Starbucks brews a cup o' joe

You may have heard about the coffee flavor Starbucks introduced last Tuesday by giving it out for free at stores across the nation. Pike Place Roast is supposed to be for those who think that Starbucks coffee tastes too strong, bitter and/or burnt. Another name for these people: Non-Starbucks Drinkers.

Starbucks coffee has a definite taste and to fans of Dunkin Donuts swill. That taste is decidedly more extreme. I would use a terms like bold and full-bodied over bitter and burnt.

What about this new flavor? I have yet to try it, but the best description I have read so far was from James Poniewozik at Time who said, “The result, though, is a cup of coffee that tastes less like a cup of coffee.”

So is Starbucks doing the right thing? Well, I love that they introduced a product by giving it away on a certain day. It makes an event out of the launch and throws exponentially more people into the consumer process at the trial stage. Lesson here: consider giving it away for free if you can.

But, I have always thought that Starbucks was really aimed at coffee snobs (not an affectionate term, but I happen to be one, so I can use it). By attempting to brew a mass audience blend, do they abandon their core audience? Maybe. They must really be feeling the pinch from McDonalds.

Another position Starbucks strives to fill is what they call the “third place,” the other two being work and home. That is a lifestyle position. By this standard, opening up your product line to encompass more consumers could be considered a fit.

In the end, Starbucks comes off a bit desperate to me on this one. Part of the cool factor with them is that they seem to buck the system (“Screw small, medium and large! We’ll do tall, grande and Venti!”). Launching a bland roast doesn’t jive with that.

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