June 2007

Monthly Archive

A former barista spills the beans

Posted by on 05 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Barista, Starbucks

Today’s Chicago Daily Herald published a sort of barista confessional by Kerry Lester, detailing some of the professional oddities and insights of working in a Chicago Starbucks: Daily Herald | A former barista spills the beans. Whether it’s continually smelling of coffee, getting hit on by customers, learning how to live in a regularly over-caffeinated state, or gaining 15 pounds from sampling the toss-outs, it’s all here.

Not to mention some additional customer archetypes, including:

  • Hot moms
  • Laptop guys
  • Teenagers with too much allowance
  • The Trivia People
  • The OCDs

UPDATE: June 10, 2007
For whatever odd reasons, the Chicago Daily Herald decided to take down this article … eventhough there are still references to it in Google’s News search, for example.

Upscale coffee selections brewing at more hotels

Posted by on 05 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Café Society, Consumer Trends, Local Brew, Restaurant Coffee

According to an article in today’s USA Today, hotels are still slowly catching up on the rest of society when it comes to serving better quality coffee: Upscale coffee selections brewing at more hotels – USATODAY.com. As the article opens, “Good coffee is the next big thing at hotels.” Business travelers, accustomed to better coffee at home, are demanding more than their stale pots of robusta — which have been as synonymous with “hotel breakfast” as the melon salad. Meanwhile, hotels are catching on that demand for better coffee can add to their bottom line.

Hotels are accomplishing this through better bean supplies and improved in-room coffee makers (even if they are coffee pod machines, it’s still a step up). However, the hotels are still not planning on making espresso just yet. The article mentions Hilton Hotels’ recent switch to Lavazza coffee and Cuisinart brewers. Perhaps even more shocking, Holiday Inn just announced that they have apparently discovered the arabica bean.

Also according to the article, in September the Le Méridien hotel here in San Francisco will kick off what it calls its “Creative Hour” in the evening. The idea behind this non-alcoholic happy hour is to draw guests to the lobby to drink coffee supplied by Illycaffè and to participate in coffee-related activities, including “cooking lessons for recipes that use coffee and for making special coffee drinks.”

Coffee catches on in a nation of tea drinkers

Posted by on 04 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Foreign Brew

Earlier this year, we wrote about the growing consumer appetite for coffee in China. Today’s The Vancouver Sun published an article on coffee grown in China for domestic use and international export: Coffee catches on in a nation of tea drinkers.

In particular, there’s a growing interest in quality arabica beans from Yunnan province in the south. When grown and processed properly, Chinese coffees reportedly have “a light to medium body and acidity, similar to a wet-processed South American coffee.” But most coffee consumption in China today is like that in the UK several years ago: primarily instant coffee with little consumer interest in nor spending on fresh bean stocks.

Caribou Coffee aims to be No. 1 in experience

Posted by on 04 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Café Society, Foreign Brew

Unable to keep pace with the cancerous growth of Starbucks Coffee, Caribou Coffee, the nation’s #2 coffee specialty chain, seems to have opted for better customer experience as a competitive advantage, according to today’s The Detroit News: Caribou Coffee aims to be No. 1 in experience. (This is consistent with their point-of-sale kiosks announcement we reported on last year.)

While most of their sales are still within the state of Minnesota, it will be interesting to see if CEO Michael Coles’ strategy will have an effect. How much margin for improved customer service has Starbucks left to the competition?

When journalists do the math, Starbucks has nowhere to hide

Posted by on 03 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Consumer Trends, Starbucks

The state of professional journalism’s credibility in this country must truly be at an all-time low. Now I don’t think this because of all the blowhard bloggers who believe that any monkey with a keyboard can do the same job as any professional journalist. But it is stories like The Sacramento Bee‘s May 23 “investigative journalism” piece on coffee pricing at Starbucks Coffee — and how the media lemmings have followed in (bloggers and traditional media alike) — that make me think that Dan Rather’s use of the Killian documents at least feigned intelligence.

Yes, the story here is the non-story. And it goes something like this…

Bored reporters at The Sac Bee apparently managed to carve out some free time between “rip and read” reporting on regurgitated press releases. So one of them decides to try out his son’s algebra homework on the Starbucks drink menu: Food & Wine/Taste – A cup of confusion – sacbee.com. The shocking discovery? For three shots of espresso and hot water in a 12-ounce cup, you can order a “Grande Americano” in a “tall” cup for $2 or a “Tall Americano” with an “extra shot” for $2.30. Call Mike Wallace! That extra 30¢ clued in these Woodward wannabes that something smells fishy in Starbucks-land, and it ain’t the mermaid on a hot day.

Apparently, these Bee reporters pursued this story for two months before revealing their exposé. Last week it was cited in The Consumerist, and in the past several days numerous media outlets have also picked up on this scandal.

My reaction was to smack myself in the forehead. Flashing before my eyes … that time I traded in a used car as part of a new car sale, and I suspected that the net price might be different if I sold the used car separately. Or that time I went to a movie theater and some teen behind the counter offered to upgrade my popcorn and soda to the respective sofa-stuffing and swimming pool sizes for a mere extra 50¢. Ugh! Pure Pulitzer gold moments I completely blew it on!

Melbourne: Australia’s capital of coffee culture?

Posted by on 02 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Beans, Café Society, Foreign Brew

While we’re on the subject of international coffee, today’s The Hindu (India… and I guess quite obviously so) published an article documenting Melbourne, Australia’s claim to be at the heart of that nation’s coffee culture: The Hindu : Magazine / Columns : Coffee anyone?.

Melbourne has a pretty strong case. They have a rich coffee history, a vast number of quality cafés, coffee walking tours (“the Coffee Crawl”), and loyal readership behind the Melbourne Coffee Review (and there’s even a Melbourne Cafe Reviews). Exploring the obligatory “local angle”, the article also touches on the use of Monsooned Malabar beans from India.

UPDATE: June 4, 2007
Melbourne’s The Age essentially added to this story today, touching on the roots of Italian immigrants who changed the local coffee culture for the better in the 1950s: Ruling the roast – Epicure – Entertainment – theage.com.au.

How to order coffee in Spain

Posted by on 01 Jun 2007 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

Pim, of local Chez Pim fame, and I go waaay back. In fact, my very first blog post here cited her contrarian-but-oh-so-correct view that berets, croissants, and François Truffaut be damned — French coffee is crap.

OK, she has no clue who I am and likely prefers it that way. But what I do like about her is that for a foodie, she gets the coffee thing. Or at least she has the sophistication and spine to call French merde “crap” when every hubris-stricken gourmet chef in the Bay Area seems to prefer to wallow in their ignorance and spout about how the French have captured the pure essence of café. Au contraire, mes frères! Vous tout êtes des Philistins!

Besides posting that she actually liked the coffee in Spain (in great contrast to France), today Pim also identified a brief coffee vocabulary en la lengua española: chez pim: How to order coffee in Spain.

Sadly, I have yet to experience the coffee in Spain myself … though last October I did sample the local product in Monsanto, about 28 miles from the western border, and it was pretty damn good. Here in SF, you can encounter the rare café cortado — or at least the Cuban equivalent of the cortadito. But while it will undoubtedly beat the mime pants off of anything you could get in France, it may only pale in comparison to la cosa verdadera.

At a Nicola Café in Monsanto

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