Starbucks customers know their coffee

Starbucks X or Starbucks YOkay this is the obligatory coffee house post. Starbucks is betting its customers can’t tell fresh brewed from instant. Choose X or Y — the two are separated by gender apparently. Results could prove V, their space-age “VIA” instant product improves on Folgers, or W, their customers can’t tell good coffee from WORSE. I tried it.

Starbucks gave itself a break by putting its VIA instant, specially priced at $2.99 for three doses, against its ordinary brew, no Sidamo or Yirgacheffe for comparison. It’s probably the base they have stewing on the BUNN to caffeinate all their products. I couldn’t tell that from truck stop coffee. Good luck differentiating from that.

If Starbucks has set out to prove what Folgers never could, it’s proved what we already suspected. Starbucks has a lock on the best beans in the world, but its customers have been gorging themselves on the caramel whipped creme milkshakes and no longer know espresso from chocolate syrup. VIA will remind them of what coffee used to taste like at Duncan Doughnuts or the Waffle House. Bitter Americana.

Starbucks vs. the birthplace of coffee

Oldest coffee in the worldWant an afficionado’s tip? The mother of all coffees is Ethiopian Harrar. Literally. The insight is as olfactory as it is scientific. History records that the first coffees were cultivated in Ethiopia/ Abyssinia on the Red Sea. Every current variety of Coffea Arabica is believed to have originated from those plants. Colombian Juan Valdez picks coffee beans introduced to the New World by the Spaniards. Indoneasian javas were planted by the Dutch. Each of those famous varieties were transplanted Arabica. Starbucks wants to transplant the names.

It might be fitting now that Ethiopian farmers are asking for the right to control their unique varietal names. Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe are considered premium coffees and refer to the regions of Ethiopia where they are grown. It is estimated that trademarks could generate an additional $90 million for impoverished Ethiopian growers who currently receive just three cents per cup of coffee. The problem is from whose profit they would have to wrestle the extra money: Starbucks.

Starbucks has been opposing Ethiopia’s trademark applications on the grounds that giving a higher value to the farmers would result in a decreased demand for the premium beans. Do you buy that? Even if Starbucks passed the increased cost unto the customer, would a few cents deter their caffeen addicted connoisseurs from the world’s most potent coffee? Ethiopia’s control over the branding of their product is likely only to increase their coffee’s visibility and prestige.

Bean counters versus the bean growersStarbucks denies having asked the US National Coffee Association to block the Ethiopian trademark bid. But in fact Starbucks has been trying to trademark Sidamo for itself.

I can’t find an etymology record to link the term bean-counter with coffee beans. In any case the expression denotes someone who values quantity over quality. I’d say they have the wrong beans.

Update: Le Monde article translated at Truthout.