Today’s Los Angeles Times reports on the corporate expansion plans of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: Coffee Chains in Grand Battle to Take No. 2 Spot – Los Angeles Times.

Coffee Bean’s angle? Just looking at the ratio of coffeehouses to residents, Seattle is more than ten times as saturated as California. Thus this L.A.-based chain sees California as a growth market with a lot of huge potential remaining. That and they see their lighter roasting styles as a differentiator from the likes of Peet’s Coffee & Tea or Starbucks.

And as Americans are guzzling more premium coffee than ever, some marketing experts are characterizing the coming coffee wars as a repeat of the cola wars from prior decades: – McDonald’s debut of premium coffee stirs up rivals. Examples cited include yesterday’s first-ever National Coffee Break, where Starbucks reportedly served some 500,000 free coffees at over 7,500 U.S. locations between 10am-12pm.

Of course, the most telling thing I saw yesterday morning were the number of people in line with me at the Peet’s Coffee on 2nd & Mission Sts. who were holding their free newspapers and Starbucks coupons in hand. While it’s hard for anybody to pass up a good freebie, it seems that you still can’t get people to stop paying for better coffee.