One week ago, Starbucks opened its doors in the central train station of Antwerp. It’s the second Starbucks in Belgium, after the one at the main departure hall in Brussels Airport. Its opening was accompanied by lots of publicity and media attention. It was covered in almost all Belgian newspapers, the MNM radio station dedicated a whole program to it, celebrities and bands were asked to make the obligatory performances, etc… It was a BIG news item, as if Belgium had been waiting for this moment for ages, as if only from this point on Belgians could start enjoying good coffee…
Needless to say that we as Caffènation baristas felt the need to go check this out. Earlier on this week, my fellow heavy metal cuppers Bert, Roeland and Jeff went on expedition. I don’t think they were in for a completely honest objective review, but however did wait an awful long time only to come back with burned tongues.
I wanted to give them some more credit, trying to enter as a regular customer, without being biased too much; trying to be as objective as I could. I travel from Ghent to Antwerp by train, hence passing by Starbucks almost every day. But the waiting line there was always so big while I was always in a hurry. Tuesday I had ten minutes left before my train was leaving. The queue was pretty big with at least 15people in front of me, and I thought I’d never make it.
Surprisingly, I did! I must admit I was happily surprised with how fast the staff was handling it. One person was taking orders from the people in line, handling each of them a piece of paper while at the same time yelling out the orders to the baristas at the other side of the bar. This was a nice way to save time at the cashier, where the customers handed over their piece of paper, paid and in return got their sweets/sandwiches and a ticket for the drink. On a downside, the constant yelling by one staff member (“tall caramel frappuccino to go”) echoed by the barista or barista assistant (“understood, one tall caramel frappuccino to go”), was annoying me big time. The back and forth order yell made me feel like watching a ping pong game from way too close, it made me nervous and anxious to get my drink as fast as I could and get the hell out of there. Talking about killing a chill and relax atmosphere that should accompany a nice cup of coffee, this is certainly an efficient way of doing so. Second problem was that the baristas couldn’t handle the fast income of orders; so they had to ask every customer: “sorry, what did you order?” I don’t mind repeating my order, but then why the hell do all the yelling in the first place.
However, these are all routine issues, and considering that the staff has only been working there for about a week, they did a pretty good job. Bottomline is: I got my drink within ten minutes from ordering it.
More importantly now: the taste of my order! I got a ‘tall cappuccino and a blueberry muffin to go’. Because I had to run for my train, the first sip I took was when I was seated, so a couple of minutes after the drink was made… and I almost burned my tongue (I was very careful, as I saw them make my drink). I know these cups are designed to isolate warmth but one should basically never burn their tongue when sipping a cappuccino or latte or any milkbased drink for that matter, no matter how tall it is. So, I took off the lid and let it cool down for a while. I immediately saw the bubbles in the foam, and the smell of burned milk… The barista who made my drink first aerated the milk an awful lot, then to put the pitcher on the tray leaving it to steam further… way too f’n’ long! What I don’t get, because they are using huge thermometers in their pitchers. It seemed to me that they are just using them for the ‘stretching’ fase of milk steaming, when air is carefully pulled into the milk; but don’t mind about the ‘whirlpooling’ fase, when milk is rotated so it gets a nice silky even texture of microfoam. At both stages, temperature control is of utmost importance!
Furthermore, I also didn’t get a nice balance between the milk and coffee taste. Even when it had cooled down, I only had a flavored, kind of bitter and even slightly caramel milk taste. A little bit like burned sugar. Do they use extra sweetened milk? Where was the coffee taste? I’d like to go back to taste their espresso, and see if I can recall any of that taste in the capp I got.
The blueberry muffin I got was ok. While it did have some ‘berry chewing-gum’ chemical taste, it was light and fluffy; as a muffin should be.
In total I paid 5,90euros for this: 3,90 for the cappuccino and 2 for the muffin. Im ok with the muffin price; but 3,90 for the smallest capp you can get is really too high a price for me. If it were to have extraordinary coffee inside, or perfectly textured milk; it would ease the pain on my wallet weight loss and might justify the buy.
It sells fairtrade coffee, fair enough, but Starbucks is going to have to change a lot in order for me to have them as a regular. For now, every day when I take my train, I’ll be going in a wide circle around the queue to get my Dorica (double ristretto capp) at Caffènation.