Bitter Coffee? Adjust your grind!

July 25, 2008

Kitchenaid Pro Line Burr Coffee Grinder
I’ve written previously about the importance of using the proper amount of coffee (hint – most instructions you see tell you to use too little), the proper temperature and the proper grind to avoid a bitter (or sour or burnt-tasting) cup of coffee. But where do you go when you’re doing it right and it still isn’t good?

The other day I was in Starbucks, and decided to take home a pound of their Pike Place Roast — one of the few brewed coffees from Starbucks that I’ve ever liked. I’d had it brewed in the store many times and enjoyed it, but this time I was out of beans at home and wasn’t in the mood to roast, so I figured I’d try some at home.

To my surprise, my first pot with Pike Place had a very unpleasant bitter, almost metallic note to it. I’d never experienced this in the store, so I knew this wasn’t right.
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Tasting Starbucks’ Pike Place Roast

April 9, 2008

I had the chance to try Starbucks’ new “Pike Place Roast” tonight.

Not bad.

And considering that I’ve seldom ever had a cup of brewed coffee at Starbucks that was more than marginally drinkable, that’s a tremendous improvement.
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Talk is cheap, good coffee costs money

March 19, 2008

Source: WikipediaYeah, I know I love to kick Starbucks, but hey — they make an inviting target. It’d be almost impolite to not abuse them.

But still, the news from their annual shareholders meeting actually sounds kind of promising.

They’ve bought the much discussed and semi-mythical Clover, and will be deploying it in all stores. The whole idea behind the Clover is that it can deliver (in 30 – 60 seconds) a full-on properly brewed cup of varietal coffee. Which is pretty great in concept, although early reports were that it took a fair amount of tweaking to get each specific origin brewed correctly — and what are the odds that the baristas-who-can’t-be-trusted-to-grind-and-pull-a-real-shot will learn and take the time to use it properly? Still, it should be a dramatic improvement over what passes for brewed coffee at most Starbucks these days.

As much as I wish they’d also announced that they were buying Reg Barber and would soon be returning to the land of real espresso, they’ve apparently decided that the solution to crappy automated espresso is to turn to even more automation, and to that end they’ve teamed up with Thermoplan AG to produce the next generation of cyborg pushbutton espresso. Hopefully the only way to go from here is “up”.

Other announcements include a new signature roast, new loyalty programs tied to Starbucks Cards and increased ethical sourcing.

All in all, it could have been better, but at least it’s a sign that they know that what has to be done is to improve the coffee & espresso — not a word about rolling out new foods and snacks, new gimmicky confection drinks, or anything of the kind.

That’s good, ‘cuz “it’s the coffee, stupid”.

In Defense of Coffee

March 8, 2008

In this day and age, it seems like everything that you enjoy comes complete with a Greek chorus of whiners telling you why you should avoid it.

Coffee is no different. Despite Starbucks opening new stores every 60 yards on any paved road, every wanna-be-self-helper tells you why you should give up caffeine, give up coffee, etc.

That’s what makes it particularly refreshing to see Lifehack have a go at what’s right with coffee.

Their list of coffee’s benefits includes:

  1. Better health through antioxidants
  2. Improved alertness
  3. Resilience to shifting schedules
  4. Improved socialization

Not bad for the devil’s drink.


I’ll take “Grande Latte” for $100, Alex

March 10, 2007

A fragment of conversation while making a bit of after dinner coffee the other night…

“That’s a grinder, right?”

um hmmm.

“And what’s that thing?”

This? It’s a portafilter.

“No, the thing on the front of the grinder, with the handle.”

Oh. Doser.

“And that’s a tamper?”


“So what are you attaching the portafilter to?”

That would be the brew group.


(While pulling the next shot…)

“Let’s see… That’s grinder, doser, portafilter, tamper, and brew group?”

Is the question ‘Name five things you will no longer find at Starbucks?’

Fear & Loathing at Starbucks

February 27, 2007

A leaked Valentine’s Day memo from Howard Shultz, the chairman and founder of Starbucks Corp. suggests that their success may not have been as sweet as your average Pumpkin Spice Latte…

For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. 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 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.

(ummm… That’s La Marzocco, Howard…)

For me, this has got to be the ‘Bucks’ number one issue — with a bullet.

No matter how good they are, the full-auto machines just do not produce as good of a shot of espresso as a barista who actually uses a little care, and freshly grinds, hand tamps and pulls a shot on a good semi-auto machine like the La Marzocco.

The training just can’t be that hard. I’ll grant you that it takes a great deal of care and practice to be a world class barista, but that’s miles above “competent”, and frankly competent is good enough.
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Consumer Reports Hearts Mickey Dee’s

February 8, 2007

Dear God, this is one of the signs of the apocalypse, isn’t it?

Apparently Consumer Reports picked McDonalds as having the best coffee, at least in comparison to Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.

God knows, I’ve said enough bad things about Starbucks, but the day you can’t beat out McDonald’s coffee, it’s time to hang it up and admit you know far more about selling milk than brewing coffee.

As for Consumer Reports, I won’t be joining them for a mug of joe anytime soon, but I would be willing to try some of whatever they were smoking that day…

(Via Slashfood)

So Much for Starbucks (2nd Verse)

November 27, 2006

Well, I waved bye-bye to my beloved Barista Aroma today.

It seems that they’ve been recalled, due to a fire hazard of some kind. Starbucks says they’ll send me a check, and suggested I go check out some new DeLonghi brewer at my local emporium of over-roasted coffee and indie xmas music (Starbucks).

Hmph. It’s getting harder and harder to find a decently priced coffee maker that is actually designed to brew a decent cup of coffee. For that matter, it’s getting harder to keep one.

If you’ve bought an 8-cup stainless steel Barista Aroma and haven’t heard from Starbucks, you need to A) unplug it before you burn the house down, and B) call Starbucks and see if it’s one of the recalled units.

Better safe than sorry.

Pity the fool that don’t like espresso…

November 4, 2005

Over on “Words For My Enjoyment”, Paul Davidson happens to run into Mr. T standing on line at Starbucks…

Well� Mr. T was standing right in front of me in line.

It was then that I tuned my eavesdropping ears into the conversation in front of me, in which Mr. T picked out two chocolate covered graham crackers (for dipping) and ordered a double-shot espresso. Yes, that’s right – Mr. T, a guy with more energy and moxie than the entire city of Los Angeles, was ordering up additional adrenaline in the form of a dark, thick liquid. It was awesome.

And I had to say something or else I’d regret it.

Mr. T obviously still has nerves of steel — you’d have to hold a gun to my head to get me to try a straight espresso shot at Starbucks…

Head on over to Paul’s site for the rest of the story

The Worst Cup of Coffee

October 30, 2005

Over on CoffeeGeek, they’re discussing “the worst cup of coffee you ever drank.”

It’s hard for me to pin down a specific worst, although I can describe it (yeesh — I can still taste it) — it was a nasty pot of some flavorless supermarket or institutional coffee, left to cook on a burner until it was burnt and rancid. Unfortunately, I’ve been served this drek enough times over the years, everywhere from greasy spoon diners to fine restaurants that no specific incident stands out…

Not to pick on Starbucks unnecessarily, but I’ve also been served some of their drip brews that stand a very close second; they may have been (reasonably) freshly prepared, but the over-roasted and stale nature of the beans imparted a nasty “chemical” taste to the cup.

What’s the worst cup of coffee YOU’VE ever drank?

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