For a store that sells something as simple as a cup of coffee, Starbucks stirs up a lot of strong feelings. Starbucks takes heat for using anticompetitive practices, for mistreating their workers and even for allowing customers to carry guns in its stores. It receives praise for being a “pioneer in the area of corporate responsibility” and for having a “commendable” and “exceptional” commitment to fair trade.
For my part, I don’t like Starbucks at all. Here’s why:
1. The coffee is terrible. I know, this is when a Starbucks defender will say, “You must just not like strong coffee!” Wrong. I love strong coffee. But it has to be strong in the right way. Starbucks coffee is strong only on the surface. It tastes burnt and abrasive as it goes down but has no other discernible flavor. Good coffee, on the other hand, is smooth on the way down with a rich, earthy (yes, “strong”) flavor underneath. In other words, Starbucks coffee is strong in the wrong way and weak where it matters. As Consumer Reports observed, Starbucks coffee is “burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open”. And once past the harsh, burnt taste as it first hits your palate, it tastes like water.
2. Starbucks has tricked its customers (and the broader public, I think) into a preference for “coffee drinks”, not coffee. Good old fashioned coffee is delicious, but as I mentioned their coffee is not, so they hide that by adding copious amounts of dairy, sugar and flavorings. As Slate correctly observed, the greatest fraud Starbucks has worked on the American people “is not charging $4 for a latte but rather giving adults permission to drink milkshakes, on the pretext that they are merely tea or coffee”. Those high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar venti milkshakes should not be consumed everyday. And they are not coffee.
3. Speaking of which — the “tall”, “grande”, “venti” thing. Who gave Starbucks permission to rename “small”, “medium” and “large”? I find it arrogant. It is a transparent effort to differentiate Starbucks from the truck selling coffee on the street, and in undertaking that effort Starbucks has made up a vocabulary that doesn’t make any sense and asks all of us to use it. (On what planet is the shortest called “tall”? Why is a “large” (“grande”) a medium? Why is a 24-ounce skinny iced caffé mocha called “venti”, when “venti” in Italian is only “twenty”?) Worse, somehow Starbucks has brainwashed many of its customers into acquiescing in this hijacking of the English and Italian languages.
4. Pricing. I need not dwell on how expensive Starbucks is ($2 for a small? Really?). I’m getting at something else: On my last trip to Starbucks (which was for research purposes), my small coffee cost me exactly $2.01 after tax. Two dollars and one cent. I did not have a penny, so I ended up with 99 cents in change. That’s insane. No store should set prices like that. Certainly not one that’s on every corner. And it’s not as if I ordered something obscure. It was a small coffee. I have since learned that Starbucks has admitted the $2.01 price “wasn’t an accident”. Starbucks wouldn’t give the reason, but I suspect the idea is to encourage customers who are already dipping into a third dollar to pay for a small to up their purchase to a medium.
5. Sizing. This is not unique to Starbucks, but 12 ounces is way too big for a small coffee. The industry standard for a cup of coffee is 6 ounces. And the “grande”, which is Starbucks’s most popular beverage size, has 16 ounces — almost three times the regular serving size. We already have a portion size problem in America, but with Starbucks it is arguably even more insidious because it creates caffeine dependence in their customers, which, of course, is exactly what they want. Indeed, research has shown that Starbucks coffee has considerably more caffeine than the same serving size from Dunkin’ Donuts. All of this causes caffeine-addicted customers not just to crave coffee, but to crave Starbucks coffee, even though it tastes awful, because other coffees will not adequately satisfy their bodies’ dependence on caffeine.
I am sure there are many other reasons to dislike Starbucks. If there is anything else about Starbucks that irks you, or if for whatever reason you wish to defend it, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Mike: I can’t help but add additional gripes about Starbucks:
6. I made the mistake of buying their $13-per-package espresso beans, when I was in a rush, and needed some espresso to make at home. The beans were roasted beyond all recognition to a charred, black-soot color. And the beans were still stale – an impressively terrible combination.
7. More on Starbucks’s “coffee drinks” – now that fall is arriving, Starbucks is again rolling out its “Pumpkin Spice Latte,” a 380 calorie, 49g of sugar drink that contains ample amounts of sugar “or” high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, “caramel color,” “annatto (for color)” (why have one fake color, when you can have two?), and any number of preservatives, but, naturally, no actual pumpkin.