I guess it’s inevitable. A coffee company starts out small, with the best of intentions.
First they focus on the quality of their coffees. Then they work on the quality of the overall experience enjoyed by their customers. And next, they start adding a few other items, like cookies and muffins, to add a few dollars to the bottom line. But the primary focus is still on serving great gourmet coffee.
If they get really big, they then make the leap from being a private company to a public company. From that point on, they have to focus more and more on revenues and profitability, because they have thousands of investors to please.
It’s at this point that their passion for great coffee may begin to take a back seat.
I saw an article recently about how Green Mountain Coffee is in talks with pharmaceutical companies to explore the addition of vitamins and minerals to some of their K-Cup beverages.
Why would they want to do such a thing? Because they can charge more and make more profits that way.
What does this have to do with serving great gourmet coffee? Absolutely nothing. It’s about the money. The same could be said K-Cup coffees, or any single serve coffee system. These machines don’t make better coffee, they just make the brewing process more convenient.
At about the same time I read another article about how Starbucks is negotiating to spend $100 million on a bakery chain. Again, this has nothing to do with coffee, it’s all about increasing the amount of money we spend each time we visit Starbucks.
One could argue that Starbucks stepped away from its origins with gourmet coffee when they started serving exotic concoctions like caramel macchiatos. These kinds of drinks are more like desserts from the kid’s menu at a family restaurant, with a shot of espresso thrown in.
Fortunately, while the giant coffee companies bend over backwards to please Wall Street investors, there are still plenty of coffee companies that remain focused on roasting and serving great coffee.
The most notable of these is Peet's Coffee. Peet’s got onto the gourmet coffee business in 1966, and were the inspiration behind the later launch of Starbucks. In fact, Peet’s can be credited with launching the whole concept of gourmet coffee in North America. Before they came on the scene you had to travel to Europe or South America to find a decent espresso or cappuccino.
And then there are the thousands of independently-owned specialty roasters and coffee shops. That’s where you will find the most passion and the best coffee.
You’ll find some of these companies, and their coffees, featured on our coffee reviews page.
This, of course, is how companies like Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee started out. But success has a price. The bigger you get, the more you have to think about the bottom line, and the less you can focus simply on making great coffee.
The thing about coffee is its simplicity. You can buy green beans and roast them in a popcorn popper. You can grind them with a manual coffee mill. And you can brew your coffee with a $10 French press or a $5 filter cone.
With a little effort anyone can make amazing gourmet coffee at home.
But of you want to go out and enjoy the ambiance of coffee shop, you’re better off finding somewhere local, where their passion is still focused just on the coffee and the coffee experience.
Read more of my coffee opinion posts.
In these posts I share my thoughts and opinions on various aspects of the gourmet coffee business – focusing on what's new, what's coming down the pike, and what's deserving of a little head scratch or two.
About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…