August 2006

Monthly Archive

Tempting the Traditional Coffee Drinker to Move Up

Posted by on 22 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Quality Issues, Robusta

Today’s New York Times reports that Folgers is planning a $20 million advertising campaign on a new line of “gourmet” Folgers: Tempting the Traditional Coffee Drinker to Move Up – New York Times.

It seems that even Proctor & Gamble can no longer ignore the McDonald’s effect. However, what’s not clear is if consumers will need to pay more for these commodity coffees because of better quality beans or because of a worldwide spike in robusta prices. Given that Folgers is simultaneously getting out of the whole bean coffee market, it’s pretty clear that quality isn’t really the main driver for change at P&G.

Tully’s roast master is ‘Willy Wonka’ of coffee

Posted by on 21 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Foreign Brew, Roasting

Today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an article on the roast master of Tully’s, Brian Speckman: Tully’s roast master is ‘Willy Wonka’ of coffee. Apparently, a typical day at the office for Mr. Speckman involves spitting through a good 200 cups of coffee — and that’s the highlight of his day.

Mr. Speckman originally hails from the Bay Area. He roasts with two vintage Probat roasters, and he’s one of the few constants over at Tully’s over the past seven years (given that Tully’s has gone through five CEOs in the past five years).

McDonald’s tests specialty coffee waters

Posted by on 16 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Restaurant Coffee, Starbucks

McDonald’s fell in love with the foreign smell of money brewing when their switch to premium coffee helped boost their sagging top line. Although McDonald’s is still stinging from their McCafé failures in recent years, apparently they are ready to strike out again — testing out espresso production and other specialty coffee drinks at six test markets nationwide. One of the markets, as featured in a local TV news story, is Rochester, NY: McDonald’s tests specialty coffee waters – WROC TV NEWS 8 NOW ROCHESTER NEW YORK – Local Story.

With the likes of Starbucks dumbing down their espresso-making (and effectively dumbing down the quality of their product) to cope with relentless expansion, there is little reason to expect that McDonald’s espresso couldn’t rival Starbucks in quality. (We’re just inviting the hate mail, aren’t we here?) But as we all know, product quality alone does not constitute a successful business strategy. The question for McDonald’s is whether they can stop hemorrhaging fast food retail customers to the likes of Starbucks with comparable espresso drinks.

UPDATE: March 1, 2007
As with Sony and the Mini-Disc, some executives at large corporations refuse to let their pet ideas die the horrible death they deserve — no matter how many times they reanimate the corpse. Yes, McDonald’s is at it again, but this time trying to integrate their McCafé failure into their mainline franchise business: McDonald’s selling lattes and cappuccinos: WSJ | Reuters. This time for sure!

Trip Report: On The Go Espresso

Posted by on 16 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Local Brew

Can really stomach a business that institutionalizes the “values” of to go espresso in a paper cup? While it’s far from our favorite, it does go down in a pinch.

This mobile espresso cart service at Mission & Spear Streets sometimes runs another location at the diagonally opposite end of the city block (around the corner at the 120 Howard St. courtyard). Of course, there’s no place to sit in either location and everything is ordered “to go”, but you knew that. However, west down Mission St., past the Working Girls’ Cafe, there’s some open air/corporate park seating if you’d prefer not to down your espresso like a marathon runner at a water stop.

A coffee cart in the shadow of a ship's propeller Working the Brasilia machine

Using a three-group Brasilia and their own Eureka Coffee beans, they serve espresso shots from a three-group Brasilia into a small paper cup — when available. When the small paper cups are not available: beware; they will instead use large paper cups and the barista will intentionally overextract the coffee to fill them.

The crema is typically thin and an uneven medium brown; it dissipates quickly and regularly contains larger bubbles. Flavorwise, it’s generally smoky with a touch of ash. There are better and worse espresso options in the area. But if you’re wearing a marathon number, this isn’t a bad option.

Read the updated review.

Proudly served in paper cups Not shabby despite the packaging

The Expansion of Coffee Bars is Expected to Change the way French People Traditionally Drink their Coffee

Posted by on 14 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Foreign Brew

Those crazy French love their coffee, even if it isn’t very good coffee. A market research press release on Business Wire today announced a study of French coffee consumer habits: The Expansion of Coffee Bars is Expected to Change the way French People Traditionally Drink their Coffee.

The short of it is that more French are turning to tea sales (and not the salon de thé per se), which is being marketed with health-oriented messages. And despite the public expansion of coffee bars, coffee sales are flat. However, coffee pods are the coffee retailer’s holdout for potential new business. (Though in this case, pods and their auto-robotic brewing systems might actually improve French coffee.)

Other trends noted in the study include a greater push for to-go coffee (just try to make a Frenchman go anywhere) and new coffee types that are less strong but sweeter.

Coffee kiosks: Driving force of coffee

Posted by on 13 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends

Yesterday The Press-Enterprise of inland Southern California reported on the local incursion of coffee kiosks: Driving force of coffee | | Inland Southern California | Business News. As the article states, “Last year, kiosks nationwide racked up $990 million in sales, less than 10 percent of the coffeehouse industry’s $11 billion in sales, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America.”

Kiosks are more of a suburban phenomenon, with exceptions in S.F. such as Java Detour. You might expect coffee kiosks to be popular in inland Southern California, where many residents only leave the seat of their air conditioned monster trucks to sleep. However, kiosks are more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest; they have only recently made their way down south, with Starbucks still just testing out their drive-through market potential.

Coffee kiosks have otherwise become a popular enough enterprise that prefab versions can be purchased over the Internet for around $75,000 — needing only an electrical hookup and a concrete slab to get started. This says nothing, of course, of their espresso equipment, bean supplies, and training costs. But then low expectations require little investment.

South Africa: The pleasure of drinking pure coffee

Posted by on 11 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Foreign Brew, Quality Issues, Roasting

Even in places like South Africa, where instant coffee and chicory have been the public standard for generations, more consumers are seeking the enjoyment of “pure” coffee: | highlife | dining in | healthy eating The pleasure of drinking pure coffee. As in many “developing” coffee consumer nations, South Africa is still rife with bad coffee … and consumers who are just now starting to learn that they may have a choice about it.

The author, Joanne Simon of South Africa’s WINE magazine, interviews the owner of Cape Town speciality coffee roaster who suggests that the best espresso should be blended with beans and roasts to a coffee consumer’s tastes. Instead, the typical Italian espresso export strategy attempts to achieve consistency above all else.

The article also touches a bit on the basics of roasting science and coffee freshness.

San Carlos: Coffee shop ban idea back on the burner

Posted by on 07 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Local Brew, Starbucks

Today the San Mateo Daily Journal noted that San Carlos is cooling off on a proposal to scale back the number of coffee shops in their downtown: Coffee shop ban idea back on the burner – San Mateo Daily Journal. Of course, the measure was proposed in response to news of a second planned Starbucks in the area — causing some of the local coffee shops, and Uptown Cafe in particular, to seek protection over competition.

Meanwhile, in not entirely unrelated news, Starbucks announced plans to start a joint venture in India, with retail stores opening first in Delhi or Mumbai: domain-B : Indian business : industries : US coffee retailer Starbucks plans India chain. Starbucks may have failed in countries such as Israel and New Zealand, but perhaps prostitution rings are their next opportunity for growth in the entertainment industry. (There’s no word yet if the William Morris Agency intends to begin casting for Pretty Woman: Mumbai at these new locations.)

Businesses Eye Return to a Post-Castro Island

Posted by on 06 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Beans, Foreign Brew

Much of the media are on a Fidel Castro deathwatch lately. They’ve undoubtedly queued up their pre-edited TV specials on his life and his impact on Cuba and the world, ready to roll the tape at the first sign of sleep apnea. But for every staunch communist revolutionary, there are dozens of eager capitalists in the world who see his passing as the IPO of “Cuba, Inc.”: KTLA The WB | Where Los Angeles Lives | Businesses Eye Return to a Post-Castro Island.

You might say that the Souto family, Cuban expatriates now living in South Florida, fall into that latter category. They have owned what is now Rowland Roasters for several generations. Under brand names such as Megdalia D’Oro, Café Bustelo, and Café Pilon, Rowland Roasters is credited with supplying 80% of America’s espresso coffee (i.e., coffee explicitly marketed for use as espresso). Of course, the majority of what they sell comes pre-ground and in cans — and, IMHO, tastes like it’s been lying around for several generations. But that still doesn’t stop them from calling themselves “America’s foremost espresso experts”.

The Souto family hopes to sell Café Pilon to the Cubans once again, as it was once Cuba’s most popular brand. They also hope to turn to Cuba for coffee production — replacing some of their Ecuador and Guatemala supplies with Cuban-grown arabica beans from the Sierra Maestra region.

Of course, capitalists have salivated for decades over the prospect of being able to sell to China’s one-billion-plus consumers — only to learn that the Chinese are ultimately doing the selling, not the buying. And whenever it comes to Castro’s health and Cuba’s business climate, your bets might be safer on Mel Gibson negotiating peace in the Middle East.

Jackie Chan to open coffee shops here

Posted by on 05 Aug 2006 | Filed under: Consumer Trends

The Manila Standard Today joined the press release chorus announcing the opening of Jackie Chan-themed coffee shops in Asia: Philippine News — Manila Standard Today — Jackie Chan to open coffee shops here — aug05_2006.

With Jackie Chan and Kiss being the most recent celebrity examples of coffee chains, it looks as if slapping your celebrity name on a coffeeshop has become the equivalent of the 1960s phenomenon of celebrities recording musical albums, regardless of their tonal abilities.

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