The Perfect Cup: My Starbucks Dilemma

Most of the time I order a drink at Starbucks, which is most of the time (I know “addiction issues” - I’m working on it) I’m likely viewed as that customer. The one most Baristas dread as they walk in. Not necessarily because I ask for a drink that’s 187 degrees hot and always bring it back because I can tell it’s a few degrees too cool, but something like that.

I have a very specific order, though I’ll alter it sometimes depending on who is making my drink (it doesn’t matter how many hoops a Barista has to jump through, no two Baristas are the same therefore no two drinks are ever the same.) I know what I like, and while what I like may change due to my mood, the climate or the season, majority of the time my order is consistent but sadly the results aren’t. At Starbucks, I’m paying for the perfect cup of coffee, but have a harder time ever getting it.

I once went on a missions trip to Romania with a group from my University. My coffee experience nearly scarred me for life, and anyone else who has to drink from a pot I’ve brewed. Romanian coffee was ethereal in Eastern Europe and it was everywhere. Literally there was coffee being served to us wherever we went. And with every cup, when I anticipated a not-so-great or at least halfway decent cup of coffee, I was shocked that it was always the equivalent or even more decadent than the experience before. Even when we went to visit the schools they’d serve us equally rich, gold-rimmed coffee in the teacher’s lounge, with these wafer-like finger size cookies and a small old television playing MTV. Though I was the only one who genuinely enjoyed it from our group. Secretly everyone that was served just kept passing their cups down to me, faking that they were finishing up as another empty cup had circled their way. Served in the type of porceline cup size that most Americans would assumed they were being jipped by, it would taste like anyone here like shots of espresso, but it was amazing. Did I mention all their sugar was raw too?! (Sometimes it doesn’t take too much to make me happy.) Anyways, I always loved a good strong cup of coffee and continued to brew to my Starbucks standards after Romania, also following demos like Stumptown.  I was making it right, even though friends and family would consider it all too strong. Ok so, all coffee expertise put aside I just like strong coffee. But what is coffee for? Certainly not to hydrate oneself.

Having worked at Starbucks for 6 and a half glorious years, I have a good idea of how the whole Starbuck/Barista system works. It’s no glamorous job. (It’s hard work making people like me happy.) So I know the kind of training one goes under, the testing, the tasting, and the complaining you deal with on a daily basis. But making the perfect cup of coffee is on of the last concerns of most Baristas. The real concern is getting your drink to you in under 90 seconds. Starbucks has quickly grown from a place that promises to make my drink just the way I like, to a juicing, panini-pressing franchise that’s mainly focused on getting me my drink and getting me out of there. You know those signs they have at the bar that say “We promise to make your drink just the way you like it”? I swear they takes those down the moment I walk in. That or Starbucks has had a major shift in value and purpose.

The years I worked there the focus was on making the perfect cup every time. As a Barista I was tested, eyed and schrutinized by my first manager to make sure I got it - every time. He was a hard manager, but hands down the best. Plus he was an avid Dave Matthew’s fan, so come on, you know he must’ve been pretty great. He taught me some of the basic stages of a cup of coffee, like the art of steaming milk. You need cold milk, a clean stainless steel pitcher and you have to break the top film of the milk with the nozzle in such a consistent and steady way that creates tight bubbles for a real frothy, whipped foam; not too much air and perfectly dense, cloudy puffs of foam gather. Thanks to my high-maintanance manager I was a better barista, adding to my high-maintanance coffee tastes. But, working at Starbucks will do that to you (that or you will despise it and make horrible coffee.)

Honestly, Starbucks in Europe (and I’m making a general assumption here) likely make a more perfect cup of coffee than Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) is ever concerned with making in the states, at least not before adding refresher drinks and green juices to the menu. But really, can you expect one place do it all? Or do it all perfectly? No wonder, while Baristas are learning new formulas for Frappacinos and trying to sell you Via packets, they find my slightly unusual order, that occupies only 3 of the 7 options on the cup, rather difficult to execute. Come on, there are 7 options on the cup for a reason. And I am paying… well let’s not get dollar signs right now, but you know you’re paying for a customized cup of coffee. Ironically, if I were in Australia or the UK I don’t think they’d be looking at me so funny as they do here when I order my drink. Come to find out, there are actually some countries who have a name for my crazy little concoction, which half of my family now orders as well (yes, we’re all pretty much crazy-annoying-Starbucks-addicts.) It’s called a White Flat, I believe. It’s basically a denser, stronger and richer cappucino. It’s brilliant. It’s also not in America. Like I said, brilliant.

Jack, in England’s Romford store, was featured from a Starbuck’s in Essex about making the perfect cup of coffee. If only Starbucks would get back on its feet and remember why it opened up an insane coffee shop in a garage to begin with. I thought it was to make the perfect cup. Of course in America, it hard for us to stay focused on doing just one thing well. Granted the perfect cup may be a little different time to time, taken the quality of the machine (just pulling shots, espresso shots, is another conversation all its own,) the temperature of the milk or roast of the bean, a drink can be slightly varied. But there’s just a certain overall quality that can be noted when the person making your coffee, really appreciates coffee. Jack seems to at least know (and like) coffee, which is more than I can say about the majority of Baristas these days. Note when watching the video: The magic is in microfoam. But trying to communicate just this kind of foam when ordering my drink is like talking another language here. Sadly, I find that lately more of my trips to Starbucks break my day rather than make it. Not quite the coffee-high I’m looking for. Jack - I wish you worked at my local Starbucks.