Ever be chatting away and someone says…
Yea but Starbucks sucks, anyway.
And everyone’s like “yea” and agrees. Like it’s normal that a coffee chain with ten thousand locations and a bazillion customers a day was kinda crappy. Maybe you’ve wondered… what’s the deal with that?
Well, the taste is one thing. And if you read on a little, I’ll tell you the 3 reasons why Starbucks coffee, to be frank, sucks. Number 1 is a biggie and ruins their coffee, but it saves them loadsa money so they do it anyway. And it doesn’t just stop at the coffee they make, either. Let’s dive in…
Why Starbucks is bad (3 reasons why)
Reason #1: taste
Starbucks coffee tastes bad, any longtime barista or coffee enthusiast will tell you. Or, in fact, anyone who’s tried a straight espresso from one of their stores.
At the same time, it is an incredibly successful franchise. So, what’s the deal with that?
The coffee beans they use are stale
Starbucks brews their coffee with coffee beans that are stale. That means coffee beans that have lost their peak freshness and flavor.
For reference, coffee goes stale pretty fast. After the roast, you want to be drinking your coffee beans within 30 days and ideally less than 15 or you will notice a serious drop in quality.
A high quality coffee shop or roaster will use fresh coffee. On top of that, they’ll usually tell you the roast date. Seriously, check on the packaging of a bag of coffee beans next time you visit a nice coffee place. Or ask the barista. Telling you when coffee beans were roasted is a great sign of great coffee.
But at Starbucks? There’s never a roast date, because the coffee isn’t fresh.
Want more proof that Starbucks sell stale coffee? Well, this Home Barista thread provides some insight from a couple of folks.
To save you a click, one guy was looking for fresh beans and had no other option so gave his local SB’s a call. They told him:
“the freshest beans they have are just over a month old”
“She said they get their deliveries but nothing is ever that fresh”
And from someone else:
“I used to work there and never saw anything come in fresher than 2 months.”
And the biggest piece of evidence is the taste of Starbucks coffee. It’s just stale. Obviously. Try an espresso by itself. It won’t taste fresh with flavor.
You might wonder why Starbucks chooses to use stale coffee beans? Well, predictably, it’s all about the bottom line. Stale coffee is cheaper because you aren’t brewing all your coffee in a narrow window when the coffee is at its freshest.
The worst thing is, though, we’ve only just got started. Here’s the second thing Starbucks gets wrong with their coffee…
They over-roast their coffee beans
Starbucks tends to use a dark roast with their coffee beans, which produces a taste that in some ways is appealing. It’s burnt, charred, smoky. A taste many have come to associate with coffee.
The problem is that roasting too much is like cooking the beans to within an inch of their life. The inherent floral, fruity and earthy flavors in coffee are destroyed. It’s like a well-done steak, you’ve lost all the flavor.
Have you ever heard the term “Charbucks”? Well, it comes from Starbucks roasting their coffee beans until they tasted charred like ashes.
Why do they do this? Well, it’s easier to create a uniform taste when you roast the heck out of your coffee, which is actually an advantage when you serve a million coffees a day.
And the reason they can get away with it is because of the next point…
The reliance on sugar, milk and cream
Starbucks can sell stale, burnt coffee because the drinks they serve are not about the coffee, they are about the sugary, creamy toppings they serve them with.
Who goes to Starbucks for a Ristretto? No-one, I’d guess. Your average Starbucks consumer is more interested in the latest 488-calorie Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino. Who needs nice coffee when you’ve got 80g of sugar to enjoy?
The company is successful because it’s found a way to not need need great-tasting coffee. But it doesn’t even stop at the coffee, as you’re about to find out.
First though, while we’re still on the taste of Starbucks… Here’s a professional coffee taster’s opinion of Starbucks. It’s like 20 seconds long, and the video should start at the Starbucks part. Let’s just say that the phrase “wet cardboard” comes into play.
Reason #2: Smaller coffee shops suffer
Starbucks has over 11,000 stores in the US, which means there’s 11,000 areas which could have an authentic, independent coffee shop in its place.
It’s the same story with Walmart or any other major corporation. Their success impacts smaller businesses. And makes every high street up and down the country feel like Groundhog Day with the same 5-10 mega-coroporations filling up the shopfronts.
Can you blame Starbucks for this? Probably not. It’s just a natural product of a company having an outsized amount of success.
And, in fact, one of the best counterarguments is that smaller independents have had to up their game in response. Would we have seen the move to artisanal Third Wave coffee if it were not for mega-corps like Starbucks taking up the generic coffee niche?
It’s a great time for coffee right now. And part of that, I think is because independents have had to stand out and create a new coffee culture. A culture that has sadly, as you’re about to discover, has changed for the worse.
Reason #3: Starbucks has changed coffee culture (for the worse)
Starbucks’s size and success has meant it has played a huge role in coffee culture. Here are a couple of examples of the company’s negative impact.
Downplaying the skill of the barista
Brewing high-quality espresso is a difficult skill to learn. The barista’s role involves tamping, adjusting, tasting, checking, dialling the espresso in. And the short brew time paired with high-heat and high-pressure conditions means there’s little room for error.
Starbucks simplified this process as much as possible with their superautomatic espresso machines, huge metallic beast with six group heads that can effortlessly serve up hundreds of shots every hour.
And if the Espresso isn’t quite up to scratch? Well, the mountains of cream, milk and sugar will make up for that. The barista is, quite simply, not as important.
Prioritizing caffeine over taste
If you order an Americano with the largest size (Starbucks call it a Venti), you’ll get a drink that has four shots of espresso. This is a piece of evidence for another of the problems with Starbucks. It’s all about the caffeine.
Go to Italy and check out the drinks there. A Cappuccino is a Cappuccino. No sizes, no extra shots. The caffeine is an afterthought to the taste of the drink, not front and center.
It feels like Starbucks creates drinks that are sugary vehicles for a large hit of caffeine. Which maybe is what it is, and maybe is what people want. But for those of us who care about great coffee, it’s kind of a shame.
Wrecking the image of Italian coffee
Starbucks became popular during the Second Wave of coffee, when Italian-style espresso was introduced to the US. But along the way, it misrepresented a couple of things for the worse.
Firstly, espresso is supposed to be a great tasting drink all on its own. Do you know anyone who orders straight espresso at Starbucks? I certainly don’t.
Also, Starbucks decided to take the name Macchiato and turn it into a caramel milkshake. The original Macchiato, which is still served in Italy of course, is an espresso shot with a tiny drop of milk to soften the taste. You can see a picture of what it should be below.
Why is Starbucks so popular?
Starbucks became popular in the 1970s as one of the first chains to offer exotic (at the time) Italian-style coffee. The economy was booming, and folks loved getting custom-made coffee with fancy-sounding names.
(Rather than brown sludge from an uncleaned vat.)
In modern times, the company has settled into its status as a ubiquitous fixture across the country. Need a coffee? There’s usually a Starbucks not too far away. And you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get, whether you’re in Omaha or Venice Beach.
And to be fair, Starbucks does a couple of things right. So in the interests of balance, let’s dive in to what they are.
Why Starbucks is good
A lot of people like it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Starbucks is the most popular coffee chain in the world. Obviously people like it. If folks are happy ordering their sugary, creamy, highly-caffeinated morning treat then who am I to judge?
You know what you’re getting
Starbucks offers the same coffee at thousands of easy-to-find places across the globe. It’s super convenient and is an easy place to go and know what you’re getting. This is one of its greatest strengths.
It’s like a lot of these large corporations. McDonald’s is criticized for its unappetizing, unhealthy food, but millions still eat there every day. It fills a niche of cheap burgers and fries. SB’s fills the same niche in the coffee world.
They have made great strides in ethical sourcing
As far as corporations of its size go, Starbucks is pretty ethical. It’s done a lot of work in the ethical sourcing of coffee beans and when you consider the impact a company of its size will have, that’s commendable. The truth is, a lot of farmers are getting a lot more money for their produce because of them.
It’s better than instant
I’m judging Starbucks from the point of view of someone who’s, in all honesty, a bit of a coffee snob. For your average mum who is used to drinking Folger’s, Starbucks ain’t so bad. It’s freshly brewed, and tastes better than throwing some instant into a cup.
The Nitro Cold Brew ain’t bad
I must say I’m a sucker for Nitro coffee. Something about the nitrogen-infused coffee just does it for me. And best of all? No need for cream or sugar. Check out my article on Starbucks Nitro here.
If there’s no other reason to hate it, then the use of tall, grande and venti. Like come on. How could you work out whether a “tall” or a “grande” was a larger size?
Also… apparently Starbucks had a much better reputation back in the day. Back when they trained their baristas and used manual espresso machines. A bit before my time, I must admit.
And if you’re looking to upgrade your own coffee making? Get started with my guide on how to make black coffee taste good. The tips in there will have you making better coffee than Starbucks. Inside a day or two, probably.