Today I'm following Caitlin's lead, and I'm going to talk about something potentially controversial. It's very near and dear to my heart, and it may or may not get me murdered by a yuppie. I love coffee, but I don't really like Starbucks.
I'm from the Pacific Northwest, where there's an indie espresso drive-thru every 500 feet that makes a perfect no-foam latte or dry cappuccino or single espresso or breve or cafe au lait or half-caf, half-flavor, triple-shot, 180-degree skim milk latte crazy personalization without blinking an eye. In Starbucks, by contrast, I add an extra shot to my plain-jane vanilla latte and wind up with a super-over-espresso-ed and over-syruped concoction that tastes acid-like and overdone, not anything like the simple, strong latte I wanted.
Starbucks' espresso shots (in general) are pulled either too hot or too quickly or too something, which gives the espresso its acid-like flavor instead of the creamy boldness it's supposed to have. Also, they tend to not be great at customizations - light-foam or half-syrup seem to be especially tough for most Starbucks baristas. Is this just because they haven't been trained or because Starbucks gets so few special orders and so emphasizes their signature drinks?
Now, granted, I was a barista for several years (in other shops) and even owned my own quirky drive-thru espresso stand at one point, so I know I'm extra picky. But then again, lattes aren't really a luxury anymore. Most of us get some kind of fancy coffee at least once a week, and we should know enough to taste when an espresso shot is pulled to perfection or when a new barista got a little over-excited about the flavored syrup bottle.
Don't get me wrong, I still stop in to Starbucks at least once a week for a quick pick-me-up (they are on every street corner, it seems) but I usually get something simple, like an iced or drip coffee, and save the fancy customizations for an indie shop.
Also, when I was in Seattle last weekend I stopped at the original Starbucks where I got a tall vanilla latte, no special sauce. I'm telling you, it was the best Starbucks drink I've ever had. Was it just Seattle mojo or do they only put the best of the best baristas at their original store?
So, this leads me to my next question... do you know your baristas well enough to tell when it's safe to order a more complicated drink? Or am I crazy and the only person in the good ol' US of A who doesn't love Starbucks wholeheartedly?