November 7, 2007

What does it take to get a real cup around here?

If I go to a café and sit down with a cup of coffee, I want a real cup, a ceramic cup, not a paper cup. I'm paying $4 for an aesthetic experience and part of it is the feel of the cup, in my hand and on my lips. When I say "for here," I mean in a real cup. It's not hard to understand. Yet time and again, it turns out that they're out of cups. Why is that? They're running a café — invariably a Starbucks — yet they either failed to lay in an adequate supply of cups or they can't — or won't — keep up with the dishwashing.

Today, I ordered a "venti" latte at Starbucks, said "for here," handed over my money and received my change, only to be told that they're out of venti cups. Then size it down to a grande, I say.

I want the real cup more than I want the extra coffee. And I want to teach them a lesson: If you don't have a cup for it, I don't want it.

This led to minutes of confusion as they tried to figure out how to refund the price difference. The line backed up behind me, and I finally got what turned out to be only 33¢. They didn't hide their irritation, but I hid mine.

Until now.

I remember one time some kids had a lemonade stand, and they ran out of cups. They didn't want to lose the sale, so they said "Cup your hands!" That was at least funny. And they were just kids.

Hey, Starbucks! Have some damned cups for the product you charge so much for!

And if you don't have a cup for a customer who says "for here," you can say: I'm sorry, we ran out of cups. How embarrassing. We'd like to apologize by giving it to you in a paper cup for free. And here's a coupon for a free coffee in a real cup next time.


George said...

Can Starbucks continue its meteoric growth without sacrificing its quality or compromising its image?

In an internal memo that later became public, Mr. Schultz conceded earlier this year that there had been a "watering down of the Starbucks experience, and what some might call the commoditization of our brand."

Still, Starbucks' share of the U.S. coffee market is only about 8%. And it has announced plans to open 10,000 new stores, world-wide, over the next four years.

'Starbucked' book review

peter hoh said...

Give 'em hell. The cup is an integral part of the hot beverage experience. And that's what Starbucks, et al, are selling.

Do not go gentle into that paper cup. Rage, rage against the drying of the lips, the burning of the hands.

rhhardin said...

Real Cup

ricpic said...

$4 for a cup of coffee?! I'd call that a bend over experience.

Lawgiver said...

But I thought New York had everything anybody could ever want.

Why can't you find a place that serves coffee the way you like it?

Pogo said...

I think they're growing tired of the coffee-ambience business. Now you're a bother.

Get in line and take your coffee like you're told. And it's hardly warm so you don't sue them.


Bissage said...

It’s commendable that Althouse stood her ground.

I think if you ask any magician he'll tell you that cups without balls doesn't mean jack shit!

Ann Althouse said...

Starbucks coffee has almost no flavor at all. I guess you're supposed to add flavors other than coffee. It's just a cup of warm milk... Insipid!

I'm just here for the WiFi and to get out of the house/office.

Pogo said...

They freak when I ask for a medium with 2 extra shots. (Then it has flavor.)

Barrista: "Two extra shots?? There are two already. That's four."

Me: "Yes, I know. I would put it directly in my veins if I could. I guess I'll just have to drink it though. Thanks."

Every town, every time.

Smilin' Jack said...

When I get a venti latte at Starbucks, whether "for here" or not, I always want a paper cup with a sleeve and cap, and it usually comes that way. It stays hot longer than in a ceramic cup, and it's easier to carry to a table. As for the "aesthetic experience," I get coffee to drink, not to look at.

bill said...

So I stopped at Starbucks this morning. Never a good idea and I always hope this time will be different but it never is. But it was 30 degrees colder than yesterday, I wanted something hot to drink, there isn't a Dunn Brothers in the state, and Seattle's Best -- my favorite -- doesn't open until 9am because Starbucks bought the company a few years ago and closed all the retail shops. Starbucks has recently started reopening Seattle's Best in Borders bookstores and they're only open bookstore hours. The one Starbucks I occasionally stop at does have a competent crew with the ability to make consistently adequate espresso products--adequate being the most to expect from Starbucks. The main problem is the guy running the counter in the mornings isn't nearly as funny or gregarious as he thinks he is. You know, the overgrown type of guy who enjoys dressing up for Renaissance festivals and Comic-Cons; which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn't qualify you as people person. I'm almost to the point of asking for his work schedule so the couple times a month I feel like stopping in I can do so knowing he won't be there. Always with the personal questions: How are you? Fine. Having a busy day? I don't know yet, it's only 6am. Would you like the free song of the day? Paul McCartney? F*&k no. But like I said, I knew what to expect so I have only myself to blame.

Maxine Weiss said...

Paper cups are made with all sorts of waxes. Styrofoam breaks down. Plastic leeches into the hot liquid.

Caffeine is poison, anyway.


Pogo said...

But it's a great poison.

And what's with the fake italian anyway. I simply refuse to play along.

Me: A medium thingy.
Barrista: You mean a Venti?
Me: If that's a medium, yes.

Every time. Well, I do see that the older clerks say the hell with it.

Randy Rogers said...

When I am ordering "for here," I too prefer a ceramic (or glass) mug. That's part of the reason of ordering "for here" and staying there. These days, it is not at all clear that coffee houses actually want their customers to stay on the premises any longer than is necessary to stand in line and order coffee.

Chip Ahoy said...

Oi veh.

Not much of a coffee drinker here, feel I have to brush after every cup. Then clean my tongue with a road scraper. But apart from that inconvenience I've been having more fun than I imagined making a mess with the Aeropress, cutest little thing you ever saw, somewhat ritualistic and fussy extra parts, but it's so fun I keep making cups of espresso then milking them down beyond recognition. You would hate it. I'm using oversized mason jars because I like to watch it squeeze through. Ejecting the plug is neato-mosquito and I hadn't known until playing with this thing how good coffee tastes.

I don't know why I like grinding beans, I just do. That accounts for most of the mess.

B said...

peter hoh,

Comment of the week.


B said...

As a Starbucks fan (daily, sometimes twice!), I recently had my first negative experience at one.

I called ahead for a "traveler" - a carry-out pourable container that holds 12 cups worth of coffee - and

former law student said...

My local coffeehouse only has medium size cups (glass). If I want to drink a large coffee I have to bring your own.

john said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

Suggestion: next time ask for the "short" cup. You will get less, pay less, and engender respect, if not awe, from the barrista, by your ability to order off-menu. If you add cream, don't complain about not being able to taste the coffee.

(Instead of acting like one who just got off the boat. Next time you go in to complain about paper cups, use a European accent. A long coat made of shoddy would help, as would a hat, not purchased in SF.)

Another John said...

I want to teach them a lesson

Oh, they must be quaking in their boots now! Has the CEO called you yet? I mean really, Annie A. doesn't get the cup she wants -- the whole corporation should come to a grinding halt to cater to your "aesthetics."

Randy Rogers said...

When I'm at home & have the time, I vastly prefer making coffee with a Hario vacuum brewer. I've been using one since I lived in Taiwan almost 30 years ago. Makes the best coffee I think.

Robert Burnham said...

I always suspect that ceramic cups don't give you as much coffee as paper cups do. When you insist on china cups, how do you know Starbucks isn't ripping you off for content, charging you for a medium, but delivering only as much as a small? (Bars routinely do this with their beer mugs whose glass walls widen to an inch thick at the bottom.)

But I have to say I love the old Navy-style ceramic coffee mugs, clearly designed by the same people who built the battleship itself. They are so massive they could serve as emergency weapons in case a hostile boarding party gets as far as the mess.

Trooper York said...

I buy my coffee and bear claw every morning from Abdul who stands in one of those metal carts in front of the subway. Extra large black coffee with a huge sugar covered or glazed bear claw: $1.60. And since Abdul is from Saudi, I get to ask him if they are planning to blow up the Bergen St station that morning, because then I would take the bus.

Pogo said...

Trooper is a god.

bill said...

former law student said...
My local coffeehouse only has medium size cups (glass). If I want to drink a large coffee I have to bring your own.

Only having medium cups should be a criminal offense. Medium means an intermediate position, meaning there must be one of something on each side. If a store is selling a medium cup of coffee, then they must also have a smaller cup and a larger cup. I was thrown out of a store that only sold medium and large for arguing it was illogical and made no sense. Medium of what? You have two sizes so that can be a small and a large; or a smallest and a small; or a large and a not so large; or 16oz and 20 oz; or girl cup and boy cup; BUT you cannot have a medium if you're only selling two sizes. Which means you cannot have a medium if you only have one size. That's just messed up.

Trooper York said...

Not true my friend, just a regular guy who won't pay $2.50 for a cup of Joe just so I can stand under a fern and deal with a pretentious graduate student and listen to Norah Jones on the stereo. Abdul is a pretty cool dude and one of my go to guys for one side of the crap that goes on in the Middle East. I am still very grateful when he told me in June of '97, "No Jim, subway not so good for you my friend, bus will be much better for you." He's been getting a hefty Christmas bonus ever since then, and you know, even though he is a very religious Moslem, he doesn't mind a visit from jolly St. Nick. Didn't call the ACLU, not even once.

andy said...

I disagree with most of these comments. You were not just dealing with "Starbucks" the mega-corporation; you will dealing with two groups of human beings: $10 per hour employees, and the people behind you just trying to get on with their day. Not very considerate.

bill said...

Well, Andy, if the first group would do the job they're being paid to do, then the second group could go about their day.

Tim said...

I have decided that I want to drink coffee with the Trooper and shop with Bill. I think we should have pogo drive just to add to the ambiance.

Pogo said...

the people behind you just trying to get on with their day

As I said earlier. Get on the cattle chute and move it, sister. Here's your goddamn coffee, our way.

Trooper York said...

Abdul is always very courteous to his customers and loves to break balls along with every other guy in the line. It's not often you can get called an asshole in seventeen languages after the freakin' Yankees blow the Cleveland series. It's what makes America great: coffee, sugary pastry and good natured racial invective for breakfast. As-Salamu Alaykum mofro

former law student said...

if the first group would do the job they're being paid to do

Blaming the hourly worker reveals bill's typical American management mentality, which let Japan eat our lunch from the 80s onward. Deming showed that the only way to improve a product or service is for management to improve the system that creates that product or service. Rewarding or punishing individuals trapped in the system is pointless and counterproductive

bill said...

Hey, FLS, you still owe me an apology for thinking I lived in Illinois. Another example of messed up logic.

Pogo said...


The customer has no one at all to complain to other than the clerk right there. They are the company representative. If Starbucks cares not about losing the ambience customers, fine.

Deming does not reject the idea that some elegant processes get screwed up by inelegant employees. I wouldn't be surprised they are supposed to have an adequate number of washed cups, but don't because paper is easier for them.

Remember, it's also simple for the $10/hr clerk to blame the impersonal Corporation for their inattention to detail.

TROBlog said...

I'm not a big coffee drinker, as I prefer getting my caffiene the healthy way from diet soda, but Starbucks coffee is the worst.

It's overpriced and it tastes burnt. I simply cannot understand why so many people will stand in line - or sit in line at the drive-thru window - to buy it.

former law student said...

bill, you are an outlier -- like a man with three nipples or a two headed calf. I'm not going to apologize for thinking you had only two eyes.

A corporation as sophisticated as Starbucks has a system. The lack of clean cups means the clean cup supplying system failed. The corporation must supply enough cups to the store for the actual use, given the number of shorted cups each day, the number of cups in use at any given time, the time to collect dirties, clean, and restock the clean cups, the time available in between other, more critical operations (making espresso drinks, filling customer orders, ringing up sales, brewing drip coffee, setting out fresh pastries/sandwiches, etc.) Starbucks is fairly efficient at processing large numbers of customers; I could see where they would sacrifice running the diswasher if necessary. But that would mean a larger inventory of empty glass cups, which ties up more money than an equivalent number of paper cups.

MadisonMan said...

It's too bad there's not a Tim Horton's that you can go to. Now THAT'S good coffee.

If you want a good cup feel, why not take your own? I want it for here, and by the way, here's my cup. Watch the barrista's head go boom.

Trooper York said...

Sally Hemings: Massa Tom, I have prepared your breakfast.. We have eggs, and corn bread and grits, just the way you like them.

Thomas Jefferson Thank you Sally, but I am not hungry. Just coffee.

Sally Hemings: How do you take your coffee.
Thomas Jefferson Hot and black, steaming with condensation in a beautiful porcelain skinned container.
Sally Hemings; Oh Massa Tom, you know how I love a little drop of cream in my coffee.
Thomas Jefferson: Well, that could be arranged Sally, that could be arranged.
(Jefferson in Paris 1995)

Pogo said...

I love coffee, I love tea,
I love the java jive and it loves me.
Coffee and tea and the java and me,
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!

I love java sweet and hot,
Whoops, Mister Moto, I'm a coffee pot
Shoot me the pot, and I'll pour me a shot,
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!

What the hell does that mean, anyway? I f I said that, much less sang it, at Starbucks, I'd get arrested.

Blow me a slug from that wonderful mug
And I'll cut a rug that's snug in a jug
Drop a nickel in my pot, Joe, takin' it slow
Waiter, waiter percolator

I mean, Jesus on rollerskates, but WTF???

Trooper York said...

I'm feelin' mighty lonesome
Haven't slept a wink
I walk the floor
And watch the door
And in between I drink
Black coffee
Love's a hand-me-down brew
I'll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room

I'm talking to the shadows
Of one o'clock before
And Lord how slow the months ago
When all I do is pour
Black coffee
Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hanging out on the move
My Sunday dreams to dry

Now a man is born to go lovin'
A woman's born to weep and fret
To stay home and tend her oven
And drown her past regrets
In coffee and cigarettes

I'm leavin' on the mornin'
Mournin' all the night
And in between, it's nicotine
And not much heart to fight
Black coffee
Feelin' low as the ground
It's drivin' me crazy
This waitin' for my baby
To maybe come around
To maybe come around
Pour me black coffee
And I'll come around

(Black Coffee, by the great, the one and only Julie London, you can take your Mariah Careys and your Janet Jacksons and your Britney Spears and stuff em where the sun don't shine, casue Julie London is the languid, hot, sexy one and only)

former law student said...

You're hung up on a black coffee drinker, huh? Not me.

I've got a juice head baby
She's drunk all the time.
I've got a juice head baby
She's drunk all the time.
When she can't get liquor,
She almost lose her mind.

She drinks whiskey like water
Drinks gin like lemonade
She drinks whiskey like water
Drinks gin like lemonade
She makes me go to work early
While she lays 'round in the shade.
I worry when she's loud and rowdy,
I worry when she's quiet.
It's gettin' darned expensive
To keep up a whiskey diet.

I took her to a doctor,
And this is what he said:
Ain't no pill goin' he'p it,
She's a natural whiskey head.

Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, 1969 version

Eva said...

Anybody know "Black Coffee In Bed" by Squeeze? Guess I'm dating myself.

I'm lucky enough to work for one of Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work for in America", and I'll just say that generally companies get the employees that they deserve. If your local barista is a slacker, he's probably a reflection of a culture that isn't taking care of their employees. If you take care of the employees, they'll take care of the customers, and that takes care of the shareholders.

Just a little homespun advice from our CEO....

Fred said...

What a bunch'a lazy whiners. You want decent big-commercial coffee, go to Peets in Berkeley. Failing that, go to Peets somewhere else. Otherwise, make your own and quitcher bitch'n.
Lord knows there's no other reason you'd want to go to Berkeley.
Fred "UCB '81" the Fourth

Original Mike said...

Trooper, next time someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES.

Trooper York said...

Original Mike, I can ’t do that because you never get to be a cool god like Dionysius or Apollo or Thor the god of Thunder (I wonder if he ever went to land down under). With my luck I will be Loki or Prometheus which is kind of appropriate because I expect vultures will be eating my liver any day now.

Benjamin said...

At the risk of sounding prissy, what you suggest is pretty much exactly what we'd do at my Starbucks (we also, however, always keep real cups on hand, if only because the employees enjoy them).

bill said...

Trooper York - k.d. lang's version of Black Coffee is quite good.

FLS - screw up and refuse to apologize, you MUST be a Starbucks employee. ZING POW RIMSHOT

Trooper York said...

Bill, KD Lang is one of the great song stylists singing today. I saw her a couple of years ago with Tony Bennet in Jersey. She sang Roy Orbisons "Crying" and knocked it out of the park. I have all of her albums going back to Angel with a Lariat. As far as a pure singer it doesn't get much better than KD Lang. BUT, Julie London brings a little something else to the table. I can still see her in the nurse outfit on Emergency talking with Johnny Gage at the nurses station as she jones for coffee with a heavy lidded weary sensuality that leads to thoughts of "What did she do last night, and why wasn't I there." Just sayn' that’s some great stuff right there brother. A real woman, not a pop tart.

former law student said...

bill, you are so statistically improbable you must be a hermaphrodite. Go and couple with another of your kind, and let us know which of you gets pregnant.

ulrika said...

I don't understand how anyone can drink 20 ounces of coffee (or anything else). No wonder most Americans are fat. Their stomachs must be enlarged from all the liquid they stuff it with all day long.

Here in Europe, coffee is served in small cups (very small, always ceramic or china) and if the person wants milk, then the cup is slightly bigger, but never bigger than 8 ounces (about). I can't imagine gulping down 20 ounces of milk, (how can they taste any coffee with all that milk?). Do they eat lunch after that?

And here in Europe (Spain, France and Italy are my references) we do not "take away" coffee. We drink it in the coffee shop or bar. It ony takes about 2 minutes to drink our small, satisfying cups of coffee, and there is no point in taking them anywhere.

I think places like Starbucks get it all wrong... it IS the McDonald of coffee. And here in Europe, even though we begin to see these ugly places in the city center, only American tourists ever go in. Nobody local goes to that place to pay 4 euros for a cup of watery coffee served in a waxed-paper bucket.