Starbucks barista bashing, and Starbucks bashing in general, seems to be a popular activity lately. And I’m not talking about the Starbucks Barista espresso machines for sale. I’m referring to the human variety, the baristas preparing espresso drinks behind the counter.
There are some espresso aficionados not even willing to call these folks baristas. In defense of honorable and worthy baristas where ever we are lucky enough to find them, I concede that we’re not typically going to find highly skilled artisans behind the counter at Starbucks.
But let’s be fair. Preparing espresso drinks, for better or for worse, with automatic espresso machines, manual, semi-automatic or otherwise, takes some level of skill and training. And what these folks do at Starbucks, whether or not it matches the highest expression of blissful espresso, does fall under the role of a barista.
To keep this in perspective, Starbucks is not really about sublime straight shots of espresso. Truthfully, anyone who heads over to Starbucks for a nirvana shot of espresso is only setting themselves up for disappointment.
The espresso preparation at Starbucks is much more intended as the basis for the lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and so forth. By the time you add the foam, the milk, and the syrup, the caliber of the espresso shot isn’t going to make nearly as much difference.
Whether the connoisseurs consider the drinks at Starbucks authentic or not, it’s not really the point. Starbucks delivers a style and version of espresso drinks that clearly satsifies the customer demand. That is key for any successful business. The proof is in the numbers. That’s millions of customers and billions of dollars. Hard to argue with numbers like that. True, Starbucks had a lot to do with shaping the customer demand for their style of drinks, but all the power to them.
As for my personal preference, I don’t go into a Starbucks for a shot of espresso. And I’m not a fan of all the milk, the foam, the syrup and the sugar. But neither do I despise Starbucks as many espresso connoisseurs seem to do. I’m fine with a cup of drip, and I generally enjoy stepping into a Starbucks and find it a pleasant experience.
Is there a higher barista calling than what we can expect to find at Starbucks? Of course. Let’s see, 15,000 Starbucks stores times 5 baristas per store is 75,000 baristas. We don’t honestly expect to encounter a legion of 75,000 master baristas at Starbucks? That would suggest that anyone can easily achieve black belt barista status. Which would diminish and dilute the true accomplishment that an expert barista achieves.
And there is always room for improvement. This year, in 2008, Starbucks is undertaking an initiative to improve the coffee experience at their stores. This includes upgrades to the Verismo machines (I know, there are those that will never forgive Starbucks for moving from the LaMarzocco machines to the Verismo Automatics) and barista retraining. At least Starbucks recognizes that there is need for improvement and I commend the effort. See the lively discussion at Starbucks Gossip.
So let’s give the baristas at Starbucks a break. Let’s lighten up on the Starbucks barista bashing. There’s a place for Starbucks in my world, and no need to disrespect the folks that are working hard at Starbucks to please the customers.
Yes, I will continue to enjoy my visits to Starbucks, and still remain free to seek out great espresso elsewhere. And honor the barista master whenever and wherever I can.