Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

September 6, 2008

Why Starbucks Was Failing–And How it's Getting Worse

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:16 am

I’ve had a long-time love/hate relationship with the place(s). Well it never reallyu got to ‘love”. Though I really like the people at my local place, in fact i’ve always liked the baristas, it was the mega-cup corp. that was a constant source of irritation.

But this post is not about the people or corporate culture; it’s purely about the coffee. At first when they originlaly began to expand in New York City, they were relatively small and the coffee was bracingly fresh. Not the mediocre expresso, the in-store brews. And the beans they ground and sold by the bag were strong and fresh.

But then as the corporation grew, time and again I’d find I’d brought home a bag of stale or less-than fresh beans. Once when I complained to the manager I got into one of those (verbal) fights that got me permanently banned from that store–until I wrote a column about it and got the district manager to “re instate” me. (The fight grew out of my saying the beans I’d bought were stale and the manager responding by saying he’d have to go into the back office and check its freshnes date, and my telling him I didn’t care what he found in the back room, it wouldn’t change the fact that the coffee he’d sold me was stale..

Anyway, not long after that they began putting expiration dates on the bags (I’m claiming credit for my column doing that), but the problem wasn’t solved. They still had too much inventory or poor inventory control to keep maximally fresh beans in stores and I stopped buying it for home although I kept drinking it in-store. The fact that their numbers were tanking had something to do with this failure of their core business, I b elieve.

Then they came up with the wrong solution to their problems. The hideous Pike’s Peak blend. For some reason they listened to the wrong critics of their in-store coffee. All the thin-blooded people who said it was “over roasted”, when, I think, they just can’t handle strong drink.

So what they did is come up with this incredibly medicore weak blend, this “Pike’s Place” brew, thin and under-roasted, with an awful acrid stale-before-it’s-time taste even when it wa fresh, and made it their standard, sometimes the only brew available in-store. (You still can order a “bold” blend, but it’s not always available.

So they’ve trashed the one thing they built their entire brand on for this weak coffee- flavored hot water. It’s a huge gamble. A bet on the bad taste or who-has time-to-care taste of the American public.

I hope they come to their senses before they lose big. Not for their sake but for yours and mine.


  1. Mel Brooks, “Coffee gives me gas” Linus van Pelt,”Is that a brown crayon in that hot water?” I can’t break my java addiction, even though, as a diverticulaitian, it agitates my innards. Regrettably, to avoid the latter, only instant (Medaglia D’Oro Espresso) will do

    Comment by charlie finch — September 6, 2008 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  2. As an unabashed coffee addict, I agree: Pikes Place is pigswill. It is unforunate that Starbucks tries to change attitudes about what is good coffee and what is not.

    Comment by brandon — September 6, 2008 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  3. Have you ever considered retaining a proofreader, if not a copy editor? Or maybe you should “post” later in the day.

    Comment by Slampo — September 7, 2008 @ 7:17 am | Reply

  4. The only thing I ever order from any coffee place is “I want it to taste like a hot, melted candy-bar in a cup. Thank you.”

    Comment by Kasey Rasmussen — September 8, 2008 @ 10:37 am | Reply

  5. My problem with Starbucks is with all the yuppie pretensiousness. Back when I lived in the states, the best coffee, in my opinion was served at Dunkin Donuts.

    There was also something out on the internet a while back that Starbucks had told the US Marines to go screw themselves. I don’t know if that was true but Starbucks should have mounted a major PR campaign to turn that around, rumor or not.

    But then, on the other hand, I doubt a Marine would ever go into a Starbucks. The jar heads wouldn’t drink a mocha if you gave it to them for free.

    It wouldn’t break my heart if Starbucks went under. Hope Ben and Jerrys are next.

    Comment by Pops in Vienna — September 8, 2008 @ 12:30 pm | Reply

  6. You’re so right. You can buy “mild blend” coffee here in Denmark. I always think, if you do not like the taste of coffee, why drink it?
    I’ve stopped bying coffee anywhere – even if it’s real coffee and not some variant of instant, it’s generally awful, and I always live to regret it. And why? It’s not rocket science to make good coffee. Someone whose core business it is should take the trouble to do it right.

    Comment by Ulla Lauridsen — September 11, 2008 @ 3:21 am | Reply

  7. You are spot on about the new blend; it lacks the bold flavor we were used to. The new oatmeal on the other hand is delish.

    Comment by Ace — September 11, 2008 @ 9:59 am | Reply

  8. I didn’t like the old Starbucks brewed coffee (I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts or Chock Full Of Nuts) but the Pike’s Place brew isn’t actually better. It’s just weaker, with the same burnt flavor of the old stuff.

    However, their froofy espresso drinks are great (and massively improve if you halve or quarter the syrup.) I would’ve said the custom fancy drinks are their core business, not the plain coffee. If that’s true, they’ll do okay whether or not their regular coffee is good.

    Comment by Kat — September 12, 2008 @ 9:25 am | Reply

  9. Pike’s Peak is a mountain in Colorado. Pike Place is a public market in Seattle, home to the first Starbucks, and the name of Starbucks’ new blend (which tastes like brown water.)

    Comment by Eric F — September 13, 2008 @ 12:26 am | Reply

  10. Sike, Im a Barista at starbucks and alot of people buy pikes place and love it.Either way your going to have people who either like it or dont like it. The CEO and researchers obivisly felt this would be a better change, Im sure they wouldnt have done it if they knew there bussiness was going to plunge.

    Comment by Tyler! — December 12, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  11. […] crush on Michelle Malkin.

    Pingback by Starbucks: A Defense « Slow Stagger — January 16, 2009 @ 11:11 am | Reply

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