Monday, February 26, 2007


howard, i hear ya

so making the rounds today is howard (of the mermaid fame) and his memo pleading that starbucks return to being a real coffee house with hand-crafted drinks made on gorgeous la marzoccos. oh howard, i'm with you.

when you dumped those florentine lovelies for the giant superautos, it was a tragedy. a blow against specialty coffee and the art of the barista.

it was also the last time i ever willingly had a cappuccino from you, big guy. the money and time i would have spent with you i instead saved to spend at home.

like many many others i know, i invested in a series of better home brewing equipment, and worked with other coffee lovers and scaa pro members to improve my own coffee skills and knowledge. in short, howard, you set us free to embark on our journey, and to seek out those independent coffeehouses where coffee was still considered an art.

meanwhile, you became a second-rate -- albeit successful -- sitting room, not even as good as mcdonalds. now you're just another fast-food chain that happens to sell milk and music instead of burgers and salads.

almost as interesting as howard's lament has been the idiotic response of business analysts. take time for example.

(btw time, it's espresso, not expresso. but that pretty much sets the tone for the standard of coffee knowledge in that article; meaning, none.)

time mistakenly implies that it's common in france and italy to use superautos -- not so. in italy all the best shops still pride themselves on the handiwork on professional baristi.

it's only the second-tier shops who have suffered from the italian labor shortage where you find chinese immigrants pushing the superauto buttons. . .

that time's saporito can't tell the difference between an indifferent superauto push and a real pro barista pull shows that he shouldn't be writing that article in the first place. that the mermaids are dirty and crowded in nyc is a function of nyc.

i mean, the nyc managers are hiring mere counter-monkeys and allegedly cheated even those on the promised pay and benefits. why on earth would you expect decent service under those conditions?

let's deal with a specific part of howard's cri de coeur:

"at the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the la marzocca[sic] machines. this specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, which are now in thousands of stores, blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista."

right on, howard! couldn't agree more; and i can't even remember the last time we agreed on anything at all, much less whole-heartedly.

but one self-titled coffee pundit, one david sims, snarks:

"taking the customer's response as judgment, the loss of such 'intimate experiences' are, evidently, considered acceptable tradeoffs."

speak for yourself, sims. 'cuz clearly the customer base at the mermaid has changed in an all-bad way -- the place itself has completely entered a different market category, from coffeehouse, to lame sausage-warmer.

i and many others (i can introduce you to all 600 of the coffee meetup, for example) certainly consider the trade-off to be fatal. not to mention the entire universe of coffeegeeks. . .

howard's trying to protect the upscale cachet of his brand; if mercedes benz started making oh, a car like a ford escort, it would soon destroy the meaning of the whole brand value.

altho' it might make a lot of money in the short-term. it's like when the designer halston sold his name to jcpenney, who then splashed it on schlock.

now who thinks of halston at all any more? he was a design genius, perhaps the greatest american designer ever, but (if) the public thinks of him -- well, cheap junk is all that comes to mind.

this is what howard sees happening, but alas it's probably too late to stop the destruction. still, i have some ideas.

howard, call me. you know how if you really want to. . .we have but one degree of separation here. . .we have many mutual friends.

and of course the coffee i drank while reading all this? the last of zoka's marvelous morning blend, the tangletown.

it's sunny and wonderful in an nyc "reg-ya-luh."

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posted by fortune | 7:04 PM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 4 comments

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