When I got off the road, I happened to live about 400 m from a starbucks. At the time, they did really good coffee, really bad pastries and treats, and perhaps it was the neighborhood I lived in with Secret Service, DEA, Patent Lawyers and probably Government Intelligence types. – There was always something interesting with the intelligent group that mainly kept to themselves, reading their newspapers and basically almost acting in a way you see people staring at their mobiles today.
It was a great brainstorm space. I would go up to the neighborhood Starbucks about 6 am when my wife went to work at the office and she lamented my office a messy space full of all types of audio, visual, olfactory and toy prototypes. I still giggle about the time she was in japan and my engineers and I took over the entire house and had power cables running up three stories.
I digress, each day started with brainstorm at the local starbucks, usually by 9 am I was fried - but had a book full of scribbles and ideas.
Over time, I watched Starbucks grow from a tiny company into the global jugernaut of coffee it is today. I think the quality of Starbucks employee and services had improved, the coffee has gotten worse, and the pastries much better – but I find actually going to starbucks a bittersweet thing anymore. It isn’t that my gold card is worthless in Switzerland, it doesn’t matter that I ate so many coupons for free drinks they mailed when I was out of the country, or that now, if you get your free drink it vanishes like many credits for Christmas gift cards. The latest estimate I saw was that 750 million dollars of card would go unused. That is almost as good a profit margin as airlines charging you for bag fees.
What does this have to do with starbucks? I guess it all boils down to an incident with overpriced Kona coffee they were selling. My mom loves it, as I brought here some actual Kona a few times and she got to taste what Kona really is. One of the better beans on the planet.
It was an Easter holiday, and I happened to be in NYC walking through times square and saw starbucks trying to bring the way of stump town, kiladi and other high end single source roasters into their marketing mix. I saw the Kona, was soon to be on a bus to Binghamton, NY to visit my folks and got all excited, “wow, when did you all start selling this.
When I gave the bag of Kona to my mom, she was so happy. “Wow, where did you find this, I couldn’t find it in the store here!” We made plans to have it for post Easter feast meal. I think that was the time I was still eating no meat, fish, dairy, or coffee for lent –so I was really thinking how well my sense of taste would be with the Kona. Also, Easter meal was a big feast in my family. It was like “ok, what does everyone want to eat? “
Usually a nice cut of meat and a myriad of sauces and delicious things were the choices. I learned you don’t have to break a fast slowly. The body will do just fine ingesting anything.
After the meal, we got to dessert and I opened the bag, and went to smell the beans. I expected the “ahh.. This is going to be good!” Instead, I got, “what is this crap?” resonating in my nose. I figured it was my lack of coffee for 40 days, so I hand ground the beans, made some pourovers and when I went to drink it, I spit it out.
Yes, it was that bad. But the better part of the story is when I went back to NYC to the Times square shop, I looked for the guy that sold me the coffee and without explaining to him what the problem was, I asked, “when you think of Kona, describe what the beans and coffee tastes like.”
His description with the words made a wonderful body copy for an advertisement for Kona as well as Hawaii.
Then I held the bag to his nose and said, “Does this smell like that?”
“Oh my god, no.”
He was just a worker Bee – so he called his manager over, who asked, “Did I have the receipt for the coffee. I said, no, I was jut in town last week, it was a cash purchase, but the guy standing next to me was the one that sold it to me.”
Call it too many rules, or in Times square NYC, god only knows what is real and what is BS. The manager had his rules and there was no bending or accommodating the “premium roast bag of sh*t with the Kona label on it” that I was soaked for.
In a sense, that was the day the search for the Stumptwon, steam, kaladi type roasters really started. Either that, or I officially became a coffee bean coffee snob. I am not sure which.
What i do remember is the moment i deposited the bag of starbucks Kona in the trash can in the middle of times square, thinking, "i will never buy their premium coffees ever again."
Fast forward to a discussion where someone warned of people mislabeling or selling inferior beans under the Jamaican Blue mountain label if you haven’t had this coffee before, it is worth the money.
I asked “how big or what percentage of the market was about some people misgrading or ripping others off?” No one really knew the answer.
What did happen is a guy in Thailand told me about Thai Black Ivory coffee. He seems to have shared my Starbucks Kona experience as well.
Guess I will get some of this odd brew sent to try. Elephant ingested beans that are pooped out.
Hey, I tried the Kopi Luwak (monkey poop) coffee, why not the elephant?
The reality is that usually these are amazing cups of coffee. Even if I had unlimited money, I would not buy this stuff en mass. I will try so many different variations of coffee simply because I am interested in the different flavors. Sure I have areas of the world I like better, but the coffee is not like tea to me. I am stuck on Japanese greens and few of the Chinese. That’s about all I really like to drink. Speaking of which, even though I can’t get the beans here, stumptown just sent out another holiday mailer
You don’t have to spend top dollar to have great coffee, but usually it will cost a bit more for the beans now that the US market has gone to people wanting better quality coffee (do they really understand why it is better? or is it just to hang out at cool spaces? I don’t know)
But order up some. I have some friends that got married that just moved to Thailand. I will put them in touch with the Black Ivory coffee folks to see if it really that good? Or just more Kopi Luwak style hype?
Who knew bad Kona at starbucks would lead on such an interesting path. Someone asked me if I wanted a netspresso machine. I said, “no, just get me some Hario V60 02 pour over filters…I simply like brewing my coffee that way.”
Guess I am still quite simple deep down.
I still go to starbucks in the states. They are convenient, but I no longer brainstorm or expect great coffee in them. They give really good service.
In Colorado, I will order in Stumptown and when I go to Denver, I will stop by Kaladi Brothers and they were so cool when I was clearing the land a few years ago on the mountain, they would sell me ¼ lb packs of various coffees to try during the months. It was my big treat for the back breaking drudgery of trying not to cut my legs off with the chainsaws. The small bags were just enough for a few days of super fresh beans that I would hand grind and use my jet boil to make probably my favorite cups of coffee in the world – all while looking over the valley and mountains.
Now I will try a cup of elephant sh*t coffee and see if it really is as good as they say.
Life is never dull or boring. I think boredom is a state of mind - a state i never did nor do undestand. Have a great day and cup of coffee or tea! here is to one day you all stopping by and having a cup of great coffee with the great view the new lab will afford.
I guess i am giggling as when i got off the road, i worked for a family owned live entertainment company that happened to own a big circus. I wonder if they ever fed the elephants green coffee beans to create another profitable line extension? Ringling Brothers Circus Coffee? I mean they used to sell the actual elephant dung for fertilizer. i never knew them to overlook any way to extend a way to make a profit.