Posts in: January 9th, 2006

The Necktie

On my daily walk today, I saw, tied around a fence post, a necktie. It was a nice-looking silk tie, and considering the neighborhood I assume it’s expensive. And it wasn’t just tied like, say, a yellow ribbon, with an arbitrary knot. This was a half-windsor with a neck-sized loop that somebody had just, for some reason, put on the fence. Why? Why?! These are the questions that will drive me insane.

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Coffee Article

Starbucks Economics

I’m actually officially off the sauce at this point, and assuming the migraines and irritability go away at some point, I’m all the better for it. But this article just…pissed me off. Here’s why:

The problem with large cappuccinos is that it’s impossible to make the fine-bubbled milk froth (“microfoam,” in the lingo) in large quantities, no matter how skilled the barista. A 20-ounce cappuccino is an oxymoron.

Both of those statements are outright lies. It’s actually remarkably easy to essentially fill an entire steam pitcher (which is usually 32 or 40 ounces) with foam using small quantities of milk. We used to do that all the time at Tully’s, no matter what the size or drink (lattés also have foam, albeit less), because we’d get so crowded we needed to multitask and make a half-dozen drinks simultaneously.

While the company line at both Starbucks and Tully’s was to fill any size cappuccino halfway with milk and fill the other half with foam, we’d usually go a quarter, because most people didn’t like all that milk. And if people asked for it “dry,” we would put as little milk in as humanly possible, often spooning out the foam rather than attempting the spoon-and-pour combo we baristas have to master.

Also, I’m sure this has changed because he’s insisting he’s ordered them, but when I worked at Starbucks we didn’t even have a “short” size—I never saw that until I worked at Tully’s.

The reference to the venti weighing 20 ounces and being more than 200 calories is misleading. Yes, the cup holds 20 fluid ounces, and as I said, the company line is to fill it halfway—theoretically, 10 ounces of milk (maybe eight if you include the espresso) and the rest is just almost-weightless foam. And if people are really worried about the calories, I’m sure they’re familiar with skim milk (which would also give them a stronger coffee flavor, since the its consistency is thinner—plus it foams better).

Let’s get down to the weights and measures of it all. At Tully’s, the espresso increment went as follows (from short to viente): 1-1-2-3. So let’s break it down: one shot of espresso is roughtly 1.5 ounces. Let’s assume for a second that we’re towing the company line—although we never did—and filling it halfway with milk before spooning in the foam. Now, right off the bat, if you have half a brain you’ve noticed that if the mixture is perfect, the short and the grande have a exact, proportional concentration—it’s just that the grande is twice the size.

Then there’s the viente. Three shots of espresso. Four and a half ounces of pure, concentrated caffeine magic cut with five and a half ounces of milk. Versus one and a half ounces of espresso mixed with two and a half ounces of milk. So we’re dealing with an espresso ratio of 8.18:10 in the viente and 6:10 in the short. (And let’s not even get into the cost ratio—a grande is 60¢ more than a $2.35 short, but you get double.)

So who’s getting fucked by the secret menu now?

His whole point is kind of weird, too. It’s partly true, according to Tully’s (like I said, Starbucks didn’t have shorts when I worked there), that they make the cheaper product less attractive (by not advertising it directly), and I was told exactly what he says: the price on the shorts is too low to justify the cost.

However, the actual reasoning is a little different than what he says—again, he’s misleading—because we buy cups and lids in bulk. And so if the cost of 100 8 oz. cups is roughly the same as the 20 oz., we sell so few (and as he points out, there’s less markup) that it doesn’t justify the store spending money to replace the cups and lids. When they were advertised early in the company’s existence (or so I’m told…), it cost more in the long run than it does to not advertise them at all.

It’s weird in the sense that it’s exclusionary—John Q. Non-Regular doesn’t have any idea he can save a whopping 30 cents on his cappuccino—and maybe shouldn’t be done at all, but it is nice on those rare occasions when somebody would ask, “Gee, can’t I get something smaller than 12 ounces?” But that happened maybe twice in the four months I worked at Tully’s, so that’s what I mean: without advertising, our individual store probably could have lasted a year on a box of 100 cups, which doesn’t hurt the profit margin.

I’m not really trying to justify the tactic—personally, I never understood why we offered the size at all—I just don’t see it as devious as leaving roofs off of third-class train cars or constructing shitty airline lounges to encourage people to pay a premium.

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