Friday, June 17, 2005

Coffee outrage

What is it with Starbuck's, anyway? What is it with "venti" and "grande"? We had breakfast at Starbuck's yesterday, and again today -- the first time I've been in a Starbuck's since February, and then we were in Madrid in a suburb where it seemed to be the only cafe. We had breakfast there because it was right across the street from our hotel, the Tremont, and we thought well, why not, who's going to see us.

Both mornings the orders got scrambled. I think it's partly because of those ridiculous names for the sizes -- no grown man wants to order a "venti" or a "grande." I order "medium" or "tall," and of course they hear "tall" as "small," and so it goes.

Giovanna tells us her favorite neighborhood cafe, the formerly excellent Torrefazione, is being closed. Torrefazione started in Seattle, as did Starbuck's for that matter, but distinguised itself on a number of points. The coffee, to begin with: excellent coffee blended and roasted in the Italian style, which seems to my taste not at all to be the case with Starbuck's.

Then too Torrefazione served their coffees in nice faence crockery imported from Deruta, which gave the eye and the touch as much pleasure as the coffee itself offered the nose and the tongue. And Torrefazione seemed to find Italians to work the machines, or, barring that, training American kids to pay attention to what they were doing.

Starbuck's bought Torrefazione, of course, as they have bought Peet's, and (I think) Seattle's Best. They seem to want to own it all. That would be okay with me, I guess, if they'd respect the differences obtaining among all these cafes. In Giovanna's neighborhood there were Peet's, Starbuck's, and Torrefaziones with a block of one another, and each seemed to find its own clientele. Viva pluralism!

But one morning the beautiful heart-shaped design was not traced on the top of Giovanna's cappuccino -- the baristas had been told to stop doing that, because it proved that the milk had not been foamed dry enough. Never mind that every decent cafe in Italy makes its cappuccinos thus.

Torrefazione had already been made to stop using Deruta. Too expensive, no doubt. And now the cafe is being closed altogether.

It's just another demonstration of what's wrong with globalism, with NAFTA, with international cartels. More LCD, and I don't mean liquid-crystal display: Least Common Denominator. I say, to hell with Starbuck's. I'm not going back.


C shmere said...

I couldn't agree with you more on this matter. I've had several experiences at starbucks which have persuaded me to never return unless there is no possible way to avoid it. One of these experiences was ordering a pastry and no drink. I was asked three times by each barista if I was sure that I did not want a drink. I replied to each inquiry that I did indeed (despite their obvious belief that everyone should order a drink)not wish to order a drink. After finally settling the matter they proceeded to glare at me which I felt was rather rude seeing that I was very gracious throughout the whole encounter. I guess it just depends on where you go though...

your niece, Crista

rchrd said...

As we say in Berkeley, "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks". That's why we have Peet's.

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G Zivny said...

I think this is mostly right, but there are a few points that I believe are slightly different. Torrefazione was acquired by Seattle's Best, which was in turn acquired by some conglomerate that also had Popeye's Fried Chicken and Cinnabon. Starbucks then acquired Seattle's Best--I'm sure the name had long rankled them! This happened in 2003.

Starbucks does not own Peet's; My understanding is that Peet's was bought/acquired (I never quite understand how this all works) by an original Starbucks guy who wanted to get back to the original Starbucks vision, which came about thanks to...Peet's. Indeed, when Starbucks first opened, they used Peet's coffee. The circle is complete. Of course now Peet's seems to be spreading all over as well. Anyway. Torrefazione is now closed, at least in Chicago and Portland. The rest of the 17 shops will follow over the next months.

Seattle's Best has been/will become the cafe at Borders Books (Starbucks, I believe, has the Barnes and Noble corner). Torrefazione, I believe, was a sad pawn in the whole thing--Starbucks never quite knew what to do with them. The rumor is that they hoped to turn them into a coffee/wine bar. But I don't believe anything like this was ever actually attempted.