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8/17/2006
SOME MOUSE DROPPINGS WITH YOUR LATTE, SIR?
CATEGORY: General

I never liked Starbucks that much.

As a coffee lover and something of an aficionado of the bean, I confess to being extraordinarily snooty about my drink of choice. And since I imbibe approximately 18-24 cups of the nectar every day, my snootiness knows no bounds.

Give me the sweet, even delight of real Kona (excellent at midday) from Kona Premium or the dark, rich, winey pop of true Columbian (late afternoon or dinner) from 8 O’Clock.

Arabians vary enormously but I actually like the smoky, slightly bitter bouquet found in Ethiopian (anytime coffee). And for breakfast, a blended coffee is usually the best. I have been drinking Stewarts coffee for more than 30 years. A Chicago company, for many years they only sold their coffee retail at the great Chicago grocer Jewel Food Stores. To this day, much of their trade is with finer restaurants.

I can drink coffee when it’s 100 degrees out. I can drink coffee 10 minutes before I go to bed. I can drink coffee anytime, anywhere, for any reason. What I can’t do is drink coffee with anything in it. Absolute, total, stone cold black coffee for me or nothing. And it must be hot. Lukewarm coffee is for women, children, and Frenchmen.

But oh, how I love the taste. Good coffee does more than wake the mind and soothe the soul. Think of the social history of coffee and you have the history of civilization. From the Arabs (who insist on boiling the drink) to the Europeans (who abuse the bean shamefully) to America (where it achieved its egalitarian social status), coffee has told the story of civilized man.

Until Starbucks opened. Starbucks is the anti-coffee. It’s obsessive and relentless image making, trying to vulgarize the bean by branding it like some woe begotten Hereford calf, is one of the minor annoyances impressed upon America by socially conscious corporate Gen-Xers in the early 21st century. Like Ikea, it is not so much what it sells as much as how it makes you feel using the product.

If this be the future of capitalism, gag me.

The Starbucks House bean is better than some, not as good as many, and vastly inferior to the best. It’s quality is uneven with some beans I’ve used tasting as if it had been left in the sun for a year while others leaving the impression that the fella in charge of roasting the bean had a rough night before coming into work and fell asleep at the switch.

But it is a serviceable brew and does nicely in a pinch. “Any coffee is better than no coffee at all” is my motto, having been forced by economic circumstances when I was younger to do with brands like Folgers and Maxwell House – convinced that much of what was contained in those cans was swept from the floor of the coffee warehouse.

Which brings me (after our fun little digression) to this story about what else you can get at Starbucks:

Current and former employees of the gourmet coffee chain filed a federal complaint yesterday claiming their corporate bosses have refused to heed repeated warnings about inadequate training and chronic infestations of roaches, rats and other vermin in New York stores.

But the company strongly denied the allegations, noting the complaints were coordinated by a handful of activists who are trying to unionize the chain’s normally merry band of baristas.

[snip]

“I constantly have to deal with mice, cockroaches and fruit flies all over the place,” said Tomer Malchi, 24, who works at the Union Square store. “The root of the problem is that we’re never staffed properly to clean the place right and we never have the right equipment to clean the stores.”

Starbucks, which has refused to recognize the union, brushed off the allegations as “the latest tactic in an aggressive campaign against Starbucks and our partners that is designed to damage the credibility and good name of the company” by a “very small number” of current and former employees.

In defense of the employees, I know how extraordinarily difficult it is to keep a place that sells and stores food clean. In defense of the company, I can tell you that the there is plenty of time and people to clean up when the day is done. Smart managers direct their employees to clean constantly, each shift being responsible for certain “hard” cleaning tasks like the dispensers or condiment trays while everyone pitches in with cleaning the surfaces on a constant basis. Floors and prep surfaces are where the bugs live and prosper and these should be done at least twice a day.

But when you’re paid barely above minimum wage and don’t necessarily want to make wearing that silly uniform your life’s legacy, lots of things slip through the cracks. And if the company doesn’t have an exterminator coming in on a monthly (or even weekly basis) then they deserve every bad word of publicity they get out of this.

I don’t know, though. Perhaps it will enhance the image of the company with the “organics” crowd. Can’t get much more natural than rat hair in your Caramel Macchiato .

By: Rick Moran at 4:01 pm
8 Responses to “SOME MOUSE DROPPINGS WITH YOUR LATTE, SIR?”
  1. 1
    GawainsGhost Said:
    7:05 pm 

    I’m with you, Mr. Moran. I love coffee. Piping hot and very black. But I drink Gevalia coffee, traditional blend, and I subscribe to their limited edition selections. The former is my staple. I probably drink a whole pot every morning when I’m working in my home office and listening to W.A.R. The latter is some of the best coffees I’ve ever found, but I save it for special occasions.

    Incidentally, here is an interesting little bit of history on coffee. Did you know that it was once one of the most valuable spices in the world? But it did not exist anywhere outside of Arabia. In fact, as late as the 1800s the only coffee plant, and there was only one, to be found outside of Arabia was in the Royal Garden in Paris.

    One day this guy climbed over the wall of the Royal Garden and cut six shavings off the coffee tree. He then smuggled them to the New World, but only one survived. And from that one shaving came all the coffee plantations in North, Central and South America.

    Isn’t that fascinating?

  2. 2
    CanuckInPA Said:
    9:55 pm 

    I remember my very first day as a police officer. It was about 100 degrees. My training officer said “The first thing a cop does at the start of his shift is get a coffee.” I laughed and said “You’re kidding, right?” He wasn’t, and now I have the stuff in my veins!

    But it’s not that overpriced slop sold at Starbucks. Being Canadian, it’s Tim Horton’s above all others!

  3. 3
    Santay Said:
    5:21 am 

    This guy’s not too far from my house, I stop occasionally and stock up on beans.

    http://www.reddingroasters.com/store.html

  4. 4
    DS Said:
    9:01 am 

    I agree with your overall analysis of Starbucks, however I do think their Sumatra brand coffee is one of the best around if you really like a dark bold flavor. Give it a try sometime.

  5. 5
    Santay Said:
    9:53 am 

    DS, the one and only time I was ever in Starbucks (we had a gift certificate) I bought a bag of the Sumatra beans. You’re right, they make a nice brew.

  6. 6
    Ken McCracken Said:
    4:19 am 

    Day old, pitch black coffee with the consistency of used motor oil works for me too.

    I never met a cup of coffee (or its derivatives, espresso etc.) I didn’t like.

  7. 7
    Rick Moran Said:
    4:29 am 

    Ken:

    L love those old Warner Bros cartoons where Bugs Bunny would stir a cup of coffee and when he took the spoon out, it would have disintegrated. Sounds about right.

    Or better yet, if the spoon can stand upright, that works too.

  8. 8
    Dianne Rodonski Said:
    10:39 am 

    “It’s quality is uneven with some beans I’ve used tasting as if it had been left in the sun for a year…”—“It’s” is a contraction meaning “it is.” Should be “Its”

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