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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Starbucks Promise: Un-Messed-Up Coffee

posted by on March 10 at 15:52 PM

Following the recent three-hour nationwide closure of all Starbucks stores for employee—pardon, associate—”Espresso Excellence Training,” it was speculated that Starbucks might return to hand-pulled espresso (as opposed to automated, push-the-button machines). Nope: It was just a publicity stunt—pardon, remedial education for the baristas—sorry, pardon again, an effort to “elevate the Starbucks Experience…. revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us…. But…equally important…to celebrate who we are” (from the ominously entitled “Howard Schultz Transformation Agenda Communication #8”).

Then, yesterday in the first section of The New York Times, a full-page ad saying that if they mess up your coffee, you are free to let them know and they’ll “make it right.”

We believe that our baristas can hand-make any espresso beverage perfectly.
“We believe”! We’re not totally sure, though. But if YOU clap your hands and shout it, too, Starbucks won’t die! And the espresso beverages are kinda hand-made. It takes a hand to push a button!
This is why we promise that if your drink isn’t perfect, every time, let us know and we’ll make it right. This isn’t a promotion, this isn’t “for a limited time only,” this isn’t “while supplies last.” This is every coffee, every day, forever.

Welcome back to basics—pardon, excellence—where it is believed that you can expect un-messed-up coffee but, should your coffee prove to be messed up, you may ask to have it re-made, which will be really fun for everyone involved. Excellent!

RSS icon Comments


The worst part about Starbucks coffee is their over-roasted beans. I think their baristas/button-pushers would die of old age before they could make that taste right.

Posted by Mahtli69 | March 10, 2008 3:54 PM

@1: So that's why it usually tastes burned. Not that it matters, but they took away my last reason to go there except in an emergency- Almond Syrup.

Posted by Dave Coffman | March 10, 2008 4:02 PM

so, they what? push the button better the next time?

Posted by infrequent | March 10, 2008 4:07 PM

I have it on good authority that there will NEVER be a shift back to having the baristas hand pull their espresso shots. The machines are here to stay. The primary reason: concern for the health of the employees who are much more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries if they are hand pulling shots their whole shift. (Ask any barista if that's been an issue for them over time.)

I think when the newspaper advertisements say they will hand-make your drink, it's more about the barista hand pouring the espresso from a shot glass (or glasses) into your cup and hand steaming the milk. They did get retraining on making sure that there's consistency to what they do in that regard.

You might also see Starbucks repositioning the automated espresso machines (turning them 90 degrees) so that the baristas are better able to see and "chat" with the customers.

Consider yourself schooled...

Posted by HL | March 10, 2008 4:08 PM

So what did they do for three hours, sit around singing Kumbaya? And I'm with @1 and 2, call ht over-roasted, call it burnt, but it ain't my cup of tea - ahem.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | March 10, 2008 4:15 PM

If I recall, someone told me there are still two starbucks that still hand-pull their shots, both in Seattle. Anyone know where they are?

And also: we take good coffee for granted here in Seattle. Ever been to Memphis? Or Atlanta? Or Houston? That starbucks becomes something of an oasis, and you get very happy to see it.

Posted by Matt Fuckin' Hickey | March 10, 2008 4:16 PM

Why does this remind me of the Spoiled Brat section in the Times today ...

"My coffee tastes yucky! Make it again! Again! Again!"

(you can get tea at Peet's)

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 10, 2008 4:17 PM

@6's and also: funny and true.

Posted by infrequent | March 10, 2008 4:19 PM

Yep, crappy, crappily roasted beans = crappy coffee. So if I ask for my drink to be re-made because it tastes crappy, they'll re-make it and it will STILL BE CRAPPY. Sigh.

I understand that Starbucks is now testing the Clover machine, which is used to amazing effect at Trabant. The predicted result? Crap.

Posted by Will in 98103 | March 10, 2008 4:20 PM

the last time i went into a starbucks, it was at their world headquarters in sodo, i ordered a double tall ristretto mocha with extra chocolate.

normally, i tell the barista that "ristretto means a 10-second shot", but i figured i'd let the barista at the world headquarters show off what he knew.

the first two tries were raspberry. the third one was bitter enough that there was no way it was a ristretto...

it took the barista four tries to get my order right, and this was at their world headquarters!!

never going back to starbucks... never

Posted by przxqgl | March 10, 2008 4:20 PM

True, Matt.

You almost have to use Starbucks when you travel. It's actually safer than risking your delicate tastebuds to some STRANGE BREW in a STRANGE PLACE that doesn't get how coddled lucky we are when it comes to world class coffee here.

I mean, if you have special coffee needs.

Which I do.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | March 10, 2008 4:24 PM

I meant to say coddled/lucky...


Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | March 10, 2008 4:25 PM

The only difference I noticed post-shutdown at my Starbucks was that after two years, they finally started asking us what our names were to write on our cups. We've gotten the same damn drinks for two years 2-3x a week, and they just now asked our names.

Posted by Jessica | March 10, 2008 4:25 PM

If there's a problem with your coffee, they'll make it right?

What was their policy before? "Don't like your latte, too bad"?

Posted by Bont | March 10, 2008 4:50 PM

@10, @13 - boo fucking hoo - make it yourself or go somewhere else if you're that fucking high maintenance. Christ.

Posted by kill yourself | March 10, 2008 4:50 PM

good point @13!

Posted by infrequent | March 10, 2008 4:53 PM

As a business, I actually empathize with Starbuck's - well, at least on some level. They INVENTED the idea the the average person would spend 3 dollars on a caffeinated milk and sugar drink, and they've created a monster.

Can you imagine hearing "I'd like a half Whopper, half garden burger, warm the pickles face down, 3 dots of mustard, 6 dots of ketchup, cut into triangles" at Burger King? They'd be sunk.

I really do love a good cup of coffee. Trieste, Stumptown, Vivace, Blue Bottle, Ritual - great beans done by people who know how to pull a shot. But I'll go to Starbuck's in a pinch no problem, I don't know what people are expecting. It kinda sucks, but it gets the job done... enough. How in the hell is a global chain going to make money without water cooling the burnt-assed beans and serving'em 8 months passed their prime?

Then again, I'll drink instant.

Posted by Dougsf | March 10, 2008 4:54 PM

i mean, good point jessica!

Posted by infrequent | March 10, 2008 4:54 PM

"Um... I asked for a 160.8 degree latte. This is 170. I just about burned my mouth off. MAKE IT AGAIN!!!"

Posted by Jerod | March 10, 2008 4:56 PM

"double tall ristretto mocha with extra chocolate."

Prissy whiner.

Posted by duh | March 10, 2008 4:58 PM

Oh my god. You twits. Shut the hell up. It's fucking coffee. All of you.

Except @15.

ESPECIALLY @10. Fucking "ristretto". What the hell? You made me fucking puke on my own cock. You're a fop. And a twot. "He had to try four times before blah blah blah". OH DEAR GOD YOU'RE A HATEFUL HUMAN BEING. You made him do it FOUR FUCKING TIMES?!?! Oh you're a horrible, horrible bag of crap.


Posted by Mother | March 10, 2008 5:03 PM

I'm trying really, really hard to care this much about what is basically burned coffee.

Posted by Greg | March 10, 2008 5:10 PM

@14, this has actually always been their policy. I think that the problem is that most people didn't know about it. So they ran this ad in the NYT (actually, the first one was two Sundays ago) to let people know that they don't have to suffer in silence if their milk is scorched or whatever.

Posted by Sarah | March 10, 2008 5:12 PM

So does this mean I'm not supposed to throw it in the Barista's face when they mess up my order?

Posted by Mr Poe's right hand | March 10, 2008 5:25 PM

@6: One of them is in the Barnes & Noble in the U-Village.

Posted by Dr. Savage Mudede | March 10, 2008 5:30 PM

It's just 'Joe: Unplugged'.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | March 10, 2008 5:33 PM

Beans spiked with caffeine is perfect with cigarette spiked with nicotine.

Posted by Pooch Bolton | March 10, 2008 5:35 PM

So does this mean I'm not supposed to throw it in the Barista's face when they mess up my order?

Take a sip and spit it on their shoes if you don't like it. Shows that you're a real connoisseur.

Posted by Mr. Poe's lonely and unloved left hand | March 10, 2008 5:59 PM

DougSF wrote:

Can you imagine hearing "I'd like a half Whopper, half garden burger, warm the pickles face down, 3 dots of mustard, 6 dots of ketchup, cut into triangles" at Burger King?

No. But if a competitor opened up and started selling custom-made burgers at about six times the price Burger King was charging for theirs, then yes -- definitely.

$3 for milk with some coffee in it or $15 for a burger should buy you a little extra attention to detail.

Posted by Phil M | March 10, 2008 6:08 PM

live the stereotypes, people...

Posted by kinkos | March 10, 2008 6:30 PM

Ever since Starbuck's started up, their beans have been over-roasted. There are plenty of options besides going to their joints,like Zoka's,which has very good roasts, but if you're somewhere like, oh, say, the Detroit airport, you can get a decent coffee drink at Starbuck's. Or even in some bum fuck place like Pawley's Island, SC.
Get a little espresso machine for your own living space, a grinder, and you'll amortize the cost in no time, as compared to going out all the time for coffee.

Posted by isabelita | March 10, 2008 6:35 PM


Trieste? Talk about burnt coffee.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 10, 2008 6:43 PM

@6, One of them is Madison Park, Howard Schultz goes to that store and they were not pulling that machine.

Posted by Starbucks Fan | March 10, 2008 6:47 PM

So I'm in a meeting the other day with my 24 oz cup of 7-11 French Roast or Turbo Comcast Installer Blend or whatever the fuck and all these assholes are actually chuckling at me from behind their fucking Starbucks cups and I'm thinking you know when the ALIENS LAND I want some wired out angry truckers drinking this shit at my back and not some fucking priss ass Seattle-lites holding quivering cups of lattes squirming in their stupid ass Volvos and wetting their polypropylene REI hiking pants. I'm from Spokane and forced to live over here and you people really make me sick sometimes. The whole of eastern Washington and, in fact, the entire nation just laughs at this shit. THEY LAUGH AT YOU.

That being said, I just love the blueberry scones they've been serving lately. MMMMM. So sugary!

Posted by Bob | March 10, 2008 7:08 PM

i gotta say though, they are really nice about giving you a free drink coupon if they get your drink wrong--or even if you have to wait too long! i've found employees to be really friendly about this and they do it automatically--you don't have to bring it up yourself.

Posted by sara | March 10, 2008 7:17 PM


no sane person follows the saga of the coffee company

dull lives void of substance, over invested in a brown liquid that tastes like shit and costs a lot


I brew mine in a can on the hot plate

middle class muddle - in the coming depression you will not spend 14.00 a day on coffee and snacks

Schultz is the epitome of marketing genius, all flaws to the contrary, a billion dollar international empire on bad tasting over priced coffee. WOW.

Posted by earl lee | March 10, 2008 7:27 PM

There is no way you can taste the coffee in a "double tall ristretto mocha with extra chocolate."

Ordering one of those things shows you know/care nothing about coffee. It's like ordering name rum for a rum and coke.

Posted by gnossos | March 10, 2008 7:55 PM

i've never been to a starbucks.

Posted by adrian! | March 10, 2008 8:04 PM

I love you, Adrian!

Posted by Soupytwist | March 10, 2008 8:18 PM

Moving to manual espresso machines would be a fucking disaster. Their coffee is already bad enough with quality machines sporting proper pumps. Only a complete coffee know-nothing would think that has any chance of producing an improvement in quality in a high-volume commercial environment like Starbucks.

Posted by Bison | March 10, 2008 9:22 PM

Haha, primary concern is the health of the baristas? Nothing to do with the fact that baristas can turn out a lot more shots with an automatic machine than hand-pulled shots? Uh huh.

Posted by skeptical | March 10, 2008 10:13 PM

When did people start jumping on this bandwagon that Starbucks have "over-roasted" coffee?

I've been going to Starbucks (and other coffee shops in Seattle) for well over a decade and have almost never had a problem. Every once in a while, sure, but...not to the degree that some of these people seem to be having problems.

I've had coffee at these supposed "better" coffee shops too, but honestly -- it wasn't THAT great. What't the deal?

I think all of you complainers are just band-wagon jumpers.

Posted by Mike in Pioneer Square | March 10, 2008 10:14 PM

1. it's funny that a discussion about coffee generates more comments than any other post i've seen in weeks.

2. @37 -> totally right. A. milk affects espresso shots and dear god chocolate just messes everything up. if you really wanted to taste the ristretto shots, just get a dopio.

3. starbucks coffee isn't really over-roasted... it's roasted a several minutes shorter but at a higher temperture (faster you can do it, the more you can make!). still, gross.

4. i think it's a nice gesture that starbucks is starting to remake drinks for people, as that's a pretty civil things to do (god knows i do it if someone really wants me to). but what's horrible is that starbucks has set standards for everything else causing confusion like caramel machiattos and frappucinos (who gets frozen drinks in winter?!? do they NEED to be blended?!)

Posted by PK | March 10, 2008 10:19 PM

"Chocolate"? They use Hersey's syrup (or something similar), there's no actual chocolate (chocolate-flavored syrup) in there and it's pretty obvious from the taste, yuck.

Posted by thefacts | March 10, 2008 10:19 PM

Starbucks is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, and they will switch their espresso machines to Nutrimatic dispensers, which produce a liquid that is almost, but not entirely unlike coffee. Share and enjoy!

Or go stick your head in a pig.

Posted by montex | March 10, 2008 10:21 PM

Eh, I have no problems with starbucks coffee. But then, I've worked there and so have extra sympathy for the overworked, underpaid baristas who have to put up with shit like the "ristretto" guy pulled.

You're not proving a point by being an asshole in a starbucks, you're being a shitty human being. Stick it to the man all you want, but don't fuck over some minimum-wage worker just because they can't remember how to make your extra-special drinky-po.

And baristas have ALWAYS been told to put up with any shit the customer dishes out, this isn't a new policy.

By the way? If you don't want to pay 3.50 for a drink, order an americano or regular drip coffee. Those are pretty much the price of any coffee shop. It's only the super fancy calorie-rich monstrosities that'll put you out of house and home.

Posted by Cinders | March 10, 2008 11:04 PM

Reading through the idiotic comments above I have to ask something: Does Starbucks make you buy there coffee? Is there a Starbucks Mafia that kidnaps unsuspecting people and holds a gun to their head say "You are going to buy the Verona Blend or I am going to fuck you off!"

Here is a thought: If you don't like it don't go there. I happen to like the coffee but do not go to the stores since they got rid of the old machines a few years ago. Now I buy the espresso pods and make it at home.

Me thinks many of you are bitching just for the sake of bitching.

Posted by Andrew | March 11, 2008 4:33 AM

Yeah, I heard the actual Starbucks policy is to say yes to whatEVER the customer asks for, no matter what. They are authorized to say yes to anything, so if you make them re-do your drink four times, they have to just swallow their bile and do it. And if you say you only want to pay $1 for your Americano... my understanding is that you just have to be insistent, and they'll take your $1 and give you your coffee.

This intel is yet to be tested, but I heard it from a Starbucks barista.

If any of you decide to test this, tell me how it goes. I'd rather make my own coffee at home for a quarter of the price.

Posted by Katelyn | March 11, 2008 8:22 AM

so... nobody's gonna make the Idiocracy pun about "hand-pulled" shots? come on, get your minds back in the gutter or we'll never get gentlemen's lattes!

Posted by bill ferny | March 11, 2008 9:32 AM

oh yes! free coffee for life!!!!

WRONG! do it again. again!

Posted by Emily | March 11, 2008 10:13 AM

get the Dunkin Donuts coffee at Target - best stuff around.

Posted by bobcat | March 11, 2008 10:42 AM

@32 - It's good at the cafe in North Beach where they roast it. There's another by my house on Market that's only so-so in my experience. Is Bauhaus still using their beans?

@48 - they've adopted Metro's fare policy?

Posted by Dougsf | March 11, 2008 2:25 PM

I love, too, how they ask you to remove your own lid when you bring in your cup for a refill, but they have no problem putting their paws all over your lid when they provide you with a new one...

Posted by Ish the Dish | March 12, 2008 1:19 PM

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