This is an old story to those in Oregon (it was announced last week), but it’s also an all-too-familiar story across the country.
Oregon’s Coffee People started in the late 1970s as a hippy-friendly mom & pop (Jim and Patty, where Jim is now a regional barista judge). It was ahead of its time — with high quality standards. In 1999, Diedrich Coffee, a 200-store chain based in Irvine, CA, purchased Coffee People, and the ownership change screwed it up royally. And now Starbucks has swooped in to buy the combined lot: Once feisty Coffee People whipped into Starbucks (The Oregonian).
This is a nearly identical fate that befell the once-grand Torrefazione Italia chain. In 1998, it too was acquired by a larger conglomerate, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and then proceeded to go down the tubes in terms of coffee quality, the skill level of staff, and even the amenities for customers. Then Starbucks bought the lot, dropping the quality even further into the gutter. Torrefazione Italia was almost unrecognizable before Starbucks finally rebranded them with the green mermaid and Pottery Barn CD collections (or closed them down entirely).
I truly hesitate before bashing Starbucks as the evil empire of coffee, as many have made them out to be. Even if it’s all in the past now, they have done a lot of great service for the overall quality of coffee available today. And there’s always a willing seller behind every so-called greedy buyer. But this is one area where their influence has set coffee standards backwards rather than forwards for consumers.
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