I finally picked up my Banana Chocolate Vivanno™ Smoothie with a shot of espresso last week, which was great. I intended to put my focus elsewhere this week, but something interesting hit me while I was standing in the store. I came to the realization that I was falling in love with Starbucks for the first time. It caught me off guard; I was as surprised as anyone. “Now?” I had to ask myself, when so many people seem to be so over it. Yet, I couldn’t deny what I was feeling and could almost pinpoint where it began; and it was not at the beginning.
You see, I have been patronizing Starbucks almost from the very first day they threw open their first door in the heart of New York City, but I didn’t really get it then. In later years, as office manager, I began to pick up coffees and bags of beans and discovered the latte as well as my coveted Caramel Macchiato. However, I still wouldn’t call myself a real Starbucks fan at that point. This is something that has been creeping in like a slow moving fog.
It eased in closer last fall when I attended a cupping session and met the Director of Coffee and Tea Education, Scott McMartin. His knowledge and background was extensive. I was truly impressed when Mr. McMartin guided us through the session, where we compared three distinctly different coffees and talked about how the Thanksgiving blend was created, a special coffee that was launched over the 2008 holiday season. I began there to put it all together and the realization hit me with just how much really goes into the Starbucks experience. This is clearly not a fly-by-night operation full of cheap marketing tricks. There is a genuine effort by Starbucks from the farm to your cup, to give you something of value.
The Coffee Shop
I knew then that my feelings had changed, but the clincher for me was while standing in my local Starbucks in Lynbrook, New York, last week. It is not that this Starbucks is so different from others, nor was it the first time I had been there, but on that day I really took a good look. I even went back today, just to make sure I wasn’t under some hallucinogenic spell. There were comfy tables and chairs to suit your mood or mission—from just taking a break or getting work done.
The flat-screen on the wall gently let us know, if we cared, the musical selection of the moment. You could buy everything and anything to do with coffee: a French Press, coffee beans from around the world, journals, books, cups, stuffed animals, you name it, it was all available, including free Wi-Fi. You could opt to help the environment and the coffee farmers just by choosing the appropriate coffee. All of this was available with no pressure to buy, or to leave after lounging way too long.
This was everything I would design in a coffee shop, if I designed coffee shops. Although Starbucks is a mega-chain, you wouldn’t know it just by hanging out here. Starbucks has done one heck of a job creating a coffee experience that I can love.
The $4 Coffee Myth
While I am speaking well of Starbucks, let me also help to dispel a commonly held myth. A common discussion subject is paying $4 for coffee at Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks has a variety of items on the menu that can cost $4 or more, but if you study the menu, you will find that the price of a regular cup of coffee is pretty average, at least for New York. A tall (12 ounce) cup of freshly brewed coffee is $1.65, and a 20 ounce venti is $1.95. You can also get refills for 50 cents.
Before you ask me if I have been brainwashed or paid by Starbucks, let me say that I am not implying that Starbucks is perfect. They may have much more to do in many areas, as do we all, but if you check the important points-quality products, charity, environment, knowledge, education, employee and customer appreciation—you will find that Starbucks is working on raising the bar from within, and I strongly believe that we should give credit where credit is due.