Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Because it's about time we had another coffee post

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  • Shaun Lott,

    In my experience, Starbucks are even mediocre on their home turf, and there re often better places to go in the US. Hence my personal name for them: 'Starsucks'.

    Waitakere • Since Aug 2009 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Patrick,

    Not really surprising they never took off here - they make pretty awful coffee.

    Rangiora, Te Wai Pounamu • Since Nov 2006 • 231 posts Report Reply

  • Kebabette,

    Proving your point, here's a photo of a rather fine looking Gaggia coffee machine at work - Fail's Cafe, Christchurch ca. 1955

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 180 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Crikey, the urge to suck up to the man is strong in that Nathan Field. He’ll fit right into NZ’s lax corporate scene. Must be a surprise to Restaurant Brands and Starbucks head office that the coffee-drinking public are on average smarter than our champions of enterprise. And that Russell’s analysis here is way more on the mark than Gareth Morgan’s lackey can muster.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Kebabette,

    Proving your point, here's a photo of a rather fine looking Gaggia coffee machine at work - Fail's Cafe, Christchurch ca. 1955

    Wow! And check out that counter!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17939 posts Report Reply

  • Julian Melville,

    Wow, you can rustle up a whole post before I could even manage a suitably snarky tweet. Even Hamilton had a good late night cafe culture 15 years ago, long before Starbucks showed up here.

    And a big yes to installing small commercial machines at home, they're wonderful. We've got a refurbed Carimali Uno that's paid for itself easily by now.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 180 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Just browsed over to the Espresso Engineers' site, which doesn't seem to have been updated since 2003/4 if this page is any indication.

    Anyway.

    I only started drinking coffee when I started my first PhD, and I was drinking instant for about a year. It was only whilst visiting one of my best friends, who lives down in Wellington, that I got a taste for espresso (although I think my first black coffee was actually a ristretto), and I can blame the fine people at the People's Coffee for that.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 396 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    "Anti-Starbucks sentiment is especially prevalent in New Zealand," declares Field, "where the brand has never really taken off."

    It doesn't help that the coffee tastes like shit.

    Two articles re New Zealand coffee from The Guardian.

    Caffeine hit: Auckland coffee culture.

    Flat white froths up Costa Coffee's fortunes.

    (Declaration: we built a plumbed Domobar Super into our renovation budget.) That's how serious we are about this.

    When you start roasting your own beans and have a two group plumbed into your garage, let me know. ;-)

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    They also can't make a decent cup of tea (my tipple of choice). New Zealand had coffee bars way back, long before Herman Melville dreamed them up Starbucks! Even in Hawera, in a time long, long ago, we had the choice of three coffee bars to hang out in after school.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    Some qualification-free armchair marketing: about the only way I can see that Starbucks might actually have done alright in New Zealand would have been if they - deep breath - dropped the pretense of being a cafe and acted as a milkshake/juice bar franchise with a emphasis on coffee-flavoured drinks (and maybe the occasional coffee)...

    You have less drastic real estate costs thanks to smaller premises, and avoid getting into an unwinnable fight with an established cafe culture. I'd wager most of the people who want a caramel frappucino to go would be just as happy to grab it from a milkbar as from a cafe-type setting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1549 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn, in reply to Shaun Lott,

    In my experience, Starbucks are even mediocre on their home turf

    First Starbucks' coffee I ever had - and the last - was in Los Angeles. Ghastly! I'd rather not have coffee than have another one of theirs.

    Its milkshake-style drinks are really coffee for non coffee-drinkers.

    Only marginally better, in my opinion, than instant coffee.

    And honestly, where does this man Field get off? What a load of codswallop!

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    US Starbucks 2007.... NZ Starbucks 2011... Herald article not good enough for chip wrapping

    I'll never understand why people insist on milk

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Jo S,

    The first Starbucks I'd ever been to was some time during my Masters degree (99?) and was notable because it provided me with the first espresso I'd ever thrown out. I don't drink milk in my coffee, but I'll drink most types of coffee (instant, plunger, whatever) when trying to work, so I was kind of horrified to be given a coffee I couldn't drink. Still don't know what they'd managed to do to that machine ...

    is it autumn yet? • Since May 2007 • 80 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    I've never been philosophically opposed to Starbucks-as-a-concept: sure it's not a silky flat white in a cup the size of my palm, but it's an experience in a specific cultural context, with specific expectations. Just because I enjoy Sal's Pizza doesn't mean I'll turn my nose up at Pizza Hut on a quiet day.

    However Russell, you're quite right that a significant problem is that Starbucks has only sometimes delivered on the product it promised. The coffee often does taste weak or overexpressed. More worrying (to me as a former barista anyway) is that the time it takes to get one of these mediocre coffees to the customer is longer than the time it would take to produce a "traditional" espresso or flat white. The production flow behind the counter is horribly designed for what is essentially the coffee equivalent of fast food, and the one-beverage-at-a-time approach to making coffees is absurd with the kinds of capital Starbucks could invest in its equipment and training. Why the hell should I wait longer for a bad coffee than I have to wait for a good one?

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 838 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    In fact, given the popularity of flat whites and lattes in New Zealand, it’s not clear whether we’ve developed a genuine taste for espresso, or we’ve simply found a socially acceptable way to drink lots of warm, frothy milk.

    On the money, I would say. Of course, I drink my coffee black no sugar, so I could be biased...

    My understanding is that Starbucks roast pretty dark because such a roast deteriorates less with time (of course, many would say it wasn't great to start with). This is helpful when you want to service a whole continent with a consistent product from 2 or 3 roasting plants. I don't know whether Starbucks roasts in NZ, but I suspect not.

    I noticed in my last couple of North American trips that all the espresso I drank, Starbucks or not, appeared to be made from rather darker beans than we would use -- supposedly that dark roast is favoured in Southern Italy -- and I wonder if they aren't so much bad as failing to calibrate their product to local tastes. You certainly appreciate them when there's no other options. Not least because in the US, you can use their toilets in cities that don't provide public toilets. ("If we had public toilets, homeless people would live in them" -- horrified New Yorker to me).

    Back to Wailes: are India and China among the world's great coffee cultures? I kind of thought there was some other hot caffeinated beverage that was more traditional there...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2906 posts Report Reply

  • John Morrison, in reply to Kebabette,

    Proving your point, here's a photo of a rather fine looking Gaggia coffee machine at work - Fail's Cafe, Christchurch ca. 1955

    Yeah, my mother operated one of those machines in the 'Little Hut', an infamous little Dunedin coffee shop (not a 'cafe' in those days) back in the early 60's. And you know what, it did a roaring trade!

    Cromwell • Since Nov 2006 • 69 posts Report Reply

  • Whoops,

    uhh, not to be a jerk but in the paragraph outlining the fact-fail of the original you point out ...'the Indian food conglomerate Tata'.

    Assuming you're thinking of the same Tata I am... Tata do a hell of a lot more than food...

    http://www.tata.com/products/index.aspx?sectid=U2YC1EMmQuk=




    Seriously, this man is a blogger?

    :-P

    here • Since Apr 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I remember the Gaggia Espresso machine at Fails. I think it made very satisfying Schschschsch noises and had steam and stuff. They had good fish meals, too. Well, we thought so, in those days!

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 394 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    They also can't make a decent cup of tea (my tipple of choice).

    Live for six months in a country where every other establishment defines tea as "a Lipton teabag on a saucer with a cup of dubiously hot water on the side, and not a drop of milk in sight" and I guarantee you will change that assessment. And while it's possible to get better coffee than Starbucks in America, it is also surpassingly easy to get much worse, at least outside big cities. Starbucks is popular, not because it's really good, but because it's consistently not too bad - at least compared to lots of the other options.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Jamieson,

    Like many others I fondly remember DKD (especially their epic chocolate cake!), but it always seems to me that Millers was first off the block. Both the websites state they started in 1984 (my 1st year at University), but can anyone here shed light on which was first?

    I also remember drinking a lot of late night coffee at 'Just Desserts' in a building accessed off the stairs in Khartoum Place, but they served filter coffee so may not really count for the purposes of this thread...

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F, in reply to Andre Alessi,

    The production flow behind the counter is horribly designed for what is essentially the coffee equivalent of fast food, and the one-beverage-at-a-time approach to making coffees is absurd with the kinds of capital Starbucks could invest in its equipment and training.

    From what little I've heard, McCafe is doing alright for McDonalds; I wonder what they're doing right that Starbucks did wrong?* Might be an exercise for a really good senior analyst...

    *Apart from McCafe being tied to a titanic global brand that's already omnipresent in NZ fast food culture. But maybe there are other differences; I can't comment with much authority on quality of McCafe coffee or service...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1549 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    First Starbucks I ever had was at Vancouver Airport, in 2006. I've done the Starbucks thing a couple of times since, all overseas, all as a last resort. Once, shamefully, in Jakarta, a place that has a ridiculously good indigenous coffee. A friend asked to meet there, across the road from her work.

    But in NZ? Never.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2078 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    But Starbucks is run by white men in nice suits and they have wonderful accountants so the reason they failed in NZ must be our fault not theirs.

    Good grief.

    I do have milk in my coffee which only means that I require two skills from the barista. That said when a caffeine headache (usually accompanied by grumpiness) is impending even starbucks will do the job.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3108 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    Starbucks also failed miserably and memorably in Australia. Australian professor of economics Nick Wailes observed thus at the time

    There's no doubt that Australia has a well developed cafe culture, particularly in Melbourne IMO, but I don't think the coffee here is nearly as consistent as it is in NZ. I speculate, but don't know, that it is because there's fewer roasters who're roasting larger quantities of beans for a larger market. As a matter of personal preference, I buy from cafes in Sydney that serve either Di Stefano or Newtown's Campos.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2185 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Not only are their coffees weak as piss, they're expensive. Even my 4 year old turns his nose up at Starbucks. It only takes one tasteless muffin to lose a lifetime of trade.

    That article is hilarious, it's like NZers will live to rue the day that they didn't suck it up and drink shitty coffee and eat shitty muffins. I don't care if they even start drinking Starbucks by the gallon in France and Italy, it's not crossing my palette again.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8015 posts Report Reply

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