Friday, November 14, 2008

Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company (University District)


Last night my wife and I made some Japanese food (Shabu Shabu) and I must have drunk a little too much sake, because my head was pounding this morning. My morning coffee didn't have enough caffeine to get me started, so I headed over to Zoka in the University District. I went there a few months ago and saw that they had a Clover coffee machine. In a nutshell, the Clover machine is one of the biggest technological advancements in coffee in a long time. The machine, which was developed here in Seattle, has tremendous control over the parameters of the coffee brewing process to optimize for a certain type of coffee bean and roast.

As I eagerly walked into the store, I had an uneasy feeling as I looked over to the counter where I was expecting to see the Clover machine. Maybe they moved it where I couldn't see it. When I was asked for my order, I asked if they still made Clover coffee. There was an immediate look of disappointment on her face and there was a pause before she said "no, sorry, we just make French press coffee now." Well, I can make French press coffee at home, so I just ordered a latte. Normally, I'm really excited to get a latte of this caliber, but I was just bummed about the absence of the Clover coffee.



As I was waiting for my coffee, I figured I'd ask the barista about the Clover. Again, as soon as the word Clover came from my mouth, there was the look of disappointment on her face. She told me that since Starbucks bought Coffee Equipment Company (the company that developed the Clover), they will neither sell machines (and here's the kicker) nor sell parts to independent companies.

Rant on.

In a bunch of my posts, I've been slightly negative about Starbucks. I started feeling a little uneasy about these comments especially in light of their financial performance lately. All of those feelings are now gone. Anyone that knows me, knows I'm the most pro free market advocate there is, but this just makes me sick.

Did Starbucks spend the money to develop this technology? Nope!

Did Starbucks get on the bandwagon early and buy these $11,000 machines and install them in their stores? Nope!

The clover machines were bought by small independent coffee houses that are passionate about producing the best that can be produced. They took the big financial risk (a French press costs $50) while Starbucks was trying to figure out a way to schlep music CDs to their customers. Nice strategy there! Instead of focusing on their core business, they just keep experimenting with all of this silly lifestyle crap.

Now Howard Schultz (Starbucks founder and CEO) enters the scene about a year after the Clover was introduced to the market. He supposedly "stumbled" on the Clover machine on a trip to NYC. This is just great. The CEO of the largest retail coffee company in the world doesn't even know about the Clover a year after its introduction? Way to go there buddy! Nothing like keeping abreast of current trends in the marketplace.

So what does Schultz do after seeing the apparent interest in this new technology? Of course, he buys the company and removes it from the market. This is no different than my 4 year old taking away a toy from my 18 month old for two simple reasons: because she can and because my 18 month old was enjoying the toy. Starbucks is just being the bratty big kid. They could have simply purchased the Clover machines like the independents, but they knew that they would still be at a disadvantage. Their coffee beans just can't compare to the independents in terms of quality roasting and freshness (just think of micro-brew beer vs. the bug guys), so they took the toy away from the little kids. (Turn on whiny bratty voice) You can't have it!

Rant off.

Zoka University District is a top notch outfit. I adore their espresso drinks. My latte was great. I don't think that any more needs to be written.


Go out and support your independent coffee houses. If you appreciate innovation and pursuing the finest things in life, those will come from the entrepreneurs, not a big fat bloated company that only reacts to the market instead of leading it.

University Zoka on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

prolix said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life

Coffee Equipment