Starbucks Ain’t So Bad

Tom Smith has a message for those taking glee at the recent setbacks at Starbucks:

[R]emember what coffee was like before Starbucks.  Some of you (though I doubt it, with the readership of this blog) may have cut your teeth on micro-roasted craft coffee shipped straight from Kona or that African critter’s butt to your grinding burr in Seattle.  But most of us drank the usual American swill to be found in law firm coffee rooms and frat house kitchens.  Akk.  Dreadful stuff and I know because I drank enough of it.  “I just made it” meant it had been sitting there getting foul for less than an hour.  “It’s OK” meant you could drink and not die immediately.  I grew up in a house where my Mom drank 20 cups of coffee a day, not one of them not worth forgetting until, you guessed it, Starbucks came along and taught people about coffee the way everybody discovered wine in the 1970s.  So yes, Starbucks is not as good as Peet’s. Well, excuse me while I play the grand piano.  No it isn’t.  But the point is, it’s not Maxwell House.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I think chrome would look better

    Neither is Maxwell House, anymore, and perhaps that’s the larger point.

    A lot of what is said here is true, but let’s be honest; a lot of that is perception. One can still get a reasonably good product from the biggies…(MH, Folgers, etc) with some care, particularly among their specialty labels.

    Don’t misundersdtand…The point I’m making isn’t that there are not sifts in quality of the original product… the coffee itself. What I’m suggesting is that we’ve shifted away from an attitude of “It’s just coffee, for crying out loud”, to “Let’s do this right”. I suppose Starbucks did that, at least; hipped folks to the idea that there was “Just coffee” can be far better than what we found boiling away at the bottom of the pot.

  2. sam says:

    What Bit said. But I would add that Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is pretty good, and I think Starbucks had zip to do with that.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    From the linked post:

    I discovered good coffee in New Orleans

    Which was very unlikely to have been Starbucks, but probably was PJ’s Coffee. Which is my complaint; there was great coffee in many places before Starbucks, which overprices and over-roasts its coffee, and I would like to see these other places succeed.

    And if I recall from trips to Seattle in the late 80s, Starbucks was not the best coffee there either.

    Bithead has a good point about the improved offering in the grocery store lines though.

  4. markm says:

    Ever had Tim Horton’s coffee?…it may be more of a Northern/Canadian based chain but for a plain ole’ good cup o’ joe it’s really good. You may be able to get the fluffy fru fru stuff to.

  5. markm says:

    …and I would bet Starbucks had a hand in raising the coffee bar. I don’t think Dunkin Donuts changed their coffee but McDonalds did. Also, since the advent of Starbucks I’ve noticed many a niche coffee joints pop up as well as being able to buy fancier blends of grounds in almost every store. I don’t recall that pre-Starbucks.

  6. WR says:

    I grew up in Berkeley drinking Peet’s, went to college in Seattle in the late 70s/early ’80s — yeah, I’m a leftie, sue me — and moved to LA in 1982. And having spent all my life in coffee towns, I was shocked to find it was just about impossible to get a decent cup anywhere in SoCal. If you ordered cappucino in a restaurant, you’d get something that was 80% chocolate and 10% whipped cream.

    When Starbucks finally came to town, that changed almost over night. And its success paved the way for the growth of Peets and the general improvement of coffee across the country.

  7. Michael says:

    I think that Bithead is exactly right (don’t get used to me saying that). America today is much more coffee-aware than it used to be. Starbucks did have a lot to do with that, not necessarily due to their quality, but at least due to their ubiquity.

  8. Bithead says:

    Ever had Tim Horton’s coffee?…

    A little too much Chickory for my taste, but quite drinkable. And certainly they lack in variety in their blends. But here again, competition rears it’s head; Tim’s (20 minutes or less, or we don’t serve it) attitude is in direct response to Starbuck’s success.
    And perhaps that too, is a huge part of this tale. Free Markets. Competition, even, yes, from Starbucks. It improves everyone’s situation.

    Interestingly, around here, there’s far more Tim’s than Starbucks, despite their far more plebian fare and prices. Go figure.

    Consider what we’ve seen recently. McDonalds, also well known for it’s coffee, has been paying attention… even to the point of remodeling many of their stores in the dark earth tones and woods of a Starbucks. Doesn’t look like a burger joint anymore, looks like a break area at a lawyer’s office.

  9. Bithead says:

    And WR, I’m not sure, but was there or was there not a bunch of “Seattle’s Best” in LA prior to Starbucks buying them out? They used to make a French Roast you could stand a fork in.

  10. Tlaloc says:

    Don’t give a damn about the quality of the coffee. I do give a damn about Starbucks predatory business practices. No improvement in coffee justifies that kind of thuggery.

  11. Bithead says:

    What, you don’t like them because they’re not using union labor to pick coffee?

    Or, you just don’t like that they provide a product that the local Ma and Pa coffee shops… (most of which wouldn’t exist without Starbucks raising the salability of grourmet coffee) can’t complete with?

    Sorry, that’s the nature of a free marketplace. And that’s a good thing in the end.

  12. Tlaloc says:

    Actually I don’t like things like them buying out competitors leases and closing them down. That is not business- it’s thuggery.

  13. Bithead says:

    Oh, please….

    Sounds like the anti-Wal-Mart whining that was so popular the last few years. With that in mind, would you call using the power of government and NIBMY to keep Wal-Mart from setting up shop, ‘thuggery’?

    I ask since it doesn’t seem to fall under the heading of ‘business’

  14. Dodd says:

    You can have my anti-Starbucks coffee snobbery when you pry it from my scalded, wet fingers.

    I was fortunate that, at the time Starbucks was making the leap to a national brand, I was living in towns that were already growing their own local coffee companies (ones that roasted their own beans and didn’t feel the need to burn them in the process). Starbucks moved in eventually, of course, and a certain class of coffee drinker continues to ensure that they make money. But us coffee snobs wouldn’t be snobs without people to look down our noses at and it helps ensure there’s always a table at which to sit at one of the good coffee shops, so it’s okay.

  15. Bithead says:

    Look, Dodd, there are taste factors involved here of course.. and that’s an individual thing. Call it snaobbery, or whatever. But that wasn’t Tlaloc’s thrust, by my read. Tlaloc lens toward dumping on the corporation which is why I raised the spectre of Wal-Mart. Corporations, after all, always make easy targets…

    It’s easy, for example, to blame corporations for fat kids, instead of laying blame on parenting. Those parents are voters, after all. It’s easy to blame the corporation for your chopped finges, saying the evil nasty corporation didn’t want to spend the money $0.01 to put a warning sticker on your mower… when most people with any degree of common sense understand even without the help that putting your hands under a mower that is running might not be the smartest thing. It’s easy to blame the corporation for not warning you that putting your toaster oven in the bathtub with you might cause a problem. It’s easy to blame corporations for oil prices,. easier certainly than blaming governmental policies so dominated by the ‘no drilling’ crowd. It’s easy to blame the demise of small (insert product here) shops on the corporations… rather than reflect on the fact that if the small shops were doing a better job, they’d remain in business. etc, etc.

    All of this is of a kind with most of the anti-Starbucks nonsense I see, such as what Tlaloc came up with here. Sorry, I’m unimpressed by it.