Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I can remember clearly the first time I had a coffee in a Starbucks café. It was quite a few years ago now, an in store branch in Selfridges in London. I can't recall what I was doing there in the first place but I do recall thinking 'oo-er so this is what they're like' as I stood in line with my plastic tray trying to decipher their almost impenetrable coffee jargon. I clearly remember the first Mc Donalds 'restaurant' coming to London too, but that's another story. Now, the disappointment of my first Starbucks experience is still clear in my mind and my opinion about the overpriced product I queued up for is still the same today, although I now know a shedload more about how decent coffee ought to be enjoyed.

Here are a few points to illustrate what mean

1/ Cappuccino (and more especially espresso) should be served in a porcelain, bowl shaped cup, kept nice and hot on top of your machine (the bowl shape helps retain the 'crema') and not in a flat bottomed 'builder's' mug.

2/ The ideal cappuccino ratio is approx. 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk & 1/3 Foam. Not 2/3 Foam 1/3 'tepid' espresso.

3/ The customer should always be offered a coffee spoon and not have to delve through his/her foam with a 'lolly stick'

4/ The beverage should still be nice and hot when it reaches the customer (especially Café Latte) not just warm to facilitate faster turnover of tables.

I could go on but I think you see what I mean, so, you can imagine our amusement yesterday upon reading this little piece in yesterday's Guardian...

Am I wrong in feeling that somehow that little vignette enshrines all that is both socioculturally unappetising and fiscally unsound about Starbucks? Not at all. Socioculturally, it is obvious that few independent coffee-dispensing entities are likely to survive the homogenising onslaught. And as for fiscal weakness – well, yes, it turns out that if your business model involves saturating local markets, no matter what the rental cost of many prestigious locations, with products made with imported coffee and aimed particularly at the young and affluent, especially those working in the banking and finance sectors, you inadvertently create the conditions for the perfect shitstorm once demand and sterling collapse. Ta-daaa!


Martin Bright said...

It doesn't matter what the coffee tastes like, as long as you have that plastic/cardboard cup with the starbucks logo on it.

Really can't imagine you two in starbucks!

James and Maggie said...

Martin, how are you old chap? yes it was some time ago...we didn't know any better then!