Starbucks Controversy :: Are they ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ for the specialty coffee industry?

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Starbucks.  Just saying the word stirs up conversation and controversy in the specialty coffee world.  I asked a simple question on my facebook and twitter pages yesterday morning “Starbucks…thumbs up, or thumbs down?”  The results were

starbucks controversy just as I had suspected, split right down the middle.  Not surprisingly, those inside of the specialty coffee industry were heavily on the negative side, while many consumers were positive.  So, are you a Starbucks lover or hater, and why?  What side is right?  Why so much disdain for the specialty coffee pioneer? To look into this deeper I’ll use my own roller coaster outlook on the coffee giant as an example.  Back in the day I used to drink preground store-brand coffee.  I had no idea that coffee was any different; ground or whole bean, Colombian or Costa Rican, Robusta or Arabica.  I was ignorant to the virtues of specialty coffee.  I had heard of the popular Starbucks brand via (not VIA) television shows, movies,  and the media.  When I was visiting a large urban center and saw the crazy two tailed coffee mermaid I had to give it a try.  I was overwhelmed by the menu…”Espresso”…”Americano”…I thought to myself “Where is the ‘coffee’?  lol   I ordered an Americano, only because I remember a friend of mine saying they are good, and my eyes began to open.  Now, was that the best Americano that I’ve ever had?  The answer is most definitely NO, but on that particular day it was.  From that day forward I thought that Starbucks was the epitome of excellent coffee, and there was no better to be had (a reflection of an effective marketing strategy no less).  A little over a year ago I decided to start this blog and learn more about my favorite beverage.  I began to consume all of the information and fresh

roasted coffee I possibly could…my eyes were opend again!  As I began to explore the coffee world I was surprised by the amount of negative feelings for Starbucks in the specialty coffee world.  It was as if every independent roaster viewed Starbucks as their arch enemy.  This confused me greatly at first, and I was so young (still am) in my coffee journey that I was easily swayed by the ranting.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many things about Starbucks that I loathe, such as; their exceptionally burnt roast profiles, the release of the revolting instant beverage known as VIA,  the rebranding of small / medium / large, and the murder of the Macchiato.

So what’s MY vote?  I give Starbucks a ‘thumbs up’.  I want to say neutral, but that is a wishy-washy way out.  My thumbs up for Starbucks is kinda like how you view a hall of fame sports player that hangs on a little too long.  You still respect them, but they aren’t the same player they used to be.  You can’t expand from 1 store to more than 16700 in 49 countries and retain the quality product and service that you previously had.  Starbucks was not only a pioneer in the coffee experience, but they were also extremely instrumental in raising awareness in the ethical sourcing of coffee.  Before Starbucks, what normal coffee drinker knew what fair trade was or even that there was such a dire need for more ethical trading practices.  Today you would be hard pressed to find a coffee company of any type that doesn’t at least attempt to address consumers about their sourcing programs (not that all of them are ethical!).  I also have great respect for Starbucks for being the bridge between store brand coffee and specialty coffee, allowing coffee drinkers to expand their horizons.  Starbucks is a pioneer of the industry that attracted consumers to the coffee house for the experience, not just the product.   The bottom line is that Starbucks laid the groundwork for the rise of the premium specialty coffee industry, and everyone that enjoys specialty coffee or makes their living from it should remember that.

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