The Corner


The Real Reason to Criticize Starbucks

A Starbucks sign fits on one of the company stores in Los Angeles, Calif., October 19, 2018. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)

My objections above notwithstanding, I should say that Starbucks is certainly worthy of our criticism. Not because its stores offer a “flat white” music playlist and it had a CEO who doesn’t know how much a box of cereal costs, but because it serves an overpriced, scorched-bean brew of sacrilege.

Starbucks is a global empire that has to cut many corners to serve its millions of customers, and most of those customers are not coffee purists. They’re people who want a cup of Joe that will serve as a caffeine vehicle, or they’re people who want a crème brûlée in liquid form with the frou-frou embellishments. The $6 cups of high-fructose corn syrup and all of the other gut-souring chemical concoctions to have come out of big agriculture and that linger in the saccharine syrups deserve our derision, mostly for being so grotesquely overpriced (this is where Starbucks makes its money). But so do the most basic menu items that aren’t worth the damage to the rainforest that they’re causing: Starbucks drip coffee and espresso.

When you drink Starbucks drip coffee, and it has a carbon-y flavor comparable to the taste of a charcoal grill or burnt tire, it’s because the coffee beans are of a poor quality and are so dark roast to mask the flavor. The beans were not toiled over earlier in the roasting (or even growing) process in order to later highlight the tastes and aromas that a good cup of coffee produces. An even more severe affront to God is Starbucks espresso, which is particularly offensive because what is a sacred ritual for Mediterranean cultures has been reduced to a tar-flavored nectar served in a paper cup. A good cup of espresso is an experience. It’s meant to be sipped in a small ceramic or glass cup, accompanied by a small spoon, and should have a layer of crema — a brown froth that floats over a good cup of espresso. Most customers who order espresso at Starbucks don’t even see the espresso itself, let alone a layer of crema, because the espresso is mixed with milk and syrups to hide its impalpable flavor.

It’s understandable that when you want to achieve timely, fast service, on a scale as large as Starbucks’s, you have to sacrifice quality. Just don’t let a few bad beans tarnish your view of coffee, and give a small cafe with a minimalist coffee menu (the most basic elements of coffee are milk and espresso, and most menu items should be a variation of these two things) an opportunity to serve you a redeeming cup.

A box of Cheerios, by the way, probably costs less than a Venti Double Chocolatey Chip Crème Frappuccino.

Marlo Safi is a San Francisco–based policy analyst and a former Collegiate Network fellow with National Review.

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