free pastry day at Starbucks
23 march was ‘free pastry’ day at Starbucks. While I’ve never had a truly great cup of coffee at Starbucks, a free pastry was a compelling reason to go back and give them another chance. The experience turned out to be unremarkable- an acceptable cup of coffee but again, not great. I’m not even convinced that the coffee and pastry was worth what I paid for them, a dollar and change. I’ll wait another year to go back. ( ‘free pastry day, 2011″ )
However, I will give Starbucks credit for getting a movement started. We have *amazing* coffee shops in San Francisco and Starbucks played a key role in seeding and growing the market that would (someday) support coffee shops like the ones I actually love. Before Starbucks, the quality expected of a cup of coffee was abysmally low. Little more than blackened water, the classic diner variety seemingly was the only option. The cheap price of a cup of coffee was its chief virtue.
Politics aside, which you can read more about here, Starbucks can take credit for introducing to the American mass-market the robust flavor of Italian coffee and espresso-based drinks (and with it, the now ubiquitous higher price tag.)
Having elevated the quality of a cup of coffee, Starbucks spawned a consumer population that has a greater appreciation, and reverence, for the drink. And, despite their original missteps in procuring their coffee, by simply growing the market for the beverage at least they have created the Consumer that Demands More, one that would demand an organic and fair trade product. To the extent that that demand has led to action, Starbucks has increased it’s percentage of organic and fair trade beans. But, perhaps what is even more significant is that the demand for organic/fair trade has created space in the market for the competition to claim. And competitors have stepped up to support organic and fair trade in a significant way, much to the benefit of many a farmer in the developing world. And, much to the benefit of the coffee lover, we now have more great options for coffee than ever before.
Here in San Francisco, there are amazing coffee houses from which to choose. Coffee houses one can feel GOOD about choosing. My unremarkable experience at Starbucks inspires me to profile the real gems, so watch this space for more reviews of outstanding local coffee houses. I hope you’ll consider them the next time you go out for a cup at Starbucks.
Incidentally, the pastry at Starbucks was as unremarkable as the cup of coffee. The flavor of the coffee cake, pretty enough laced with blueberries and a crumb topping, was indistinguishable from the cake you would unwrap from plastic wrapper anywhere in California, or in Rhode Island, or in Missouri, or in Barcelona for that matter. You ‘ve had it a hundred times before. Whatever processed sugars and flours and other added preservatives support its shelf life on its journey here are the same ingredients that create exactly the same experience everywhere else, the same ones used in every other mass-produced product you’ll ever come across. When I splurge on a dessert, or a cup of coffee, I want something unique! That way the experience isn’t forgotten, and the calories aren’t wasted.
Here’s a link to a great article that delves deep into the differentiation in the coffee industry, and what separates not only the good from the bad, but the good from the great:
Caffeine Culture, From consumption to appreciation, a coffee bean’s journey.
by Jennifer Stover