Controversial Coffee

I’m watching this documentary on Netflix right now called “Perfect Cappuccino.” It’s about a woman who’s obsessed with cappuccino in particular, and coffee as an extension. She doesn’t have a great voice for narration, in my opinion, but she seems to be able to tell a story well.

It started out focusing on her experience and logistical stuff about making cappuccino correctly, and how everyone in Italy makes them correctly, and there was a bunch footage of interviews with Italian baristas and other people who know about coffee. Then the whole documentary kind of turned into an analysis of Starbucks, the quality of their products and the nature of their business, and the effect of the enormous coffee corporation in America. I was a little disappointed at that point, because I feel like I spend enough time hearing about Starbucks.

She also said that she thinks most independent coffee shops have terrible coffee, and I strongly disagree with that. She probably meant cappuccino in particular (which she says no one in America can make correctly, including Starbucks).

I talk about coffee a lot, and I do go to Starbucks, and independent coffee shops, and I just thought I’d weigh in on the whole “Starbucks is evil” thing and then move on and not post about it anymore.

I don’t hate Starbucks. I do not think that they’re a totally evil corporation that’s ruining coffee. I have a registered Starbucks card. I love their chai in particular, and some of the special seasonal lattes are quite enjoyable. I love the cinnamon dolce latte, and the eggnog latte once in a while (although it’s a little weird, because eggnog steams differently than milk, because it’s thicker). I also don’t love starbucks. I think their dark roasts are rarely good when I buy them at the stores. I like them fine when I brew them at home. Their lattes are just ok to me. The whole “drink customization” thing seems a bit out of hand to me; one or two extras or whatever is one thing, but coffee should not be that complicated to order. And there’s almost never anywhere to sit because it’s such a popular hangout, people get in there and they sit for hours. I had that problem once when I resorted to Starbucks for an internet connection, years ago; I’d have to stand around sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes before I could sit down. And to me, their pumpkin spice latte is disappointing. It tastes too much like syrup and sugar and not enough like coffee.

I like the independent cafes better. I almost always find their coffee is better than Starbucks, and the lattes are definitely better. I prefer the atmosphere in them too. Not because of the art on the walls, but the space just feels more pleasant to me. The food is almost always better. They are also a little bit pricier–but not usually by much, unless they’re super fancy, in which case it’s just not somewhere I’ll go a lot. So Starbucks is the slightly cheaper option, but I usually feel okay about spending a little more at the independent cafes to get that extra deliciousness. Unfortunately it makes enough difference saving those few cents that I can’t just go to the local shops. In addition, Starbucks shops are everywhere and they are predictable, which is one of the things this documentary mentions.

Sometimes I want the special, new experience, and sometimes I want the quick and predictable. It depends on what else is going on at that moment. I don’t think that Starbucks is driving all the other cafes out of business. There are tons of independent cafes I can name in Boston. Some of my favorites are Cafenation, City Feed and Supply, Pavement, and Render Coffee (which I can’t afford to go to very often). I like having both available. (I’m sure they do some of those big corporation things that people hate, and I do not think they should, but I haven’t done research to talk about that and I don’t know much about economics anyway…)

I like Peet’s better than Starbucks, and unfortunately there are only two of those whose locations I can think of without using google maps.

The documentary goes on to talk about other things, like the social benefits and history of coffee shops in general, but it keeps coming back to Starbucks. I guess it only makes sense, as it’s a documentary about coffee and Starbucks is a huge name in coffee. I guess I just thought it would be more of a personal coffee journey and less of a social commentary sort of film. It goes on to talk about the spread of the chain/corporation style coffee shop in Italy. If you’d like to get a better idea of just what the film is saying, I do recommend watching it. It’s not bad.

So, that’s my general feeling about this whole issue. You should get the gist of it from this.

Posted on April 8, 2013, in Coffee, Food and Drink and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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