Screaming Into The Abyss

Starbucks Has Improved?
By Ben Zvan
On September 05, 2008 at 07:53
Product Reviews

you're extremely hotI have heard from many people that Starbucks has decided it's time to shed their image as a giant, corporate conglomerate that's only in it for the money. This week, I gave them another second chance.

Years ago, I used to stop at Starbucks on a regular basis. There's one locally that is in the same building as a bagel shop and that worked out quite well. I didn't usually go for the coffee because I didn't like it very much, but they had Tazo Chai which, among commercial chai products, is one of my favorites. Once I discovered the coffee at Caribou (their chai isn't as good), I pretty much stopped going to Starbucks.

A couple weeks ago, I needed to get my caffeine fix in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. I happened to be at my local, remodeled Target store where they had just installed a Starbucks. My first thought after ordering a tall mocha was disappointment that the machine was completely automatic. Many Caribou stores have been putting in automatic espresso machines and I haven't been to happy with the outcome. Anyway, I wanted to be fair, but I still didn't really like the coffee.

Fast forward to this week and Starbucks' next second chance. I'm in training this week, so it's not convenient for me to stop at my regular coffee place. I stopped at Dunn Brothers (separate blog post pending) the first day, but I noticed a Starbucks farther along my trip and planned to stop on the second day to give a non-Target store a shot.

Yesterday, I got a standard tall mocha and a sample of the Pike's Place Roast. The flavor of the mocha was pretty much identical to what I got in the Target Starbucks store. That's not too surprising since they use the same, automatic machines there. I compare the taste of their mocha to chocolate meringues from The Franklin Street Bakery on Franklin Avenue, only I like the cocoa that Franklin Street uses better. There was no detectable coffee flavor, and the chocolate was somewhere between Nestle Quick and Hershey's syrup.

The Pike's Place has been touted as being both better and worse coffee than Starbucks' normal brew. Some say it's designed to appeal to the masses by being lighter and less "robust". Some say, well, the same thing really, but in a negative way. I guess it was okay coffee, but it still didn't get around that burnt bean flavor which is the basic problem I have with Starbucks' coffee.

Today, I wanted to get basic on the tests. I ordered a tall latte and a separate shot of espresso. The shot was the most bitter espresso I had ever tasted. It had that burnt flavor and a little extra, grab-the-back-of-the-throat bitterness. Like the Pike's Place, I didn't bother finishing it.

The latte, which I'm drinking right now, tastes like it was made with whole milk. That's not a bad thing, but I'm a little confused after hearing that Starbucks was going to switch to 2% as their default milk. Maybe that machine, with it's automatic milk steaming wand, has some magic that makes 2% taste twice as fatty rich. Overall, it's not a bad latte, but it could use a little more coffee flavor. There's a burnt undertone which must be coming from the coffee, but it's hidden by the milk. That's pretty impressive considering how much flavor the straight espresso had.

Anyway, Starbucks had their second, third and fourth chances with me and, unless their the only thing I can see from where I'm standing, I'll be getting my coffee somewhere else.

-Photo of Starbucks cup by Ben Zvan Photography

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