By Ian Graham
The Precedent (Gilbert, Arizona)
If asked to metaphorize my freshman self, I would classify him as a singular grain of sand on the expansive Nauset Beach. He was the blue jellybean in that glass jar on the reception desk, sometimes overlooked by the children that gathered to estimate how many candies were held within. He laid low, going to football games, listening to music between classes, joining a rap band. Your average first-year student. However, one trait forced him deeper into the crowds of anonymity: he drank Starbucks.
It’s impossible to criticize little Ian Graham, just as it would be unfair to blister any other Starbucks fan. I didn’t know any better. I had been raised on frappuccinos (oh, what a wicked portmanteau) and grew accustomed to that unique Starbucks coffee flavor.
At 15, a coffee shop I could reach with a 10-minute walk was undisputed bliss. I strolled along Chandler Heights twice a week just to spend hours reading some Dickens novel, all the while “enjoying” a caramel macchiato and an accompanying blueberry muffin. Yet with my 16th birthday came a license, a key to a Mini Cooper, and a youthful burn for that intangible dream of discovery. And what I discovered was actually good coffee.
The reason there are so many Starbucks heads is that their popular drinks don’t taste like coffee. Even the frappuccino, accounting for 20% of the corporation’s overall sales, contains very little “real” coffee. These drinks are instead flooded with flavors that act as sweet masks, disguising the bitterness that is Starbucks espresso. For a corporation whose coffee tastes like burnt soil, this approach is diabolically genius.
So why does their coffee lack the quality flavor that can be found at Peixoto, Press, or Lux Central? The biggest issue is not their mediocre beans or their young staff, but their distasteful machinery.
When making a shot of espresso, a barista must grind beans into a portafilter, then pack the shot using a tamper, next fitting the portafilter into the espresso machine and building up pressure, all to produce a shot of espresso within the next 15 seconds. Meanwhile, all a Starbucks barista has to do is press a button on a machine to make the shot, which explains why a plain Starbucks latte will taste burnt.
The solution? Add sugar, pumpkin spice, or any other natural and artificial flavors — at an upcharge.
Photo Credit: Mike Mozart