Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Starbucks Machines.

Starbucks' roll-out of their new espresso machines is finally hitting the more rural locations that I usually frequent. Apparently, the machine should be in around 75% of locations, on its way to 100% some time next year. It's part of Starbucks continuing effort to change its direction by staying exactly the same, but saying that it's trying to be different.

I don't mean to bash Starbucks, I actually like them, but their efforts at turning around their fortunes are laughably poor. Instead of unleashing a torrent of business model experimentation, they're doing the same thing. Their food selection is decent, but overpriced and limited. Their WiFi is still limited. Their coffee selection is still limited. The list goes on. The design of the new machine is now on that list. What's the big difference? Well, it grinds beans as opposed to using pre-ground coffee packs. That's good. And it's also shorter! Oooooooh! This means that the barista has a better "connection" with the person ordering the drink by blocking "the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista." If there was ever something that the customer didn't care about, it's that.

But enough about that. How's the machine? First off, it looks different than the picture being passed about. The sides are a copper color and it melds in with the Starbucks aesthetic better. And the baristi are universal in their love of the machine over the old Thermoplans. The big difference that they're reporting is temperature stability. Apparently, under heavy load, the old Thermoplan machines would suffer from pretty bad temperature fluctuations in the shots. I'm assuming that this explains the wide differences in drink quality I've encountered at

The biggest difference that I've noticed is the milk steam quality. I haven't had a crappy steam job at any location with the new machines, whereas I've had numerous poor lattes on the old boxes. It's still semi-automated, which means no latte art-ready foam, but it's velvety and feels good on the tongue. Starbucks does a good job of talking up the machine at this online Flash app which also gives you the best view of the machine apart from actually going.

The thing that keeps running through my mind is that, if this machine is as good as they say it is, why does Starbucks insist on using only ONE bean blend? Their current blend is adequate, in that it tastes like coffee and isn't too bitter, or sour, or dark, or anything. It's just this bland thing sitting smack dab in the middle of a dark-roast flavor profile. It's crema level is very poor, and there's simply a lot of room to open up the variety.

Having one blend at Dunkin' Donuts or McDonalds is fine. They're not a coffee shop. But Starbucks is a cafe. They should have half a dozen coffees, at least one more type of espresso, and other ways to explore the coffee world. That's why a cafe exists! If I just wanted a high-quality cup of joe, I'd make it myself. As it stands, local cafes are whomping the 'Bucks in this department.

If Starbucks really wants to push the envelope, which I'm beginning to think that they don't, they should make a machine that can espress multiple bean types. Because until they do that, there's nothing bringing me to Starbucks over Coffee Exchange or Updike's Newtowne save for convenience. And now that I've got a new machine, even that's fading.

No comments: