Starbucking

There’s an apocryphal tale I know about Hershey’s chocolate. Once upon a time it was made in batches, and milk deliveries were lined up outside the factory waiting to go into each batch. They found out they had issues with taste consistency – batches made early in the morning tasted different to those at the end of the day. Then they found out why – it was because the milk used in the afternoon batches had turned slightly in the sun, while the morning batches were completely fresh. The solution? They deliberately “matured” the milk so it was all sour before it went into the factory. Add some carnauba wax and as little cocoa as you can get away with, and hey presto, that authentic american chocolate taste – every bar the same.

I have no idea if the milk story is true, although Wikipedia notes that the product is “less sensitive to the freshness of milk” and suggests the milk is indeed treated prior to use. But it wouldn’t surprise me that this measure is less about taste, and more about product consistency. I’ve worked in the manufacturing industry for over 15 years now and product consistency follows raw material consistency. If you can make a change that eliminates variation without affecting quality or demand, it’s a good thing.

I’m sitting at my desk with a milky americano made from Starbucks’ Caffe Verona whole bean coffee. Just as Hershey’s treat their milk, Starbucks over-roast their beans so that wherever you are in the world,  a Starbucks bean will taste the same.

Unfortunately this does affect quality. I like a nice dark roasted coffee like a Sumatra or an Italian roast, and my tastes have changed recently from filter to a moka pot, but Starbucks have completely roasted the nuts off this coffee and robbed it of any subtlety. In a filter it lacks acidity or any complexity, but is also devoid of aromatic oils that provide mouthfeel of a decent cup of joe.

La macchinetta  Alessandro Mendini

So I tried it in the macchinetta (lovely interpretation above by Allesandro Mendini) thinking it was fit for espresso. Normally I use Cafe Direct’s espresso, Illy, or Percol’s Black and Beyond. If anything the lack of oils was even more obvious, and the brew was disappointingly thin.

The beans aren’t bad, per se – but they were more expensive that my regular choices (excepting the Illy, which comes in a poncy but useful tin). Perhaps I can use them in a gluten-free tiramisu.

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