I’ve never been a die hard Starbucks addict or fan, but I have been known to enjoy a cup of coffee and on occasion, that coffee has come from Starbucks. I don’t think I need to have a Starbucks card or a collection of empty green and white cups littering the floor of my car to have a basic understanding of their goal, but it probably helps that I have read Pour Your Heart Into It, a book that traces the growth and development of Starbucks written by its chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz.
Here is what I don’t understand. Starbucks was founded in the early seventies as a premier coffee bean company dedicated not only to providing top-quality beans to its customers, but also to educating them about great coffee. In the early days, they bought their beans green from Peet’s, until they could buy directly from the growers (I’m a Peet’s fan … had to find a way to get the name in this post). Clearly this company was striving to enlighten a Maxwell House drinking, Folgers ingesting country about the delights of a decent cup of coffee.
When Howard Schultz joined the company in the eighties, he brought a new vision. After experiencing the coffee houses in Italy, Schultz was the motivating force behind the Starbucks transformation from a small Northwestern coffee bean company into the corporation we know today. Interestingly enough, when Peet’s Coffee went up for sale, the original Starbucks owners jumped ship and left Schultz and Starbucks to run Peet’s, a company who’s mission statement more closely resembled their original plan for Starbucks.
I’m getting a little long winded here, but I felt the background was necessary for this question: Why would a company that has spent decades meticulously building an educated and picky customer base release a new line of … instant coffee?
VIA™. Why? Why.
Yes, we Americans are in a hurry. We pick up our meals at windows staffed by paper hat wearing counter staff. We drink coffee in our cars. If we want a good cup of coffee, there are many places we can quickly pick one up, and in cities bigger than the podunk town I live in, you don’t even have to get out of the car. McDonalds is brewing organic coffee and Starbucks has drive through. I don’t even know anyone who drinks instant coffee.
Did Starbucks see the Keurig revolution and want a piece? Because I’ve had Keurig coffee and it’s terrible. It’s water. People rave about Keurig’s ease of use, not the quality of the coffee. Starbucks sold itself as a high-quality coffee company, not a quick fix coffee company. You cannot have both speed and quality. I expect Maxwell to try and convince consumers of it’s quality. I don’t expect a company that prides itself on it’s quality to stoop to trying to oust the gravel selling instant coffee makers in the world.
I love coffee. I love good, strong coffee and was recently castigated for admitting that I will only drink gas station coffee in an emergency. Given my love of and reliance on coffee, this sounds more drastic than it is. I cry “uncle” easily and have been caught in numerous gas stations trying to determine which brew is the strongest. Usually while trying to get somewhere in a rush due to the fact that I’m late. And yet, I think I have had more gas station coffee than Starbucks. Somewhere in there, the small company that started out with such admirable intentions became everything it initially rallied against.
But I guess it’s yet another reason why I’ll opt for something other than Starbucks.