• The cult of milk-filled coffee. Is Starbucks to blame?

    There was a time when coffee was thick, black and bitter - your Italian espresso, Turkic and Greek as well as your French cafe' noir. There was never a question of milk. Even in the US the filtered coffee in Diners was always black (albeit re-heated and diluted).

    Then Starbucks came along and changed the game. They took the Italian cappuccino, latte and turned them into a cornucopia of endless concoctions. The World worships this phenomenon. Starbucks becomes a household name and a multi-billion-dollar business.

    Copies galore sprang - all the high street chains that are as common as Starbucks. Equally successful though. No one could tell any product difference. The battle ground is on securing that convenient corner location. Does it matter? Not a bit when it comes to a £2 drink in the morning on your way to work, between work and after work.

    The game gets keener when smaller, independent-claimed operators cut in, most with a show-piece bean roaster on premise. The competitive posture invariably turns to 'better beans, freshly roasted from beans to cup".

    The cult cumulates - hand-crafted coffee by highly-trained baristas. The price goes up to £3 for these fellows. The coffee drinkers think they are buying a better cup.

    Better beans? Perhaps. Fresher from roaster to cup? Sure thing. Hand-crafted? All coffee preparations need some human intervention at some point. Trained baristas? Barista is Italian meaning a bar-tender of coffee or drinks, no specific qualification intended.

    Would you not suspect a huge hype?

    Importantly this cornucopia of varieties of coffee is incumbent on a manipulation of milk over the coffee. The coffee plays a second fiddle. The 'hand-crafted artistry' is upon the milk, not the coffee. More precisely, the artistic presentation of hot foamed milk (in the form of a heart, a Christmas tree, etc.).

    You are drinking a milked, sugared coffee drink. Could you really discern the quality of the beans of the coffee? Or do you think you could? Starbucks and the copiers make a mint. You are not necessarily drinking a better cup. Is it not time to revert to plain old espresso? 

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