The Weekly Glean: Starbucks Ups Its Game

starbucksSource: ~ Author: Dan Nosowitz

So here’s what’s happening. Starbucks, a pioneering coffee roaster and retailer, has remained wildly popular among all but a small community of vocal coffee snobs.

These snobs have followed the trends of coffee as it moves from the ultra-dark, bitter roasts, often heavily flavored and blended, of the ‘90s, which Starbucks pioneered, into what they would not want me to call the Third Wave of coffee, which favors thinner, lighter, unflavored coffee sourced from a single location. Last week, the company made a play for the holdouts, announcing it will be opening up a shop in Seattle called the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, which will focus on rare beans grown in the “remote highlands in Africa, Latin America and Asia” and can sell for up to $45 per pound.

Starbucks will be taking the Third Wave coffee trends to an extreme; they’ll have the highest of high-end equipment, but more to our interests, they’ll be taking the “single origin” idea even farther. Their beans will regularly come from what are called “microlots” — tiny farms, often independently run, that will provide coffee not to be mixed with any other bean. The theory goes that you can more precisely taste the beans’ terroir when all the coffee comes from one small place. That also often leads to more money for the farmers, which can theoretically provide more ethical worker conditions. That’s good, at least.

The Awl’s Matt Buchanan, a dear friend and the most irritating coffee snob I know, calls Starbucks Reserve “something out of a Stumptown fiend’s wettest dreams.” But really, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, which I will only ever refer to by its full and legal name, is only the latest in a long line of attempts by Starbucks to find more customers when it sort of seems like they’ve gotten them all. See, for example, the Stealth Starbucks, which are Starbucks stores that are disguised to make them seem as if they were independent local shops. Starbucks has said that these are merely spaces for experimentation, but the truth is that Starbucks is approaching market saturation, so they have to go after the coffee drinkers who refuse to go to Starbucks, and damn the fact that Starbucks has to be the un-Starbucks in order to snag them.

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