Reconsidering my grande decaf mocha

We have two Starbucks’ across the street — three if you count the one in the QFC grocery store, though if I’m going to go into that grocery store, it’s not for coffee. (And besides, QFC has a fracking annoying dual pricing structure. For example, a half-gallon of Breyer’s chocolate mint ice cream is an outrageously high $6.99 or “on sale” for $3.29 with the QFC affinity card. Having to carry one for their stupid pricing structure pisses me off.)

Anyway, there are two Starbucks stores in the same street corner, one was formerly a Seattle’s Best Coffee. Both are busy, so I go to the closer one, located next to a Great Harvest bakery.
Much like Director Mitch, I’ve started to lose my taste for the Starbucks’ experience. If I were assigning a letter grade, I’d give them a B.

My criteria are simple:

  • A pleasant environment — A primary reason I get coffee outside of the office is to … get out of the office. From the outside, Starbucks looks like it should be comfortable. It’s really not. Tables are too close together and frequented with people regularly doing business deals. When the coffee grinder or barking of the staff doesn’t drown out conversation, you can hear some interesting things. Like : “This is a ground-floor opportunity for a motivated person!”

    With no refuge from multi-level marketing, the only option is to get in and out…

  • Quick and efficient service – Their queueing model borders on the fomplicated. People feed into two registers. If the line backs up, it’s among a labyrinth of prepackaged coffee beans, espresso machines, and music CDs. (And now, promoting movies?) Sometimes the baristas will take my request. Or the person doling out snacks. Or the cashier. Or the person who just finished emptying the garbage cans. (Obvious marketing suggestion: do not take the garbage out the front door where customers standing in line can admire the pile.) Despite my generic order, the dilution of responsibility adds time and an occasional duplicate.

    Once the orders are paid for, people cluster together near the barista waiting for their order. It’s an uncomfortable and claustrophobic corner. Adding to the confusion, coffee comes out in bursts, not necessarily in the order requested. Still, coffee production is much faster than the business transaction, or threading past the tables to the egress. Ground floor opportunity, indeed.

  • A good cup of coffee – Once out of every dozen times, I get a grande decaffeinated mocha that tastes grande burnt. They’ll fix it, which for $3.55/pop, I’ve got no qualms making them do, but it’s annoying to work back through the lines. I have no way to prove this, but I think a third of the time they mess up on the decaffeination. If you’re my coworker, and I seem unusually excitable, you now know why.

One alternative is a self-contained espresso hut where one side is for cars, the other for pedestrians. The coffee was good, and I didn’t have to cross the busy, pedestrian unfriendly intersection, but it took them several minutes for them to make it. I wouldn’t have minded as much if I wasn’t standing in the rain waiting while they did it. There was no price difference, removing any economic incentive to switch.

So, Starbucks, consider yourself on notice.

10 thoughts on “Reconsidering my grande decaf mocha”

  1. The funny thing is, your Google ad has 5 out of 6 links to Starbucks. Welcome to the machine! Did you want whipped cream on that?

  2. I’ve noticed this too. In particular I’ve noticed their latte’s have a wide range of foam/milk ratio. Some are rather foamy while others are basically a huge cup of warm milk. You never know what you’re going to get.

    For a long time I frequented a Seattle’s Best in Kirkland which was definitely not as a good as Starbucks, but I liked the owner and the location. That location recently became Reality Coffee (under the same owner) and switched to a different brand of espresso and it is so much better than any Starbucks I have been too recently. It seems like they are definitely losing their edge.

  3. It’s all part of the “barista experience” you see, your every coffee is handmade and as such has little flaws in it that show it’s handmade status. It’s just like the glassware you can pick almost anywhere with the little air bubbles and non-uniform rims denoting it’s “flawed handmade status”. I suppose that this handmade coffee could be compared to the kind I used to see more frequently that came out of a vending machine at the local swimming pool.

  4. I have a good friend who worked for Starbucks as a barista for quite awhile. It’s fascinating how much thought went into queueing: e.g. cashiers will chat with customers for a tad longer when the baristas are backed up because people are apparently more comfortable waiting TO order than waiting FOR their order.

    That said, I’m a huge fan of the independent coffee houses here. Same price or cheaper, a unique atmosphere, staff who’re allowed to be themselves, and, best of all, better coffee.

  5. Indeed, the number of people involved in a coffee order is baffling. Just yesterday I stopped at a Starbuck’s in the Georgetown area of Seattle…I was greeted by one person who took my order of a double tall americano, no room. She got the cup, marked what it should be, and passed it another person who read the order and handed the cup to the actual barista. Then, another person asked me what I was having, and then rang the sale on the register. Some other employee was there milling around vaguely cleaning things. So, 4 people directly involved in my one cup of coffee.

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