How Starbucks Ruined Coffee:
For Baristas and Coffee-drinkers
Starbuck’s is genius. Genius in the way McDonald’s is genius. They dominated an industry, and took something Local and made it Global.
Starbuck’s dominates in a physical way, by taking up more and more space. But I want to point out something else: Starbuck’s also dominates the coffee industry by taking up space in our minds.
They do this through language. Language changes culture. And now the way we talk about coffee, right or wrong, is stuck in the Starbuck’s bubble.
First off, here’s some basics:
Coffee shops use an espresso machine. It has two components:
1. The Portafilter, that handle-looking thing with ground coffee inside. This is where the espresso filters through. When the espresso is finished, the “portable filter” can detach and refill with coffee grounds.
2. The Steam-wand. This is on the side corner of the machine. You can guess what this does.
This is 90% of what baristas do. Espresso and steamed milk.
We all know about “regular” coffee. That’s the stuff that comes out of the pot.
Espresso and steamed milk. All those fancy French and Italian words make it sound complicated. I can tell you in 6 short sentences:
Macchiato is the smallest of these. Cortado is slightly larger. Cappuccino is bigger at eight ounces. Latte is largest. All the other flavored drinks are just variations of a latte. Mocha, for example, is a latte with chocolate.
Macchiato. Cortado. Cappuccino. Latte.
Then Starbuck’s came along.
They decided people didn’t care about coffee. They just wanted caffeine and sugar. So what does it matter what you call it?
They invented the famous “Caramel Macchiato.” Which is actually a latte with lots of sugar. Sure sounds cool, though.
Cappuccinos, by size, automatically have a little more foam than a latte. So Starbuck’s decided you can order any size cappuccino or latte! Because asking for your drink more or less foamy is too hard.
They also gave you the option to get any drink, iced. Because why not?
This causes confusion. Since Starbuck’s is everywhere, the majority of coffee customers, through no fault of their own, have no freaking idea what these words mean. Plus they become confused about the basic differences of espresso drinks.
As a trained barista, when someone orders a Large Iced Cappuccino, that sounds like total nonsense. We try not to laugh because we love our customers. And we feel their pain. Coffee-drinkers wake up in a cranky fog. The last thing they need is a coffee lecture.
We would love to talk about the fascinating science and chemistry behind coffee roasting, various brewing techniques, proper steam-wand technique, and so on. But that becomes nearly impossible when we have to translate basic words into Starbuck’s language. Especially when Starbuck’s should be adapting to us, not vice-versa.
Starbuck’s now dominates the conversation. Even this article is about them. Even when explaining why they are wrong, we show what they did right, for their business. Every coffee discussion revolves around them and is in reference to them.
If they had followed the proper lingo, they would be a coffee shop among equals. But by stealing words and re-branding them as their own, they created a franchise.
We now live in a situation that creates coffee snobs. Those who know the correct terminology are an elite club of their own. They sip their espresso with the delight of a wine enthusiast. I just wish everybody knew what the differences really are.
I guess now you’re in that little club, too.
Spread the love! Because coffee makes you live shorter, and coffee makes you live longer. Because science.