Cafe Society

Starbucks Goes Dunkin'

Okay, what the hell is up with my coffee?

Seriously, I go to Starbucks because I like Starbucks. If I didn't like Starbucks, I could go to any one of a dozen other coffee shops within spitting distance of my office door. But I don't, because I like Starbucks. Or I did, anyhow.

I know I'm not supposed to. Corporate giant and whatnot. But I do. Or I did. And a lot of other people do (did) too, seeing as how there are forty-seven Starbucks on the 16th Street Mall alone. There are several on every block. Some of the Starbucks have Starbucks. This is because the place is popular. The lines are long. The people must have their coffee.

But in mid-April, Starbucks rolled out a new blend called Pike Place Roast, named for the street address of the original Seattle store. But as for the coffee, frankly, it's a complete sell-out. (Can a corporate giant sell out? Is that possible? Might that even be a good thing, like two negatives canceling each other out?) Anyway, in this case, the coffee bites, and I have a caffeine headache because I won't drink the stuff.

A Starbucks press release says that they're giving the customers what they want. Apparently, what Starbucks thinks that people want is Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Because that's what it is now, Dunkin' Donuts coffee. They might as well start carrying doughnuts now, because…oh, there they are in the case. Well there you go. Transformation complete. Starbucks is now a twice-the-money Dunkin Donuts with two comfy chairs per store and spotty internet access. That's great.

Some say that the change was due to consumer pressure to standardize their product. More likely, Starbucks just caved to those people who whined about the coffee being over-roasted. (You babies. You've ruined my coffee.) The Pike's Place roast is a simplified coffee for simple tastes. There's no complexity to it, no character. It's weak, and the beans are the color of weasel fur. It pours and tastes just like the vaunted Dunkin Donuts coffee, which is supposedly (and inexplicably) very popular. I tried Dunkin' Donuts coffee once, because my friend swore by it. Said it would change my life. And to be fair, it did: I now have one less friend.

Sadly, I now have one less place to get coffee. Starbucks is saying that an "alternative" roast will be offered along with the Pike's Place, but my baristas tell me that this is only temporary, and soon the Pike's Place may be the only brewed option available. Is this another symptom of the dumbing-down of American culture, where we are apparently frightened of having to differentiate between French and Vienna roasts? Is this some sort of coup for the undeveloped taste of America? Or is this just a vast Starbuckian conspiracy to force me to order an espresso drink in order to get my dark roast fix for the day?

We need to demand our coffee options, America, until choice among roasts is once again part of our caffeinated landscape. Just say no to standardized coffee mediocrity. In the meantime, I'm practicing this order: quad grande Americano with room, please. -- Teague Bohlen

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Sean Cronin