By Michelle Rafferty
“So, why did we launch the Trenta? We listened to you,” says Starbucks. Really?
Looking for more answers, I asked my friend Gabe* for his thoughts on the matter. Gabe is a coffee trader, which means he imports coffee and collaborates with members of the New York commodities coffee trade. Oh and he gets to roast beans and cup all day (see picture below on right). Below is a conversation (via Gmail’s instant messaging service) we had about the Bucks’ latest creation.
*Note: Some g-chat names have been changed to protect the identity of those in the conversation below.
Me: So you work in coffee. What do you think of this whole Trenta thing?
Gabe: Honestly, this is about McDonald’s. They are very successful with their iced coffee and Sbucks is trying to compete.
Me: So the Trenta is really a response to McDs?
Me: They also appear to be warring over oatmeal…is Sbucks actually afraid they’ll lose their customers to golden M?
Gabe: Sbucks started off as a specialty coffee outfit but they moved away from that a long time ago. Now they are responding to the demand for iced coffee and larger beverages.
Me: Wait what does “specialty” mean? Better quality?
Gabe: There are many interpretations of specialty coffee, but for the most part it encompasses all Arabica/high grown single origin coffee.
Me: And what do they use now?
Gabe: Well, Sbucks does not use bad coffee, in fact it is still considered specialty because it is Arabica, meaning it is grown at high elevations, and it is from a single-origin. But, by no means does specialty signify “good coffee.” Sbucks has gotten sooo big that they are now buying coffee from cooperatives (many different farms with varying degrees of quality), whereas the majority of the other roasters prefer to buy single-estate coffees (aka single farm coffees where quality is consistent and exact origin is available for the end consumer).
Me: So they still get to say they’re “specialty,” but in reality they’ve lost some rights to this claim. They’ve just grown too big.
Gabe: Yeah. They have already lost a lot of customers to McDonalds/ McCafe due to quality and price. McDonalds has better coffee.
Me: Whoa, really?
Gabe: Yeah, McDs has won numerous blind tasting competitions and they have cheaper prices.
Gabe: In my opinion the difference between the two is not so much the bean, but the way they roast. McDonalds has an outside company roast their beans for them that solely focuses on roasting whereas SBbucks roasts for themselves and I feel has become complacent and lacks innovation in terms of blending and adding new flavors.
Me: They are bad roasters?
Gabe: They are mechanized roasters, everything is consistent but not necessarily good. The issue I have is their roasting method, which as most of their detractors would agree on, is far too dark resulting in a burnt taste. Unfortunately many people prefer this approach.
Me: Can you explain this mechanized roaster?
Gabe: Mechanized means that computer or timed roasting is the only thing used whereas other roasters that we do business still roast by sight/sound/smell and therefore have more of an original product. The companies which McDonald’s have use a variety of methods, not only mechanized or computer roasting
Gabe: One more thing. McDonald’s uses smaller regional roasters, who roast it lighter, allowing the true flavors of many single-estate coffees to be experienced at affordable prices. I know this because we sell it to them. Starbucks is more consistent with roasting, but I don’t think this means better coffee.
Me: Ah ok. It’s funny, Sbucks is supposed to be the “classier” of the two, but this Trenta just makes me think “Super Size”…
Gabe: Yes good point. Sbucks started off as a “third place,” someplace where people could visit between home and work in a classy, European setting. Now it is competing with McDs and big gulps at gas stations. People grow to like what they are comfortable with regardless of price or quality. Starbucks still has fantastic marketing.
Me: Hmm so what do you think is going to happen? Any chance they’ll go back to their roots?
Gabe: I dont think Sbucks can go back to their roots because they have already expanded too much. Now they hope to maintain the advantages they have, which is quality product design with a devoted customer base and consistently average quality coffee.
Me: I’m only devoted first month of pumpkin spice latte.
Gabe: See this?
Me: Aha yes. So you’re saying this drink isn’t even physically possible…
Gabe: They claim that your stomach will stretch or naturally adapt to the liquids, so it is physically possible just not recommended in my opinion…maybe they can have in store challenges to see who can drink the most/fastest.
Me: Without puking?
Gabe: Yeah something like that.
Me: So, you are you officially not recommending we not drink the Trenta?
Gabe: Personally, I have never tasted ice coffee in my life, and that is the product we are talking about here, ICED COFFEE. I assume it will just be middle of the road, nothing great but nothing bad either. The thing in question is serving size and the tendency this country has for over-indulgence. And the fact an Italian word is used for the description of this mutated drink must be insulting for the Italians. Or maybe they find it funny.
Me: Hey can I quote you on this?
Gabe: On which part?
Me: All of it!
Gabe: Yeah sure why not.
Me: Great! Any other expert recommendations?
Gabe: Go big or go home. That should be the slogan for this new drink, sounds good right?
Me: Dude, so now you’re recommending people buy it?
Gabe: Yeah it kind of grew on me during this discussion we had……..Sbucks has FANTASTIC marketing lol.
Me: oh brother…
**Gabe later confirmed that he has never participated in a coffee tasting competition.
Gabe specializes in buying and selling unroasted green coffee from all over the world and loves discussing anything and everything related to coffee. His favorites comes from Colombia and Kenya.
For more on the history of coffee check out Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine by Stephen Braun.
EDITOR’S UPDATE: Rob Cockerhan has discovered that the Trenta cup holds an entire bottle of wine. Thank you, Rob. There’s also a video.