There are scores of Starbucks haters among the ranks of specialty coffee. In many cases I agree with their complaints. Starbucks’ coffee quality continues to diminish. It is over-roasted, and it sits too long from roast to brew. However, sometimes I wonder if the naysayers miss a growth opportunity as they hurl stones at the green giant. After all, the specialty coffee industry in the States is young, and—like it or not—Starbucks is largely responsible for the ubiquitous nature of it. They’ve done a world-class job of branding, diversifying their revenue stream, & employee retention. They’ve also become the benchmark for part-time employee benefits. Might we be better off if we were slower to demonize them, and a bit more willing to learn from their strengths and weaknesses? Realistically, if you’re doing high quality, holistically sustainable work in specialty coffee, you have nothing to fear from Starbucks. If yesterday’s rollout is any indication, you are likely targeting a different audience.
Enter “Via Starbucks Ready Brew”—instant coffee. This is another in a chain of decisions indicating that Starbucks will likely become coffee that is “good enough.” I am sure there is a market for instant coffee. It might even be a big market, but it is certainly not a specialty market. They claim that it is as good as their brewed coffee. That is probably true, but I think such a claim is more a commentary on the quality of their brewed coffee than it is the instant.
I am not a Starbucks hater. I actually think they’re good for the market. They introduce people to coffees from various regions. As the customer becomes savvier, they realize that they could buy a bag of Sumatra coffee roasted three months ago at Starbucks or they could purchase one roasted three days ago at utopiancoffee.com. Undoubtedly, Starbucks has a huge place in the market. As the specialty coffee industry matures, though, how their place differs becomes increasingly clear.