So yesterday the New York Times runs a story on a $20,000 cup of coffee (see post below) while today the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a story about Starbucks implementing a “trial” of $1 8-ounce drip coffees with free refills at certain stores in Seattle. Why? It’s a response the story says of recent efforts by McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts to capture some of the café (well, Starbucks café) market.
To me the two stories taken in conjunction give a sense of what’s really going on in specialty coffee. Independent cafés and micro roasters seem to pushing for higher and higher quality, and then with the proof in the cup, charging higher prices for exceptional coffees. Meanwhile, the mammoth Big Green which used to see independent cafés and other coffee chains as its chief competitors has now found itself instead in a pitched battle with companies that make it look small (well, not too small…) by comparison.
This is my favorite quote from the article, it’s said by a Starbucks customer: “Their coffee isn’t what it used to be.” Of course, at Barista Magazine, we might say there’s a very good reason for that as the Starbucks barista is no longer someone who really is, you know, a barista. But I think there may be something else afoot. Maybe Starbucks coffee is exactly what it has always been, only now, after experiencing the truly exceptional coffees offered at independent cafés around the world, the same old Starbucks brew tastes well like something you might buy for a buck.
Oh, and in related news with the company’s setbacks last year, Howard Schultz didn’t receive his usual bonus, and so he only collected his regular salary and benefits for the year. That comes to $10.6 million. Poor guy.