May 5, 2009

Coffee Changes in the Recession; Time to Trade Up?

Times are tough, but coffee consumption remains strong; just in different places and in different forms. Yesterday word came out about a renewed coffee war between Starbucks and McDonalds. For what it's worth, I think that Starbucks is losing it's edge, and not holding up like a strong brand should. Howard Schultz spends a whole lot of time saying that he is not afraid of losing customers to McDonalds, but the ads they are putting into newspapers these days are supporting that. With the tag line "It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks", they are pushing their culture, quality and values behind the cup of coffee as a differentiator vs. other brands...... like McDonalds. Saying that their research shows people are not switching to McDonalds, Howard Schultz may be dodging the fact that new customers won't find his rand because McDonald's has already tied them up with a line of products that meet their needs. Only time will tell.

As the recession continues though, coffee bean prices are holding up as demand is very much there. From what I have seen from reader email, people are switching to less expensive means of getting their coffee; trade down from espresso to drip when outside the home, buy into home brewing of espressos, bring coffee to work in a high quality thermos to avoid paying $4 a cup. All smart moves if they meet your needs for quality, flavor and price.

Time to trade up?
While the recession is time to save some money here and there, buying better coffee may be a great way to save money. Stopping by the coffee shop less often? For the price of a few Lates you can afford one of the best pounds of coffee on the shelf to brew yourself at home. If you were already brewing high quality coffee at home, I say keep doing it. Where else can you move from terrible quality to excellent quality for about $8; and enjoy the difference each and every day? You can do that when buying a bag of coffee at the store, and I think trading down to bad coffee for home is the last thing I'll do to save money.

So go get a great bag of coffee at the grocery store, brew it to your liking, grab a coffee flavor wheel and enjoy the experience of drinking high quality coffee. Make notes of what the flavors were like, learn the differences between the flavors. Next time, try a different origin, blend or roast and compare to the last coffee you brewed. Brew. Drink. Repeat.... and enjoy.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

April 9, 2009

Issimo: Coke and Illy to Rollout RTD Coffee to US

Issimo RTD Coffee

Coke and Illy have been test marketing the Ready to Drink Issimo in NYC, and are expected o roll it out nationally to select outlets this summer. For those who think that Coke doesn't get coffee, and that Starbucks and Pepsi are the pioneers here, Coke actually has a significant ready to drink coffee business in Japan, that at one point brought in more revenue than its carbonated soft drink business. Not sure where it is at today, but they do know a bit about coffee. We'll see how they do with this launch into an economy that is not exactly screaming "indulgence" where they want to capture up to 30% of the ready to drink coffee market by 2012.

Have you tried it? Let us know what you think.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (2) | social bookmarking

April 6, 2009

Starbucks Via Instant and Microground Coffee Review


Starbucks launched the Via instant coffee about a month ago to great fanfare a semi interested public but left a lot of people scratching their heads asking Why? Starbucks kept pushing insisting it was different than other instants in that it is finally the first instant that is good. Well by most accounts they were half eight - it is unlike other instants.

The idea behind Starbucks Via is that you can mix soluble instant coffee (just like most other instants) with micro ground coffee beans that will provide extra boat and flavor. Technically this is no small feat and according to Starbucks they were working on this for a decade. When grinding that much heat build up can be a concern which can cause all kinds of unwanted changes essentially ruining what you just created in the roaster.

I ordered up a couple of packs of each of the Colombian and the Italian Roast for this review. They arrived weeks ahead of my free sample that I ordered at the same time (which just arrived last week) so I think that people are just getting around to trying Via now.

To make Via just dump it in the cup and add 8 ounces of hot water. Simple enough. The result is really unimpressive when compared to other "at home" options. The up front flavor is clean and reasonable but there is a watery and unimpressive finish that tastes like a thin cup of brewed coffee cut 50/50 with water. Its almost like taking that last swig of iced tea in the summertime when all of the ice cubes melted - some flavor there just not enough. I like the Italian Roast over the Colombian but that's my flavor preference for a stronger cup.

Making A Reasonable Cup with Via

Not deterred by my disappointment I tried a lot of combinations, with sugar, then milk, then both and finally cutting the water down. The combination that I landed on was one that I could live with and gave me a reasonable cup of coffee. I used one Italian Roast and one Colombian and added about 10 ounces of water then a full complement of milk and sugar. The milk and sugar added enough body to help make the cup reasonable while the combination of the two coffee types added a bit of complexity to make it interesting and more multifaceted. Starbucks pitches this as an additional coffee occasion, like on a "Road Trip", "After Lunch", on a "Soccer Sideline" that clearly screams - "Don't Cannibalize the Latte Business!" For this stuff, it works; it is not a replacement for a latte or espresso. It's suitable as a replacement for mediocre brewed coffee when concentrated.

This served me well and offered a way to go through the pack while enjoying the coffee on a daily basis at work.

You say "Micro Ground" I say "Grit"

The one byproduct of the micro-ground coffee bean technology is the grit that is left at the bottom of the cup. I use a black mug at work, so the residual grounds don't show up, but in this picture of the grounds left over in a white mug, you get the idea. It's almost like drinking drip coffee when someone uses the gold metal filters that let the silt through; yea, like that. You can't detect the grit when drinking, but the leftovers will reveal the magic of the micro ground coffee if left hanging around.


Review Summary

Overall, I was skeptical of the ability of Via to provide a good cup of coffee; I mean come on, instant? In the end Via can make a decent cup of coffee, not awesome, but decent, and that's better than the alternative sometimes. The issue is that I need two of the packets and only about 10-ounces of water to get that decent cup. Without shipping charges on the stuff, that's $1.60 a cup to me, using two packets. To me the value equation is off, and compared to the other coffee alternatives, I would rather stick with those around me. So, if you want Via, I'll say that one can get a decent cup of coffee; but not by following the directions as it will be just too weak. I'll run through my final packets, and say goodbye to Via.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (4) | social bookmarking

March 19, 2009

Gimme Coffee - Save 25% - More Info on this Great Roaster

Long time readers know that I love Gimme Coffee; Leftist Blend to be exact, and I am not alone. This acclaimed roaster from Ithaca NY has won many awards and mentions in company with some of the other top roasters/cafes in the country. Well if you want 25% off your purchase, you should check out their email newsletter, where you will get a code for 25% off your next order. Sign up, wait a few weeks, get the newsletter and jump on some great coffee.

If you want to know more about Gimme, they'll tell you, and have a few posts up on their site to get you to be an informed buyer:

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

March 11, 2009

Got Via? - First Impressions

Got my shipment of Via yesterday - a couple of boxes of the Italian Roast and the Columbian. No idea what happened to the free samples that I ordered, but I got the stuff I bought. Anyone else get their free samples in the mail? My hunch is that they got too many requests and ran out of them.

First thoughts? Thin baby, thin. This might be great on the proverbial camping trip, but wow, it's not going to substitute for a morning coffee around this house. Maybe I could use it at work where I can boost the body of my office coffee like pouring a shot of Stok into it to top it off.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (1) | social bookmarking

March 5, 2009

A Green Coffee Cup Sleeve


Saw this on Etsy and thought I would pass it along - a "Green" sleeve that can cut down on those paperboard sleeves that you may be using at the coffee shop. Made from burlap and a green oriented felt, these sleeves are cheap - $2 + shipping. They come in a number of colors, and are handmade by an artist here in the US.

at Etsy - Greensleeve Reusable Cup Sleeve

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March 3, 2009

Starbucks Breakfast Value Meal Development

starbuckslogo.jpgStarbucks and their image as over the top consumerism is front and center on the minds of the people trying to get you to drop a buck or four at their shops every morning. Sure the $4 latte is great, but how about a whole breakfast value meal for less than that? No, not an Egg McMuffin, but close. They are searching for that high quality taste experience that doesn't stink the place up with food smells that would overwhelm the coffee aroma. that coffee aroma and the loss of it is one of the reasons that they pulled breakfast sandwiches originally.

Maybe they needed to add an airwash system to the new grind and brew machines that they just rolled out to pump out even more coffee aroma into the stores.

Either way, the new breakfast value meals are certainly a way to get more value out of the local Starbucks; and maybe you can save a few bucks along the way.

If you are interested in reading more about their toils on the new breakfast offerings at Starbucks; check out the article in the NYT on the subject.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

February 27, 2009

Caribou Bucking the Trend

Caribou is a solid little coffee house chain that seems to be bucking the trend on earnings. They recently reported that their net earnings were $0.07 per share, up from a loss of $0.78 per share a year ago, beating the $0.03 per share loss most analysts thought they would hit.

The big deal is that they seem to have taken a conservative approach to expanding stores, and have managed through the start of this recession well, despite a slow down in overall sales of 3%. Not bad. So instead of having hundreds of stores closing under the Caribou name, they appear poised to continue prudent growth of their shops. Maybe there's some light at the end of the tunnel after all.

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February 20, 2009

How to Make Great Coffee at Home - French Press Style

It is not hard to make a great French Press coffee at home, and I think it's a fantastic way to enjoy coffee when you can take the time to do it.

  1. Pick Fresh coffee - yea, it really matters, and can give you so much more when the coffee is fresh.

  2. Grind is right - a course setting is appropriate for the French Press method, almost like the texture of a regular beach sand.

  3. Pour in Hot Water - I like close to boiling, and I aim to wet all of the grounds as I pour; DON'T plunge yet, you want to let it steep

  4. Put on Lid and let stand without plunging for 3-4 minutes.

  5. Plunge Slowly; this filters the grounds without pushing too much of the fines through the screen on the plunger.

  6. Pour and Enjoy - you'll be coming back for more.

Check on the variety of French Press examples here at Single Serve Espresso

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

February 17, 2009

Starbucks Via Instant Coffee - Great Taste? Free Samples


This had better be good; Starbucks Via, an instant coffee that is unlike other instant coffees because it tastes good? Starbucks, at their website, compares their new Via Instant coffee to other instant coffees that use the old processes that strip out the flavor and aroma out of the bean.... (Um, excuse me, isn't that what you want; take the flavor part and leave the bean part? Put flavor part in cup and add water?)

Starbucks of course has the new process that actually micro grinds the bean and has you put it in the cup and drink it; um, so a cup for of coffee grounds mixed with hot water is better? Actually, it should be and could rival brewed coffee. I mentioned this technology last week when I first wrote about Via, but I will say that I have seen this technology where micro ground coffee - think really really small is suspended in hot water adding flavor and body to the cup. The richness of a lot of drinks is about mouthfeel as much as it is about flavor, and the micro particles here may help provide both. You may think that Starbucks is nuts to get into Instant Coffee - but somewhere north of a third of the coffee drinkers out there drink an instant coffee beverage; it's not either instant or ground and no cross-over. Think about all of those instant coffee drinks and "Cappuccino's" that get made out of the hot chocolate machines in the convenience stores. Now whether of not these folks want a Starbucks straight coffee is a different story.

Ether way, you should decide for yourself and get a Free Sample over at the Starbucks website. I'll write up my impressions when I get mine. You can also pre-order your Starbucks Via, and it will ship about March 3rd.

Via Comes in:

Starbucks Via Italian Roast Coffee, Italian Roast

- "A big, bold, full-bodied cup of coffee, with an aroma that lingers all day."

Starbucks Via Colombia Coffee, Colombia

- "The rich and smooth aroma of a real cup of coffee. Because that's what it is."

UPDATE: Check out this early reaction from the UK's Guardian - Not so great.
Fast Company Magazine did an un-scientific taste test among staffers with their samples, and the "Staff Java Junkies" ranked the Via highly in a blind tasting vs. Starbucks brewed coffee.

Scott Martin at Permalink | Comments (1) | social bookmarking

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