May 2007

Monthly Archive

Starbucks Coffee To Switch From Whole To Reduced Fat Milk In All Espresso-based Drinks By FY07 End

Posted by on 31 May 2007 | Filed under: Add Milk, Starbucks

Starbucks Coffee announced today that it is changing its dairy standard for all of its espresso-based drinks, switching from whole milk to reduced fat (i.e., 2%) milk in all Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2007: Daytrading, Eminis, Forex trading, Swing Trading BREAKING NEWS – 559959 – Starbucks Coffee To Switch From Whole To Reduced Fat Milk In All Espresso-based Drinks By FY07 End. (Here’s a take on the same story from the Chicago Sun-Times and San Jose’s NBC11.)

Perhaps after all the criticism over it’s calorie bombs, Starbucks is trying to do its part for the war on obesity. But curiously enough, earlier this month scientists in New Zealand reportedly bred cows that naturally produce low-fat milk: Udderly low-fat milk – News & events – Taste.com.au. This news was soon followed by the announcement that naturally caffeine free coffee trees were about to be introduced in Australia: Caffeine-free coffee trees on their way – News & events – Taste.com.au.

If this sort of “boiling the ocean” problem-solving approach has any legs, here’s to hoping that Starbucks soon stumbles upon genetic research that enables them to grow double-espresso-competent baristas from Petri dishes.

Peet’s moves roasting plant to double output of coffee

Posted by on 29 May 2007 | Filed under: Local Brew, Roasting

According to today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Peet’s Coffee & Tea will be relocating their roasting facilities from Emeryville to Alameda. The move coincides with Peet’s plans to begin 24-hour roasting operations to keep up with their growth plans and demand: ALAMEDA / Peet’s moves roasting plant to double output of coffee. Peet’s hopes to double its coffee sales to about $500 million a year.

UPDATE: May 30, 2007
Today the Contra Costa Times featured a profile on Peet’s CEO, Patrick O’Dea: ContraCostaTimes.com – Cup runneth over for Peet’s chief. Among several other questions, they asked him about Peet’s strategy behind their new roasting facility.

Self-heating coffee launched in Australia

Posted by on 29 May 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Trends

In case liquid coffee extracts didn’t whet your coffee appetite, maybe instant self-heating coffee in a can will: Self-heating coffee launched in Australia > FOODweek Online > Main Features Page.

Per the product description:

To heat the coffee, the canister is tipped upside down and the tamper-proof seal is removed. An activation button is found underneath the seal which is pushed in, releasing water into the inner chamber that contains quicklime. The water, when combined with the quicklime, causes a natural exothermic reaction that creates heat. This heat is then transferred through the inner chamber to warm the coffee in the outer chamber. When the coffee has reached 62 degrees Celsius, a small circle on the side of the can changes from pink to white.

Just try getting that through airport security. But the truly scary part is the “flavors” it comes in — none of which are, well, “coffee” flavor. However, it is “available in Double Shot Latte, Hazelnut Latte, Mocha Latte and French Vanilla Latte for $4.99 (AUS)”.

The Home Espresso Machine Blues: Rating today’s state of consumer espresso machines

Posted by on 28 May 2007 | Filed under: Home Brew, Machine, Quality Issues

I’ve written both here and elsewhere on how the state of home espresso has both improved and become worse at the same time. While home espresso is mostly out of the Krups Dark Ages, its future is uncertain:

  • super-expensive, super-disappointing super-automatics are now de rigeur for high-end home kitchen designs
  • as a new format, coffee pods are struggling somewhere between the dismal failure of disc cameras and the resounding success of digital cameras
  • café chains continue to expand all over the world, making tolerable espresso ever more convenient… just as
  • more and more new home espresso enthusiasts discover that the promise of cheaper, more convenient, and better espresso drinks at home has been an exaggeration — if not an outright lie.

Looking at things from the supply end, I spent some of this past Memorial Day weekend surveying the state of home espresso retail sales where most layman consumers in the Bay Area would naturally look: SF’s metrosexual retail capital of Union Square. This is my report.

Williams-Sonoma is all Jura, Nespresso, and Breville Sur La Table lives by Jura, Nespresso, Francis Francis, Krups, and Keurig

Coulda been contenders

I checked out the appliance offerings at two major retailers that consumers equate with finer home cuisine: the Williams-Sonoma flagship store and the Maiden Lane Sur La Table. I also checked out the nearby Crate & Barrel and The Sharper Image outlets for yuks. Williams-Sonoma carried just three espresso machine models: Nespresso, Jura, and Breville, all ranging from a modest $229 to a bank-busting $3,249 Jura (excluding a lone La Pavoni, perhaps best of the lot, that was essentially hidden). Sur La Table added Francis Francis, Keurig, and a couple of token Krups machines. (Crate & Barrel carried Krups and De’Longhi exclusively, and The Sharper Image had only Keurig and Flavia.)

A few weeks ago at the Carmel-by-the-Sea Sur La Table, I was inspired to do a taste comparison for myself (and was thus inspired to write this article). So in SF it was time for a run-off election. After sampling espresso made from a number of their floor model machines (and a serious caffeine overdose), I disliked the Nespresso espresso the least of the bunch. Of the lot of them, the Nespresso seemed to have the most potent flavor and generated some of the best crema.

This was a bit surprising on a few levels. For one — unlike the stale, pre-ground coffee packed in mail-order capsules that are required for the $299 Nespresso machine — the $2,400 Jura I sampled could use fresh, whole beans. Perhaps Sur La Table’s bean supplies were that old (likely) or the Jura machine itself did unholy things during the grinding and brewing process (also likely). But no consumer should pay $2,400 for an espresso machine that makes $150-machine espresso.

You could argue that unlike the Nespresso, yes, the Jura can actually froth milk. But for the $2,000 price tag difference, you could literally buy your own dairy cow. You could also attempt to argue that the Swiss-made Jura, while made mostly of cheap plastic, offers unparalleled robotic convenience. But for that price difference, that robot better be shooting lasers out of its eyes at unsuspecting burglars and cockroaches. Especially if it can’t make a decent cup of coffee.

A Williams-Sonoma sales associate will assist you shortlySaddle up to a Jura -- it costs more than a dairy cow

The Nespresso C180 Le Cube — as good as it gets?!

I’ve always advocated that the truly best home machines aren’t sold at these “gourmet” retailers. You typically have to go to specialty coffee retailers on the Internet to find even a basic Rancilio Silvia — for the past decade, the gold standard by which all home espresso machines should be measured. But middle America isn’t buying Silvias. They are shopping at these retailers.

While the Jura most closely represents the style and quality of home espresso machine that the latest high-end kitchens are featuring as built-in appliances, the Nespresso C180 Le Cube won the bake-off. Which, if you’ve done any research on the reviews of home espresso machines, should not be surprising after all. The Nespresso has earned accolades from Consumer Reports, praise from various knock-off gadget blogs, and even highly favorable ratings on the respectable CoffeeGeek.com.

Yet despite all its praise — and the jazz music soundtrack and luxury car TV advert polish on the device’s Web site — I’ve always felt the Nespresso to be woefully inadequate as a home espresso machine. It is one step forward in convenience (self-contained, push-button), but two steps backwards in quality (stale, pre-ground beans in mail-order capsules).

So I had to question myself: did I just not get it? Did I carry some irrational, resentful bias against the device’s encroachment on the handmade craft of artisan espresso through automated coffee technology? But then I surely don’t feel that way about roasters. Am I missing something transcendent that dozens of Coffee Geeks clearly experienced? It was time for a patented CoffeeRatings.com test.

Which one of these Nespresso pellets is 'coffee' flavored again? The Nespresso starts out with a lot of crema, even if it's a bit sickly looking

CoffeeRatings.com tests the Nespresso Cube

So, at the Maiden Lane Sur La Table just as the one in Carmel, I applied the same techniques to the espresso made with the Nespresso C180 Le Cube as I would to any other café. Always using the black Ristretto capsule (always beware when the names of espresso drinks become “flavors”), my repeat tests confirmed my bewilderment in what the fuss was all about. Which leads me to ask: have we become so conditioned to expect so little from home espresso that this is what we’ve come to regard as “quality”?

The pour starts out with a full crema right away — which is impressive until you notice how sickly pale, mottled, and bubbly it looks. I actually found it downright unappetizing. Compare the color and texture of the espresso crema in the photos below of the Nespresso Ristretto shot and a typical shot I made at home. While a good, healthy looking crema isn’t a guarantee of a great espresso, I’ve almost never had a good espresso with a sickly or absent crema. But, unlike the Krups Dark Ages, I suppose that a crema even exists at all is a step up.

The cup has a decent aroma, though its body is a touch thin (yet nowhere near as thin as the body I had from espresso made from the second-mortgage Jura machines). While there are some hints of brightness in the cup, and the flavor is neither diluted nor watery, its flavor clearly lacks the robustness that comes with fresh coffee. Though there are some pleasant spice elements, the flavor profile is undeniably flat from age and lacking multiple elements of a typical espresso flavor spectrum.

Although the Nespresso’s 5.90 coffee rating compares well with most Starbucks, the most disheartening part is that the Nespresso ensures that this is as good as your espresso will ever get — by design, since the system was developed with the ultimate consistency in mind. So if you want milk or the chance of a better espresso, you’re much better off shelling out another $300 to get a Rancilio Silvia and a decent burr grinder. Otherwise, I’d prefer a much cheaper Moka pot/stovetop coffee made with fresh beans — even without the crema.

Read the review of the Nespresso C180 Le Cube.

Finished as it started: the Nespresso with a mottled, lighter brown crema with large bubbles Contrast the crema color and consistency with a basic home espresso

Coffee Lowers Gout Risk; Medical Reporting Raises Risk of Premature Death

Posted by on 26 May 2007 | Filed under: Coffee Health

In another fine display of health care journalism’s single-issue myopia, a report came out this week that men who drink copious amounts of coffee lower their risk of gout: Coffee Lowers Gout Risk. What I find deliciously funny about this — and sadly funny at the same time — is that the article addresses coffee and gout in the complete absence of everything else. This one coming from WebMD, whom you might think would be savvy enough to communicate how medical trivia like this fits in the bigger picture of your overall health.

Nevermind that you might blow out your kidneys in two years from the diuretic qualities of drinking too much coffee… Never mind that you might suffer cardiac arrest from a caffeine overdose… You’ve got that gout thing covered, so have another cup — or twelve!

UPDATE: June 4, 2007
Someone finally decided to regurgitate this single study with some context of how it fits in with a person’s overall health: Wake up and smell the coffee-Life & Style-Health-Our Experts-TimesOnline. It took over a week after this news bit was plastered whole everywhere before one lone doctor — writing in the UK for The Times, mind you — finally bothered to make sense of it for news consumers. It’s comforting to know that when the H5N1 avian flu virus goes pandemic, we’ll probably have all shot each other dead on the streets for a week before some doctor in the UK tells us not to panic.

Truth about coffee is it really doesn’t stay fresh that long

Posted by on 21 May 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Quality Issues

Stale coffee is the norm in America, and it has been for decades. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this even includes the likes of Starbucks Coffee. An article in today’s Jacksonville Times-Union attempts to explain the difference: Jacksonville.com: First Coast Community: Nassau County: Story: Truth about coffee is it really doesn’t stay fresh that long

The author touches on a little of the science of coffee oxidation, signs for how to tell when coffee is really fresh, and the industry practice of using “fresh coffee flavoring” — which is akin to using perfume as a deodorant.

Coca-Cola FoodService Partners with Juan Valdez

Posted by on 20 May 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Machine, Restaurant Coffee

We’ve been monitoring Coca-Cola’s murky interests in the coffee business for some time now. The most obvious example being their patent filings in recent years, which have lead to — among other things — their launch of Far Coast coffee pod and machine systems for food service retailers.

In today’s news, Coke announced they will be offering restaurant operators a liquid coffee system — an on-demand, “shelf stable, bag-in-box” coffee made from concentrate — called The Juan Valdez Coffee System: BREAKING NEWS: Coca-Cola FoodService Partners with Juan Valdez – Restaurant News – QSR Magazine. The latest incarnation of Juan Valdez was apparently out in promotional force for it at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show today in Chicago.

According to the Cokesters, the system “will use Juan Valdez caféREALE coffee—a shelf-stable coffee concentrate that can be stored at room temperature for up to nine months.” Move over, Folgers — doesn’t that just call out, “the best part of waking up is a shelf stable, bag-in-box concentrate in your cup”?

It appears Coke’s strategy is to lay claim to a chasm-crossing beachhead — their Omaha Beach or Anzio if you will — securing some footing in the restaurant coffee business. And they are making their assault on multiple fronts — Juan Valdez branding being just their latest tactic. This also presents a branding oddity for the National Federation of Coffee Growers in Colombia, which has opened retail coffee shops under the Juan Valdez name in a few U.S. locations. However, the Juanistas may feel they can avoid brand confusion because their Coke deal markets to restaurateurs and their cafés market directly to consumers.

UPDATE: May 21, 2007
Coca-Cola’s Juan Valdez system now has something in common with what rugged outdoorsmen drink for caffeine while writing their manifestos at their wilderness compounds: The Food Network’s ‘Unwrapped’ to feature Java Juice(R) Liquid Coffee Extract – Food & Beverages News from Send2Press Newswire Mon, 21 May 2007. There’s no denying it — shelf-stable liquid coffee extracts are all the rage!


UPDATE: May 30, 2007
The Latin Business Chronicle published an article on Columbia’s coffee export struggles in the face of competition from the likes of Vietnam and other parts of Asia: Latin Business Chronicle – Made in Colombia: Coffee. Moves like Colombia’s “shelf stable, bag-in-box” coffee partnership with Coke may actually harm a lot more than they help. Once the esteem of Colombia’s exports are brought down to the level of “coffee extract syrup”, Vietnamese production will massacre them on volume and cost.

Wendy’s to Begin Brewing Folgers Coffee

Posted by on 19 May 2007 | Filed under: Restaurant Coffee

Here’s a nominee for the 2007 Unclear on the Concept Award. In a reactive move to competitors who have successfully upgraded their coffee service (such as McDonald’s), the Wendy’s fast food chain has proudly announced an agreement to serve Folgers coffee to expand their breakfast offerings: Wendy’s to Begin Brewing Folgers Coffee ((BKC), McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), Wendy’s International Inc. (WEN), (US580135)) | SmartMoney.com. Yes, you read that right: Folgers.

If you’re going upmarket to appeal to customers’ newfound tastes for better coffee, why would you choose a brand that consumers most commonly identify as something your cat-food-eating Great Aunt Agnes makes from a $10, 39-oz can she bought in 1993? This should have been a Folgers’ press release, not one from Wendy’s.

Getting more from your coffee menu

Posted by on 18 May 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Starbucks

The business world is fraught with a number of ironies. One of the bigger ironies is that all good businesses must do ridiculous things that detract from the very core things that made them good in the first place. Big, public businesses do this in an effort to sustain the growth figures demanded by Wall Street (if not also out of fear), whereas small, local businesses do this to sustain interest among customers in their local communities.

In the world of coffee, this translates to a regular stream of new coffee product introductions — intended to keep consumers’ short attention spans engaged with the dancing monkeys of food marketing. Think Starbucks‘ new Dulce de Leche latte, the KFC Famous Bowls of the world of specialty coffee. Aesthetic and nutritional atrocities like this, of course, are necessary because it’s far easier and far more lucrative for food marketers to sell new fluff over the basics. And, unfortunately, it’s far more effective. Espresso drinks have provided a wealth of marketable perversions that failed under the old regime of “flavored coffees” (e.g., General Foods International Coffees).

Which brings us to a recent article in an industry rag: Getting more from your coffee menu. According to the article, the Beverage Service Association, a vending-machine-coffee business interest group, observed “the previously unknown concept of the rock-star barista, which is the coffee equivalent of the hero mixologist.” Is it any wonder why I’ve soured a bit on the deliberate media glamorization of barista championships? We’re trying to take barista skills towards its natural conclusion: a sequel to the movie Cocktail starring Tom Cruise as a competitive barista. (And you can bet Starbucks’ movie production arm would take an active interest.)

So you take some poorly made espresso, toss in some chocolate sauce and a rose-flavored syrup, and suddenly your liquid candy bar can sell at a much higher premium than a single espresso, let alone drip coffee. (When the media universally recites the “$4 Starbucks coffee” mantra, you know they’re really only talking about the double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato.) But to some degree, those of us who love the fundamentals are subsidized by the many customers who shell out for that dreck.

If a café can’t get the basics right, they’re dead to me. If a pizza place can’t make a cheese pizza taste any better than the cardboard box their delivery boys carry it in, I don’t care if they make plenty of sales on peanut butter & jelly pizzas. But as much as I might detest what atrocities these fellow customers might drink, I need them to help keep the doors open on my supply of good neighborhood espresso. So today we salute you, Mr. Cinnamon Dolce Latte Drinker — you are a real man of genius.

Tom says, 'My cinnamon dolce latte can beat your cinnamon dolce latte.'

Green Coffee capsules – all the weight loss benefits, none of the bitter taste!

Posted by on 18 May 2007 | Filed under: Coffee Health, Robusta

The uncontrollable urge to assign shamanic powers of eternal life or instant death to coffee are still in full bloom. Last December, we reported on the UK introduction of CoffeeSlender (a.k.a. Café Bulimia), a coffee drink that claimed to help consumers lose weight through something called Svetol — a derivative of green coffee beans. Today we can apparently bypass the beverage part entirely and just take a pill (it’s about time!): Response Source | Press Releases – Green Coffee capsules – all the weight loss benefits, none of the bitter taste!

How this green coffee extract works to help you lose weight is actually a bit scary. According to the press release: “Ingredients in the Robusta green coffee bean inhibit the uptake of glucose in the intestines, regulating metabolism and resulting in weight loss over a period of 60 days.” In short, chemical compounds found in a cheap coffee varietal — one traded on the commodities market by the gross ton instead of by the pound — put your body into a mild diabetic state. Dexatrim latte, anyone?

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