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Opinions on big coffee franchises


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As a homebrewer (beer that is) I'm all too aware that the big macro beers such as Budweiser, Coors, Carling etc. are very much looked down on by the majority of hobby brewers (arguably with good reason) and as a noob to coffee I was curious is there a similar attitude towards the big franchise coffee places like Costa, Nero, Starbucks and the like? Or do some of them actually make some good coffee? Also what are the thoughts on service station coffee machines like Street, Frank & Honest, Tim Hortons? 

 

Genuinely interested to hear opinions from proper coffee geeks on this 😀

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From my short time here i would say people are not fond of the chain stores due to the fluctuation in quality. They seem to have from what i have read a " set and forget " approach. Beans can be months old and left in hoppers for a long period with no adjustment to the grinders to take account of the aging beans etc.

The independents and prosumer u are using fresh beans that have aged 7+ days but aren't any older than 3 months or so. I would imagine costa etc might have bags of beans in huge warehouses for months and months. It seems we ( prosumers ) monitor most variables daily or every shot to ensure we get the correct weights and ratios to suit our taste buds.

That's my 2 pence worth but I'd like to highlight that i am new to prosumer, certainly not experienced.

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I have had a better a better cup of coffee from supermarket beans (Lavazza, Illy) than from some of my local roasters.

I have had better fresh coffee from Costa, McDonalds than some boutiques .

And vice-versa.

I don't buy into the idea that either approach is always amazing or rubbish.

 

Mostly, you get what you pay for...

 

 

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Mostly terrible coffee from the high street chains.

If you get very luck then you might get someone that actually cares in Costa and you can get something drinkable. The problem is even if they do everything right, the raw coffee that goes in isn't amazing and likely not fresh so you are limited as to what you will get out.

Nero is ok and is a similar situation to Costa but I would say I like the coffee less.

Starbucks is just burnt to my taste buds and the machines are basically glorified bean to cup and never set up correctly. I believe they have a big roaster in Milan and they use really very good raw coffee. I have never tried it though and if it is roasted to the normal Starbucks burnt to a crisp then the raw material becomes irrelevant.

This may well be controversial but the least worst (to my taste buds and when you take in to account the variability of Costa etc) coffee you can get on the high street is from........McDonalds.

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The problem here is that these huge companies basically don’t care about the quality, it’s all about quantity, bums on seats sort of thing. Of the three giants of the High St, Starbucks is possibly the worst; as soon as you open the door it’s smells usually of sour milk, yuk. Basic machines, horrible huge mugs and a taste that to my mind must be acquired (black AMERICANO).

Costa comes in second; basically dirge water. Old beans, sour taste and served by ‘baristas’ who are so rushed that the coffee is thrown at you. AMERICANO weak, sour, the total absence of any CREMA makes this a not too enjoyable coffee break.

First place goes to Nero; their AMERICANO at least has some strength to it and on a good day some CREMA. It tries to be all things Italian, but again the staff seem to rush their drinks. If you like atmosphere this is perhaps the  best at playing Italian.

To be honest, if you really want a half decent brew you are mostly better off visiting an independent.

Of course once home brewing gets seriously underway you can NEVER want a High St coffee again.

Unfortunately the masses gather at these watering holes because they really know no better; it’s not their fault. These huge companies have sold us a dream; they can afford to. Think on; get a decent set up and you will never look back.!!

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Yes it can be maddeningly variable, I've had decent espresso based drinks at black sheep which I think is a small chain, OTOH I've popped into an indie full of beards, ink and lumberjack flannel shirts with weird coffee gear on display and a beautiful LM machine and was served such a watery stinker that I've never gone back. 

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The best coffee I've ever had in my life was - and bear with me on this - from a Starbucks machine (not even a cafe) at a tiny train station in Switzerland. It was winter and snowing and I'd taken a run with the wind at my back down the valley before turning back to face the same five miles, slightly uphill, with the wind in my face. I was cold, miserable, and aching. Finally reaching the station, I had just enough time for the machine to pour out a latte before finding my seat for a fifteen minute ride back up the mountain savouring the most delicious warm coffee I've ever known. 

Just shows the importance of context. I avoid Starbucks, Costa, Nero whenever possible as you're generally going to get a below average, if consistently below average, coffee. The beans are lowest common denominator, the barista skills aren't great, the milk steaming is going through the motions as quickly as possible so they can serve the next personl 

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Posted (edited)
18 minutes ago, ArkellvsPressdram said:

Yes it can be maddeningly variable, I've had decent espresso based drinks at black sheep which I think is a small chain, OTOH I've popped into an indie full of beards, ink and lumberjack flannel shirts with weird coffee gear on display and a beautiful LM machine and was served such a watery stinker that I've never gone back. 

Yes, black sheep isn't too bad, they are a small chain on a big drive to acquire (seem to be taking over some Taylor street properties).

The problem I find with Starbucks and the like is they aim for consistency by roasting all the flavour out of  their beans then filling in the flavour with milk, syrup & unicorn sprinkles.

Edited by siliconslave
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2 minutes ago, higbert said:

Just shows the importance of context.

I think this is a very underrated factor when it comes to sensory experience actually. One of my fondest beer memories (I keep referring to beer, but I think there's a lot of overlap with coffee) was drinking a Westvleteren XII in a bar in Brussels. The bottle was perfectly poured into a branded glass with care by the barman, I was in the oldest pub in the city, sitting in front of an ancient stained glass window with the afternoon sun shining onto my table with a legendary beer on it. It was heavenly. I've had the same beer several times since at home and the experience is nowhere near the same. 

 

It's interesting to hear these comments though, I have several friends who think they know good coffee because they'll only drink from a particular chain, when in reality it's just snobbishness rather than based on any real knowledge of the subject. 

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i'm curious to know what the story is with Black Sheep and Taylor Street.  Around the City of London (and SE, where I live) most of the independents wrinkle their noses when I mention Black Sheep.  It seems to be something to do with their takeover of Taylor Street's premises/business.  Afaik nearly all the Taylor Street staff quit en masse when Black Sheep took over.

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1 hour ago, Jack_Loves_Joe said:

What are people thoughts on 200 Degrees, as before lockdown they seemed poised to start taking over the UK as the first "third wave" chain?

Never been inside their shops and tried a subscription with them; cancelled after receiving something that might once have been a coffee bean but seemed to have been misplaced in a lit furnace for a week before they sent it on. 

The shops do look a step up from the usual dish water sellers but there is something really disconcerting in seeing independent 'quirky' decor and such a distinct impression of what a coffee house could be (a hipster bar...) produced in such a scale. I love real independents with knowledge, interest and good chat (coffee and beyond); I think I'm yet to see this convincingly repeated at scale without thinking I'm being taken advantage of!

 

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18 hours ago, Nicd said:

Never been inside their shops and tried a subscription with them; cancelled after receiving something that might once have been a coffee bean but seemed to have been misplaced in a lit furnace for a week before they sent it on. 

The shops do look a step up from the usual dish water sellers but there is something really disconcerting in seeing independent 'quirky' decor and such a distinct impression of what a coffee house could be (a hipster bar...) produced in such a scale. I love real independents with knowledge, interest and good chat (coffee and beyond); I think I'm yet to see this convincingly repeated at scale without thinking I'm being taken advantage of!

 

Interesting. Their Brazilian Love Affair is very dark indeed, and I tend to opt for the guest roast espresso if I ever happen to find myself at the one here in Leicester. The shops generally are pleasant spaces - I've visited the Nottingham shops also - and the coffee is noticeably better than the "high steet" chains. I've never had a decent pourover in one though, always seems to be very underextracted.

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On 07/07/2020 at 14:41, facboy said:

i'm curious to know what the story is with Black Sheep and Taylor Street.  Around the City of London (and SE, where I live) most of the independents wrinkle their noses when I mention Black Sheep.  It seems to be something to do with their takeover of Taylor Street's premises/business.  Afaik nearly all the Taylor Street staff quit en masse when Black Sheep took over.

Originally Black Sheep only offered robusta blends, it came across as though they were trying to buy the cheapest grade coffee they could and sell it on at high specialty sort of prices. I'm not sure their reputation ever really recovered from it in the specialty scene. It didn't help that some of those blends were very old fashioned and didn't really fit in with crowd, and to be honest pretty low quality. It looks like they've expanded to include some arabicas now though, I've not been in since they first opened so don't really know what they're like now.

https://jazzcoffeestuff.com/

Current Favoured Roasters:
UK: Assembly (London), Round Hill (Bath), PLOT (London)
Else: Gardelli (Italy), Drop (Sweden), Morgon (Sweden), Five Elephant (Germany), Kaffa (Norway)

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I worked for Starbucks for a short time.  I was already really into making espresso when I got the role and it was as they were transitioning to bean-to-cup machines. I have never been more disappointed in my life. I really wanted to amaze people with my espresso knowledge but instead it was a game of who could remember the 8 million drink variations and do them the fastest.

Some of the sweeter drinks were nice but just not really a coffee drink. I really don't miss making 15 frapuccino's in a row covered in a sugary gloop that's impossible to wash off. Ugh! 

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On 09/07/2020 at 20:15, Power Freak said:

Originally Black Sheep only offered robusta blends, it came across as though they were trying to buy the cheapest grade coffee they could and sell it on at high specialty sort of prices. I'm not sure their reputation ever really recovered from it in the specialty scene. It didn't help that some of those blends were very old fashioned and didn't really fit in with crowd, and to be honest pretty low quality. It looks like they've expanded to include some arabicas now though, I've not been in since they first opened so don't really know what they're like now.

Black Sheep seem to have sprung up everywhere in London over the past year or so. I'm not really in a position to comment as I've never actually been inside one! Rather put off by the emphasis of the robusta content on their signage -  seemed to be selling it on the caffeine content. The decor seemed decidedly odd as well, not the most inviting environment. Seemed to be going for a slightly 'alternative' Starbucks crowd.

If forced, my chain coffee of choice would be Nero, as the milk drinks are passable and at least they have a vaguely pleasant ambience (yes I know the marble is fake, but still). O2 do a promotion for a free coffee on Wednesday, so between that and the loyalty stamps they make very little money off me.

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On 07/07/2020 at 13:10, Gilly said:

 

To be honest, if you really want a half decent brew you are mostly better off visiting an independent.

Of course once home brewing gets seriously underway you can NEVER want a High St coffee again.

 

Completely agree with this. I decided to bin off getting coffee from my High St. about 4 weeks ago and take the plunge with my own set up. Haven't looked back - the coffee I have been making at home is better in every sense. I was thinking about what I'm consuming at the moment and it's generally 2 cups a day and my wife will have 1 and sometimes 2. Buying this on the High Street would cost me £10 plus a day, so over £300 a month. Since buying my set up I've bought some great beans from Coffee Compass and I am probably spending £1 a day or so. So happy I got involved and can't see me leaving the house for a local coffee again - not one from my local High Street anyway.

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