Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ignoring the Obvious

I should have known this. Starbucks sells its coffee everywhere- seriously, this stuff has infiltrated just about every settlement in America (and is working abroad) with over 20K people. Retail stores line our interstates and fill our bookstores. Starbucks will even sell their coffee through stores that are not Starbucks (another obvious statement). The three local HyVees (regional grocery store), Patricia's (local grocer), three Walmarts, and numerous no-name coffee stops all sell this larger-than-life "specialty" coffee brand. Brand is exactly what it is.

By force of brand, Starbucks has produced an instant coffee called "Via," which is touted as being exactly the same as Starbucks' whole bean flagship product.

Can this claim even possibly be true? Well, no.

After reading the Coffee Review's article regarding Via, I felt compelled to forward the information; I felt the need to share one point in particular.  It is not often that I read something about the coffee industry that is simply brand new to me. When discussing large companies and their practices in marketing, the phenomenon of finding something new is even more rare. Today it has happened while reading the Coffee Review's article:
Unfortunately, [none of Starbucks' touted instant-coffee] innovation appeared to help much in significantly differentiating the Starbucks VIA products from the best of the competing instants... these Starbucks offerings and the instant VIA versions is, of course, plainly mistaken.
This claim must be a great if secret embarrassment for many of the dedicated coffee professionals at Starbucks. Perhaps the marketing people put something in Howard Schultz’s drink. Naturally we purchased whole-bean versions of the Starbucks Colombia and Italian Roast and tested them against the VIA versions. Whole bean Colombia 84; VIA Colombia 78. Whole bean Italian Roast 80, VIA Italian Roast 68. Ratings aside, the blunt sensory differences between the VIA instants and their whole-bean counterparts were inescapable. We used supermarket versions of the whole bean Colombia and Italian Roast for our comparisons, by the way. Coffees sold at Starbucks stores are usually produced from higher quality green beans and could stand out even more dramatically compared to their VIA counterparts. (my emphasis added)

It was this last line that really took me aback. I should have known this! Of course the best coffees are reserved from Starbucks' own stores! This, if noticed by the average consumer, would drive the buyer directly to the retail outlet to buy their coffee, which in turn, would provide Starbucks Corp. with a greater slice of the profits. This is because when Starbucks sells its coffee bulk to grocers and the like, they must sell at wholesale discount- this allows for the middle-man company to profit in selling the outside product. Duh!

What I think is the saddest part of this story is that over the years, I have not been able to distinguish the "good" Starbucks coffee via its retail stores from the "less-good" Starbucks coffee via third-party outlets. Again, the statement that even the best of Starbucks is usually mediocre is obvious.

It seems like I rant and bash Starbucks quite a bit. I do. It is important to point out the beginning of the Coffee Review's article:
              Snobs are people who make judgments for non-intrinsic reasons. Like brands for example (Starbucks is great, Starbucks sucks), or market ideologies (corporate coffee is bad, coffee from tiny stores with a roaster in the back are good), or on the basis of various other untested assumptions. We try to be anti-snob at Coffee Review by tasting coffees blind and honestly reporting on our findings, even when the findings run counter to assumptions among some of our readers or preferences of long-time drinkers of certain kinds of coffee. We may not be right, of course, because last I checked there is no god certifying cupping results, but we’re honest and try to be transparent.

I like this point of view. Honestly, I just have not had a cup of coffee from Starbucks that has been any good. Seriously, I cannot point to a time when I have been truly pleased. This is why I have an intrinsic disdain for their coffee. The ball is in their court, I suppose.

Lord, help me. Deliver me from snobbish behavior and mindsets, not just in regard to coffee, but in all areas of my life. Help me to be all things to all men so that I might save some. Keep my head deflated and on straight.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Another "I told me so" Moment

I called it again. Crap retail coffee prices soared this week. Giant roasters like Maxwell House, Folgers, Nescafe, and the like are feeling the pressure of increased coffee prices lately, and their retail prices exhibit this inflammation. Take this excerpt from Reuters for example:

(Reuters) - Kraft Foods (KFT.N) said on Thursday it upped the U.S. prices for many of its coffees this week, raising Maxwell House by 22 percent, the biggest of four hikes in the past year as roasters face soaring markets.

The increase follows a February hike of 10 percent by rival J.M. Smucker Co (SJM.N), which owns Folgers, and will test consumers' willingness to pay ever-higher prices for their java.

Kraft has raised prices by roughly 56 percent since May 2010.

Retail price increases can help lift futures as sellers believe companies will be willing to pay higher rates. However, many in the coffee industry do not expect price gains to affect demand as the popular drink is still considered an affordable luxury, equating to an increase of mere cents per cup.

Kraft's latest price hikes took effect on Wednesday and came after arabica coffee futures fell from a 34-year high this month.
I really should take my own advice every now and then. Maybe buy some stock and sell it high before the next ridiculously large price increase for nasty coffee? How much more is the American populace going to tolerate before they begin to experiment with specialty grade coffee priced (by now) only marginally higher than the ugly stuff?

Abandon that junk. Make the switch to decent brews. Check the side bar "The Best I've Had" for some places to start looking for better coffee. Want to know how much my coffee shop has raised it's prices since October 2010? Zero. I'll be back soon to talk more.
Not any more... even the cruddy stuff.
Lord, thank You for the kick in the pants every so often. Obvious signs help. Keep my head deflated and on straight.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

33 Coffees

What a fantastic idea! I've been using much less efficient methods of tracking my coffee consumption for years; I've used spiral notebooks, my iPhone, computer note-taking program, this blog, etc, etc, etc. Nothing has really worked effectively. 33 Coffees may have the answer for me.
Keeping track of coffees we consume is a very simple idea, but has many varied applications. We can see what we think we like to drink and what we actually do like. We can see where we buy our coffee, how much we buy, and what preparation methods we like to use. Tracking our consumption can show us what time of the day we drink coffee. Taking detailed not of harvest date, roast date, varietal, country, region, and farm will make us much sharper tasters. It can also provide a handy format for keeping cupping forms on us at nearly all times.
I was turned onto this little booklet by cleanhotdry.com, who is affiliated with Crema Coffee Bar. Very solid product at only $4 a pop. If you worried about shipping, it's about $2 extra. I highly recommend this product for any coffee lover drinking hand-crafted beverages or multiple varieties of coffee a week (or if you know someone like this... it's a great cheap gift option).

Lord, thank You for curiosity and the inherent desire to know. Keep this alive in me for many years to come. Keep me humble and interested in Your will in my life.