Starbucks is playing with fire


A little while ago I posted something on Twitter about a periodic peeve of mine:

Yo, Starbucks: A separate queue for us actual coffee drinkers would still be a great idea…

Truth be told, I have been to a Starbucks that does have a separate queue for straight coffee drinkers (by which I don’t just mean those of us who prefer the opposite sex). They do that during morning rush hour at the one at Poplar and White Station in Memphis. And for that matter, most Starbucks do a pretty good job of moving the line along, taking orders over the shoulders of the slowpokes. They’re particularly good about this over on Gervais Street.

As you know, Starbucks is one of those corporations that makes me say, along with Austin Powers, “Yea, capitalism!” (And I’d purely love it if they’d pay me to do so…)

Not that it doesn’t occasionally stray into error. In fact, I’m very worried about this Via thing.

Excuse me, but what ad genius over at Starbucks thought of selling instant coffee? To me, this undermines the whole business model. Starbucks is about the experience of walking in and smelling the smell, and just generally digging being there. Sure, you could buy the coffee to make at home, but it was never as good, and made you want the real thing in the real place.

And maybe Via will produce that same effect (“Dreck! This’ll teach me to drink the real thing at an actual Starbucks!”). But what if it’s actually good. Suppose people decide that the instant is acceptable? Doesn’t that open the possibility that you might as well be drinking Folger’s? What’s to stop people from thinking, “If I’m going to drink instant, what do I need Starbucks for?” Which to me is as subversive as the Policy Council running down representative democracy.

And then, it just all comes tumbling down, and then where would be be? Like in the depressing first part of that Policy Council video.

Admittedly, this product’s been out a couple of months without the Starbucks universe collapsing. But it still worries me.

9 thoughts on “Starbucks is playing with fire

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    “a separate queue for straight coffee drinkers (by which I don’t just mean those of us who prefer the opposite sex).”

    You mean, I hope, that you don’t mean *at all* those who prefer members of the opposite sex. Don’t give the whackjobs any grist for some sort of sexual orientation Jim Crow.

    and actually, the coffee *is* as good when you make it at home, if you make it the same way they do– freshly ground with a burr grinder, measured carefully, made with cold, filtered water, that is then heated properly–some coffee-makers are better than others in that regard–check out Consumer Reports.

    but the Via product is for when you just can’t truck the whole deal with you, and won’t be near a decent coffee place and don’t want to stomach the dreck they have where you are. It’s better than a lot of freshly brewed stuff out there!

  2. Nick Nielsen

    Instant Starbucks? Let’s take the unpalatable and make it more so. I’d rather drink midwatch coffee on the second dogwatch than drink Starbucks.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad, I’m waiting for your clarification–that you really don’t just want to get your coffee in the “Blokes who digs Birds” line.

    @burl– you could be the next Dave Barry. Is it a tropical thing?

  4. Brad Warthen

    I’m not sure I understand the question. I said “straight coffee drinkers,” and said I don’t mean just people who like the opposite sex. You know, a line for everybody who just wants coffee. Like I said, I saw a Starbucks that had one during morning rush hour. Seemed like a good idea.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Now, if you’re asking whether I want to ostracize people who order coffee that requires more than three modifiers — well, I’m tempted. But no. After all, some of my best friends take a while to order coffee. It’s just that I’m not always eager to stand behind a whole line of such procrastinators.

    The incident that brought this to mind most recently was I was behind somebody who was deciding whether to buy a Starbucks card, and was asking all sorts of questions about it while the line got about 8 or 10 deep. One of the two baristas should have said to the next person in line — who happened to be me — “may I take your order?” Which she eventually did, but pretty late in the process. I was really sort of surprised they let the line get that long, because usually they watch to prevent that.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Here’s what I don’t understand–it’s bad enough that they can’t order a small dark roast coffee (“Tall bold,” right?), but how hard is it to remember what arcane string they do want—a vente double shot skinny latte or a tall caramel macchiatto, etc.?

    I guess it’s like Baskin Robbins for some people. It’s not a beverage shop–it’s a dessert opportunity, so they get something different everytime?

    So yes, maybe a beverage line and a dessert drink line.

  7. Bart Rogers

    During my travels in Puerto Rico, I found a little cafe’ in the mountains in the middle of PR that served the best coffee I have ever tried. It is brewed from PR coffee beans, fresh roasted and ground at the cafe’. If anyone had tried to order some of the designer coffee combinations the way, I suspect they would have been thrown out on their behind.

    I tried something similar to what Kathryn described and had to throw it away. Adding anything to a good cup of fresh brewed coffee other than a coloring of a good cream is an abomination against nature.

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