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.
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