Professor Samuel Cate Prescott, (picture from MIT) published the “Report of an Investigation of Coffee” in 1927 and definitively described how to brew the perfect cup of coffee in 3 simple steps:
- Use one tablespoon of freshly ground coffee for every eight ounces of water.
- Force these grounds through water that is a few degrees short of boiling, inside a glass or earthenware container.
- Never reheat coffee, and never reused the grounds.
With the method perfected, the only matter left for discussion is the selection of the beans. Fortunately for us consumers we can simply go down to the supermarket or our favorite coffee house and pick up a bag.
Or, we can go to our favorite coffee house and order a cup. These days, it is almost guaranteed to be brewed correctly. Largely thanks to Starbucks.
The story of Starbucks began with Alfred Peet who opened Peet’s Coffee at Berkley in 1966. Then in 1971, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker founded Starbucks with Peet’s coaching and supply of beans. In 1982, they hired Howard Schultz who later became the VP of marketing.
In 1984, Starbucks acquired Peet’s coffee. Two years later, Howard Schultz left and opened Il Giornale that specialized in Italian styled coffee drinks. Two years later, Il Giornale acquired Starbucks. But the original owners retained Peet’s as an independent company again.
Here we have two different philosophies at war: selling coffee beans to home brewers or selling caffeinated drinks at stores to consumers directly. Alfred Peet and the original Starbucks owners were the former and Howard Schultz latter. We do not need to choose, we can buy beans and brew coffee at home or order a cappuccino from the store. The price differential, however, is huge.
This book, Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture by Taylor Clark, is really about coffee than the company. He practiced what he wrote: in the coffee industry, Starbucks is King Midas. If you managed to get touched, you get golds. A coffee house next door to Starbucks usually enjoys a much better sales than the one farther away. When Mr. Clark chose to write a book about coffee, naturally he devoted many of the pages on Starbucks.
Mr. Clark offered some very practical advices us coffee drinkers should heed:
- When at Starbucks, buy a milked drink. That’s what they do best. Cappuccino is really a drink that cannot go wrong anywhere. If asked, order it “dry” (less milk, more foam).
- If you are certain about the high quality of the coffee house, order espresso.
- Buy Coffea arabica beans and not Robusta for home brewing (If you buy whole beans, you are pretty much OK.) Choose a dark, but not extra dark roast (French roast is too dark).
- Don’t buy pre-ground coffee in the can.
Oh, by the way, coffee is addictive, but harmless. To cleanse yourself from this dependency, you need about a week. In that week, prepare to take medicine for your headache and be drowsy all the time.
But why would anyone do that?