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I Just Drank a Beer at Starbucks

By: Kyle Valenzuela

Just a Place to Work

I am a web developer by day. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer in various locations. Anyone attempting to start a business understands that work happens wherever you make it happen. Because of this mantra, I am always finding myself at a Starbucks. However, I am not the biggest fan of the coffee served at the global coffee enterprise. I find it over-caffeinated and over-roasted, even the lighter roasts.

So what is the appeal to going to place that serves a sub-par product in the eyes of this drinker? What this place does provide is a good atmosphere (although Starbucks if you are listening, please find more ergonomic chairs), friendly people, and fast internet. In other words, Starbucks, as the tech community loves to say, provides me with a great user experience. There is no sense pretension and there is no friction. I am able to quickly and efficiently be productive in a Starbucks during a one hour lunch period, minus the occasional mom that makes sure their son’s accomplishments can be heard across the entire floor.

Looking Across the Pond for Inspiration

The advent of the American coffee house started as an Italian-centric style coffee establishment that focussed on espressos and pastries and, to this day, hasn’t really ventured beyond that. Sure this is anecdotal evidence from a guy who likes his coffee with a side of hard work and stressing in front of a laptop about something from someone somewhere else. But for the most part, besides wifi and the occasional ignoring the person in front of you for your phone, things seem to be the same: grab a coffee, meet a friend for a quick meeting, get some work done, then go about your day.

One thing that makes me envious of European coffee shop culture is their ability to curate a meet-up environment. In places such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, the mild-mannered coffee establishment transforms from an espresso factory by day into a bar at night. Certainly, in America, we have coffee shops and we have bars, so why does being an all-in-one stop make a difference? Because it makes the establishment “the spot”. What I mean is that, for a small community of friends or coworkers, this is the place — not to drink, not to be productive, not to make things happen — but to just be. Simply put, this is the spot you can go to and will always find a friend. This is the spot where your next big project is going to start. This is the place where your greatest relationship began and ended. This idea isn’t lost on Americans. Just look at any sitcom and notice that your favorite group of fictional characters have this space.

There Was Mention of Beer?

So when I walked into Starbucks and ordered their Espresso Cloud IPA, there were a few thoughts that came to my mind. One: awesome! A place where I can both work and have a beer. I have attempted to go to more intimate craft brewery tap rooms to work only to be interrupted drastically by the Jinga game that just ended behind me. Another thing that came to mind is that this could finally be the thing that could make Starbucks “the place”. Certainly this isn’t necessarily new American establishments either. If you have ever been to Young Hickory in San Diego, you will find an assortment of people congregating around with their coffee, beer, and sandwiches. So what is so special about Starbucks? Similar to how Google betas their new products with in the hopes that it creates competition among its competitors, so too can Starbucks bring this coffee shop concept into a public marketplace and get others to follow suit.

Espresso Cloud IPA

Serving beer at Starbucks is apart of their new Starbucks Evening program. The Espresso Cloud IPA contains your favorite hoppy and citrus notes with what Starbucks claims to do best: espresso. You are served with a full pour of the IPA along a shot of espresso. Simply take the espresso and dump the contents into the beer and watch that foam rise. However, as much as I boast user experience, this beer didn’t provide the UX I quite wanted. Pour the espresso too slow and some coffee doesn’t make it to the glass. Pour the espresso with the quickness and you are left with a volcano of beer all over your notebook. This is an art that I have yet to understand which is why I won’t be a certified Cicerone pourer any time soon.

It looks beautiful, but what does it taste like? Initially, your mouth receives a potpourri of malt, citrus, and coffee. On the back end, you are welcomed with your traditional hoppy IPA flavors. Overall, the experience was quite enjoyable.

Just One Catch…

The one note that Starbucks doesn’t seem to make is public is information on the beer. What beer is being used here? Is Starbucks making their own beer? The answer, at least in this stage of the process, is no. I asked the barista information regarding the IPA used and she showed me a bottle of Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA. This is just a local IPA (and local is used with a grain of salt here) used to create a beer cocktail. Now this isn’t a bad thing, but when you brand your beer with a name, you expect something a little different. As a baker who creates beer infused recipes, I make it a priority to name my creation after the beer. Calling this Espresso Cloud IPA with no reference of Bear Republic is somewhat misleading in my eyes. Luckily, I love Racer 5, so this wasn’t a big downfall. The Barista mentioned that each location will feature a “local” beer to the area so this drink is very particular to California and can’t speak of its taste in other locations.

Similar to their coffee, I could go on for days criticizing the choice of beer used or their choice to go with an IPA instead of a coffee stout. But what I really enjoy is the potential that this could offer someone like me: a person who really likes to be productive and also cater to my needs to not be sober. Perhaps, this could change the perspective of many individuals who despise the corporate coffee house. Or maybe this is just another giant corporation jumping on the craft beer bandwagon. Regardless of what this becomes, I am thoroughly satisfied with being both productive and inebriated.

Kyle Valenzuela

I am a developer, cooking fanatic, and craft beer lover. However, lacking in baking skills, I decided to try making beer bread. Baking Brew is dedicated to cooking and baking with one main ingredient in mind. Craft Beer!