James Hoffmann's writing on coffee
Unfortunately I have had to remove this post.
Hm. I think this is what you would expect from the chains … sad, but true.
Costa is the only occasionally bearable one in store for me and even then the baristi are rarely able to produce the goods. Good article Jim … you are very brave ;-)
Nice article. Did you try to get some more fresh coffee (you just could be unlucky…). Rethinking that, no, buying coffee is not a matter of luck, but a matter of quality control and “freshness assurance” of the company.
The beans are on top of the coffee chain, with bad beans no-one can make good coffee, as you have proven again.
The big chains could be such great ambassadors of good coffee…
This was really a great review Jim. You would think that big names like these would have managed by now to tackle freshness and shelf life against consumption. I’m not surprised why smaller coffee shops are still able to sustain themselves by not following the examples of these companies.
Your photos were very clear to point the poor bean quality that these chains bank their name on.
Just 2 quick questions…..Did you tell them who you were and had they heard of you? and if they did know you, despite this, they (Caffe Nero)still decided to give you those beans?
Gobs – I just went in and bought them. I don’t think who I am or what I do for a living should matter. The varying levels of customer service were very interesting to see.
I don’t think the Nero’s staff knew that storing beans in a very warm place was bad and the bags have no roast date.
Your post got me thinking that roasted coffee (as occurs with instant coffee) should be labelled with a best before date. This could guide the consumer on selecting products that are fresher. How we come to an agreement on the use by date im not sure… What do you think?
Why James, why…? Oh well, it’s all for perspective I guess. I did once try a bag of Starbucks. After giving the machine a thorough cleaning, I returned the remaining bag for a free latte I never redeemed.
I *LOVE* your latte art. I wonder if you would upload it on http://www.ratemyrosetta.com ?
Nathan – most of the coffees do have a shelf life on them, sadly they tend to use a year from roasting. This I find a total nonsense, but I think guidelines say that sell or use by dates should be for when the food stops being fit to eat, not when it stops being at the peak of its freshness (or fish you buy at the supermarket would have a use by period of 24 hours).
Jaime – I do it because it is important to taste as much as possible, good or bad. This is where the national coffee palate is pitched. A bad experience is really a learning one.
Lee – Thank you, I’ve uploaded one of the above ones now (though it did seem to resize a bit funny in my firefox!)
I have just fixed the image resize problem. A silly mistake :)
More on topic: Nathan, when it comes to coffee, I prefer roast dates to ‘best before’ dates :)
interesting exercise James.
It has crossed my mind many times before but this again just emphasizes the chains position on roast quality as average at best.( it honestly makes me soo mad. sorry in advance BUT…)
I would love to ask the MD or operations director of any of the chains why even as the major players in the market with massive resourses at there disposal, they still choose to handle the logistics of the core product so badly. why as a coffee business they are unable to organise delivery of fresh beans is actually “criminal” rather then poor orgnisation.
going one better a costas near us has ran out of beans twice in the last 18 months and the manager still retained there position is yet another mystery.
The sad thing is that many people think what they get at coffee chains like Starbucks is the pinnacle of coffee consumption. The brand name becomes the benchmark for quality instead of the coffee itself.
i honestly think a barista could take their sock off after a 4 hour shift and strain the espresso through it and into the cup (in front of the customer no less) and they would still think they were getting a great cup.
i could take my sock off after an eight hour shift, strain one of my espressos through it, and i would still rather drink that than coffee from a chain
one thing many commenters here should keep in mind with regards to sbux beans not tasting very good. realize that because of their huge size the best they can do is a best by date and not a roasted on date. i seem to recall hearing that 30 days is about the best lead time coffee can get from one of sbux four global roasting plants to any of its stores. of course it’s not going to be top shelf fresh that way!
also, with regards to big green, you gotta figure that “taste” is not the driving factor with their espresso…consistency is. with 11,000 stores globally and counting, their biggest concern is not wowing the legions of undereducated espresso consumers with their amazing espresso tastes anyways…it’s getting it to taste exactly the same year in and year out. that’s all they can hope for with the rivers of coffee they have to purchase…by my last count it was pushing 400,000 lbs/year.
not condoning it. their espresso is terrible. it is utilitarian. functional. and as such it is successful. but it’s definitely not gonna win any taste awards, as someone like you, jim, easily discovered.
Can’t believe that you took this one down after all that effort. If the big boys are screwing over their customers, they deserve to be called out on it. You did it in as fair and impartial a manner as possible. I’ll stop making more trouble for you now, lest the superautomatic mafia start stirring ;P
This is outrageous! You are perfectly entitled to post a review of their products and it can be as badly-written, derogatory or biased as you like (not that I’m suggesting anything of the sort, but I imagine that was something claimed by whoever forced you to take it down). As long as it is not libellous (i.e. factually wrong or misleading, combined with derogatory), there is nothing anyone can legally do to stop you. That’s what free speech is all about.
If you see this, please can you e-mail me to clarify why you took it down?
starbucks = coffee flavored milk
costa = overly roasted, over priced nescafe
caffe nero = ACTUAL espresso that doesnt rely on accesibilty to a mass market to build a niche in the market
Costa’s coffee was by far the lightest roast of the three.
tastes too dry in my opinion. as far as italian espresso goes neros is the only one thats even close. im not talkin lattes etc but espresso? nero all the way ;D
Just poorly brewed usually. In terms of raw ingredients that I bought from each store the Costa stuff was the least awful. For various reasons Nero’s didn’t give themselves the fairest shot by selling me some very stale coffee (which was the same coffee they were using for service). Which was a shame.
I would describe none of the three chains as having particularly Italian espresso. Nero does seem to be the least offensive whenever I speak to the general public though.
i just remember getting a double espresso at costa once and it looked like pepsi..
n starbucks is a bit too fast foody, but i know what you mean about the staleness. its all foil packed but every fifth bean seems to be a bit dry
dont know if this is a dead thread? Just like to big up my local bucks….of course they are what they are, but some of the core team at my local branch have been there for 5 years, and really love their coffee! Blanco is right, bucks are a mass corporation not a boutique, so their standard “coffee cocktails” are just that….very standard. It then comes down to the individual store. The manager has the potential to generate interest and sales around wholebean coffee/origin and that comes down to his or her ability and drive to create a team that wants to do this.
At my local, when it’s quiet the guys sample out a few different coffees, (some fresh in Papua New Guinea last time!) and we swap coffee stories, and share great admiration for Cup of Excellence and Rwandan coffees! When I ran a Costa, we checked shot weight and grind three times a day, and all my staff had to understand what they were drinking. Espresso has moved on soooo much since then (6 years ago!) but we did the best of what we had. If we want the big boys to do better, lets suss out the stores that do it right and make more of them do that! (Very simplistic, but you know what I mean!)
I wish people paid as much attention as you used to these days. I think it’s the fault of the automatic machines. The right volume of coffee will come out of them, regardless of grind/freshness/tamp. That’s why most espressos (including Costa’s and Nero’s) look emaciated. If the machines were semi-automatic and the shots were always timed, the improvement would be incredible.
But this is a good reason many people prefer Starbucks over the others: it doesn’t matter at all how good/bad their espressos are, because most people are having them disguised with loads of milk and flavourings (something Starbuck’s does well and which it is easier to make consistent).
I go to Italy all the time on business and Costa and Cafe Nero are just as good as the Cafe’s in Rome, Milan, & Palermo. I live in London so don’t know what all your cafe’s are like but these two chains here are just as good as our Italian cousins. Well that is when you drink it the italian way – without milk. There is the occasional day when it tastes like rubbish and i just throw it away but on the whole it’s great better than I seem to be able to make with my espresso machine that cost over £500…what a waste of dosh that was.
But I fully agree with that person that said Starbucks is just coffee flavoured milk haha too right it’s horrible in there!!!
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