I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

On making fun of Starbucks and being discerning

Rosie Siman wrote this detailed response on my criticism of Starbucks’ new “fresh roasting” campaign.

She makes many good points, but I think this is the meat of her response:

[…] if you ask most coffee shops when their coffee was roasted, they would have no clue. They wouldn’t know most likely because their managment doesn’t want to promote the fact that the coffee was roasted months ago. Coffee is (often) roasted in the beans’ city of origin: ie, overseas.


Now having said that, the average coffee-consumer probably won’t even taste a difference in the beans, so it definitely is a PR effort.

That’s sad, but I recognize that it’s true.

As I said yesterday, most people don’t really like coffee — they like dairy and sugar. But even among those who take it black (I’m curious — do you know what portion of your customers do?), there’s a bigger truth here:

Most people simply don’t have good taste, or don’t care enough to be discerning.

Apple products are great because Steve Jobs and much of Apple’s upper staff has exceptionally good taste. Most people (with bad or no taste) don’t see what the big deal is, and they’ll buy the $300 Wal-Mart special. But to the discerning minority, there is a big difference.

It’s not like audiophile placebo — there are real differences between good computers and bad computers and good coffee and bad coffee. The only difference is whether people notice or care, and I recognize that most don’t.

But I do. I try to be discerning in everything, because I love it. I love the research and acquisition of specialty things, I love finding new and better versions of the things I like, and I love discovering the immense depth of hobbies and goods that most people never see.

I shave with this stuff when everyone else uses the Mach 3. I buy wine from this guy when everyone else drinks Bud Lite. I use these fancy headphones when everyone else buys Sony. I drink loose tea when everyone else is fine with Lipton dustbags. I carry around 5 pounds of camera gear every day because I won’t settle for bad photos. And I got this ridiculous monster because no laptop would satisfy me.

Most people aren’t discerning, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to be.

Finally, a perfectly valid question from Rosie to end with:

Why do you go to Starbucks if it disppoints you so much?

Most of the time, I go to coffeeshops that I like more. But I do go to Starbucks occasionally for the same reasons most Starbucks customers go to Starbucks:

  1. Sometimes it’s the best choice in the area.
  2. It’s usually closest, and usually open when others are closed.
  3. Sometimes I’m with others who want to go there.

Starbucks is much better than any convenience store or fast food place. Starbucks’ coffee is also better than what I’ve had at some “real” coffeeshops. (They’re not all good, obviously.)

For what they are — a high-volume, easily reproducible, massive national corporate chain — they’ve achieved a respectable level of quality.

Their marketing keeps trying to tell us a different story, though. We’re told that Starbucks is our nice local cultured coffeeshop serving fresh, high-quality coffee that justifies its price premium.

But it’s not. It can’t be, and it never will be.