Why I Dislike Starbucks

Starbucks Bad Coffee - Starbucks Milkshake

This grande milkshake set me back $4.84, 8 grams of fat, 28 grams of sugar. No whipped cream. It was ok.

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.

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21 Comments

  • Reply April 19, 2012

    Susan

    That’s a pretty strong rant, most of which I agree with. Much prefer Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee!

  • Reply May 13, 2012

    The Lou

    While sipping my home-made coffee, I reflect on all the people who come to me to supply them with “a decent cup of coffee”. Then again, I’m only a four-star chef with a pretty damm fine palate. If Maxwell House floats your boat and finds your lost remote, then what do I know? Just for kicks and giggles, try this one little thing…get your nose into your favorite canned coffee and have a deep sniff. Now, open a bag of Starbuck’s coffee and inhale same as before. Which smells better to you? Do the same with imitation, then real Bourbon vanilla, it’s an eye-opener! Go one step further and chew on some fresh oregano or basil, then some dried…keep it up.

  • Reply March 6, 2013

    Félix D'Costa

    Could not have agreed more with all the points stated here! I was mentioning to my father how I personally do not like the burnt taste of their coffee.

  • Reply April 25, 2013

    Anonymous

    Absolutely the WORST coffee I EVER tasted is Starbucks. Any 7/11 or buttf*ck nowhere gas bar convenience store has coffee that is far better, and a LOT less expensive. But as any glance at popular television programs, music charts, or bestseller lists will show, popular tastes pretty much means no taste at all.

  • Reply January 3, 2014

    Anonymous

    I just had a cappuccino at starbucks it tasted so burnt that I’d rather have the Nescafe Cappuccino! (in fact that IS what I always have for a cup of cappuccino ) I guess the only thing (in beverage) I’d have is the hot chocolates…..

    • Reply January 3, 2014

      David

      I am so sorry you had to suffer through that horrible cappuccino.

  • Reply January 29, 2014

    Anonymous

    As a barista at a locally owned coffee shop that roasts their own coffee beans I can whole heartedly say that this entire article is true. Their coffee beans are mostly double roasted thus burning the beans and their dark roast are scorched beans. Not only are their beans burnt, their hot milk based drinks are burnt as well. Their ‘normal’ milk temperature are around 150-160 degrees. That milk is burnt and will taste insanely bitter on top of the already burnt and bad espresso beans of theirs. They hide all of their terrible tasting ‘latte’ by coating it with an insane amount of sugar. And frappucinos aren’t coffee no matter how much ‘caffeine’ is in it or how much it taste like coffee. Coke has caffeine, but that isn’t coffee. Coffee flavored ice-cream isn’t coffee either. It’s a milk shake. I worked at Starbucks and got another job at a local coffee shop and I don’t regret it.

    • Reply January 29, 2014

      David

      This is very thoughtful analysis, thank you. We had not considered the fact that their milk is burnt, not just their coffee, but that is absolutely true. All best wishes to your coffee shop. It is nice to have your perspective as a someone in the business of making good coffee..

  • Reply April 6, 2014

    MG

    Ha! So true! I usually get Starbucks if I go to B&N bookstore but always wondered if I was the ONLY one that didn’t really like it a ton. There have been drinks that I’ve been “into” for a short time. Usually I order an Americano because it’s slightly less bitter. And, yes, I’ve NEVER been able to bring myself to say their sizes like that! I always say the “normal” names. And if course they repeat it back to me in “proper” terms! Thanks for this!

    • Reply April 6, 2014

      David

      Obviously you have good taste, MG. Keep up the good fight against made-up sizes! It’s weird that they think that’s OK and we’ll all just go along with it.

  • Reply August 17, 2014

    Alexandre Mekni

    Couldn’t have agreed more! Starbucks coffee is just TERRIBLE. It’s literally disgusting IMO.

    Try La Colombe Nizza Blend 🙂

  • Reply October 26, 2014

    neal

    Starbucks Coffee is not great. Also here in the UK they’ve been dodging paying tax so that’s not popular. The coffee tastes pretty weak to me so I don’t understand why people think it is strong. Caffe Nero make the best coffee in my humble opinion but Costa is also not bad and it is now the biggest Coffee chain in UK so people must have some taste. Fairplay to Starbucks though for making others compete for the coffee market and up their game.

    I’ve seen Italian tourists taking photos of Starbucks here because they don’t have them in Italy. Which is odd considering the Italian sounding names for drinks.

    On a footnote, we badly need IHOP in Britain so please send that over next.

  • Reply February 4, 2015

    Mikoyukira

    Found this article super interesting. My class has been assigned to do research on trends and I chose coffee to be mine, since I practice to be a barista at a cafe during my holidays. I always noticed how different Starbucks coffee is from any coffee I’ve had at smaller indie cafes (not in a good way) but not being extremely experienced with coffee, I’ve never actually bothered to point them out since I may be wrong about certain things. This is a really nice insight for me on how other people see Starbucks coffee.

    Btw, I was talking about the facts in this article and a friend of mine who loves Starbucks to death kept trying to rebutt me. My presentation on my comparison between Starbucks coffee and coffee from indie cafes is tomorrow. Can’t wait to see him glaring at me in disdain tomorrow.

    • Reply February 4, 2015

      David Herman

      Thanks for the kind words, Mikoyukira. As far as your friend, I often find it is the case that either the person is simply addicted to the higher-than-average caffeine content and only *thinks* he likes the coffee, or he does not actually drink the coffee but rather only drinks the milkshakes.

      I have this conversation all the time: “But I love Starbucks coffee!” “Really. Well, what do you order?” “Usually I get the caramel flan latte.”

  • Reply April 10, 2015

    Karen

    Great analysis. I love to make strong French roast coffee at home, grinding the beans fresh, but I find Starbucks coffee has a weird “chemical” taste to it. I’ve never understood how so many people were persuaded that that bizarre, off-putting taste is the mark of good coffee. I’m glad to know where the weirdness comes from — the burning of the beans — and that I’m not the only one who can taste how awful it is.

    • Reply April 10, 2015

      David

      Thanks, Karen. You clearly have good taste in coffee.

  • Reply August 29, 2015

    Paul

    Hats off to Starbucks marketing by creating a powerhouse offering the very worst coffee known to man. The American public does many strange things for which I have yet to understand………….paying for and drinking Starbucks coffee settles at the top of the list next to the 2012 elections. I have tried most all and always revert back to Dunkin Donuts house coffee, it is the very best. We purchased a Jura GIGA5 6 months ago, no coffee other than Dunkin Donuts fills the “caffinated” hopper with Illy as a not to close 2nd.

  • Reply October 17, 2015

    Pricilla

    The taste of Starbucks clearly is not their selling point, there is much better tasting coffee for a cheaper price, they are capitalizing on an ideal, an emotion, “how do you feel when u buy SB?” Upscale, learned, sophisticated? That’ll be $5, please. If that’s worth $5 to someone then so be it.

  • Reply December 20, 2016

    David mitchell

    Starbucks has to be on the bottom line. Where do they get those pictures on the wall? Could they at least come up with some real art

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