Appealing to millennials with overpriced coffee seems like a joke, but no such luck
Starbucks thinks big. Whether it’s the number of stores worldwide (about 23,000 as of June 2015) or its long, complicated menu full of made-up words like “Frappuccino,” the coffee chain doesn’t do petite—and even if it did it wouldn’t seem sincere. But at what point does big cross over into obscene? I think we have our answer. “Starbucks courts millennials with $10 coffee at new Reserve bars,” goes the headline of a Reuters piece, published today, that sounds as if it were written by some snarky copy editor having an off day at The Onion. Because, as we all know, based on the optimistic reports coming out, millennials have untold sums of disposable income they can use to indulge in $10 cups of Starbucks coffee “made in glass siphons,” as Reuters has it.
Let me say this right off the bat: A cup of coffee should never cost $10. It shouldn’t cost $5, even if it’s been squeezed from the rump of an Asian palm civet. I have nothing against capitalism, nor do I begrudge Starbucks their effort to peddle insanely priced black liquid. No doubt, people will fall for the ruse. But I think it’s worth stating that Starbucks has been messing with our brains for a long time now, and we ought to take note.
The company's arbitrary and confusing use of Italian words has created a kind of caffeinated Tower of Babel around coffee retail (as I've written before), and the ungainly size of its drinks (trenta, anyone?) has corrupted our notion of what a moderately sized coffee might look like. (Starbucks ruined the latte, for instance—which, in case you didn’t know, is not a giant cup of steamed milk with a mild coffee-like aftertaste.) I say it’s time we stopped going along with this charade.
The $10 price tag comes as Starbucks prepares to launch an armada of upscale Reserve cafes and roasteries as the company faces increasing competition from specialty coffee shops like Blue Bottle and even chains like Dunkin’ Donuts. The endeavor will be led by Howard Schultz, who stepped down last week as the company’s CEO.
“These stores are designed to have coffee craft be the center of conversation, where the coffee bars are interactive and customers can lean in and talk to our partners about how coffee is brewed on a siphon or made on a Black Eagle,” David Daniels, managing director for Starbucks Design, said about four recently opened New York stores in an October press release. “The theater of coffee is the first thing you see when you walk in the door and it says, ‘Come here, sit down, learn more.’”
That all sounds grand. But if I wanted theater, I’d head down to Broadway, and enjoy it way more. Here’s my rubric: A coffee should not cost more than lunch—and, as far as my experiences have taken me, $10 is a standard amount to pay for lunch in New York City. (I emailed Starbucks’ press people to ask whether this $10 price tag is just a New York thing or if it’ll be a standard price nationwide, but I didn’t hear back by press time.) If you like to buy a coffee along with your lunch—which, I imagine, many city dwellers do—then it's reasonable to expect that that coffee will not cost as much or more than the price of a sandwich or salad or burrito or whatever it is you plan to shovel into your mouth as you sit despondently before an office computer trying not to get crumbs in your keyboard.