's when they added coffee to their menu, but it wasn't enough. Again, their room temp doughnuts are not worth anything; not at as tasty as Tim's and not as inexpensive, which is why their Wal-Mart and gas station distribution model isn't working.

                        2. re: KevinB

                          KK has ALWAYS had coffee, and unlike TH it has always had espresso-based drinks. All far superior to TH. And there is no contest between the donuts at KK and TH. KK beats TH by miles.

              2. re: embee

                Hey I happen to work at a Second cup connected to a Harvey's and let me tell you. Our staff gets completely trained on every drink we serve, so yes the staff does "Have an idea on how to brew a cup of coffee". I think that a statement like that was completely uncalled for. At my location we have to learn all of Harvey's before even touching one thing at second cup, so the person who is serving you has the best knowledge. Plus we go through the same training as every second cup in Canada.

              3. After reading all the replies (thanks for your input ev1) it seems that Starbucks food fare in the USA is just a totally different experience from what is offered here in Canada. I do agree with embee about how sweet u can ask for cold drinks as opposed to Second Cup... Honestly with all the fine pastry shops here in YUL I don't buy baked goods at StarBuck$ or $econd Cup since they tend to overcharge for mediocre $tuff.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Yummy Stuff

                  Pro-Starbucks: their nutritional info is easy to find, and they carry 'specific' baked goods (like low-fat goods, high-fiber goods, etc). Also, I often buy Soy Steamers, and they're much cheaper at Starbucks than at the Cup.

                  Pro-Cup: they're supposed to carry 2% lactose-free milk, unlike Starbucks which only has skim lactose-free milk. Unfortunately, most Cup outlets seem unaware of this policy and end up only carrying skim.