Monday, March 15, 2010

Coffee's the PITS!

Hey I am not being disrespectful to your favorite morning elixir, I’m just stating a fact. Coffee is derived from the roasted seeds (or pits) of the coffee cherry. For the last 600 years or so the berries have been grown on trees world-wide and they are one of the more appreciated exports from the Arab world. (and you thought it was oil – Ha! )

I once attempted to grow coffee with the idea that I could vertically integrate my personal habit from seed to feed. After all at only 2000 coffee beans per roasted pound, I only needed a ‘PITtance’ of trees to cover my meager bean-brewing need. Well sadly my little project never bared fruit (literally). We would try to water the plants less, more, or no water – you name it, the coffee plants refused to grow.

In the 80’s, ‘Oh thank heaven for 7-11' because they started making fresh brewed coffee a morning mainstay and a big seller at their corner convenience stores. For failed coffee farmers like myself, and the caffeinated corporate monikers such as Juan Valdez, this was indeed the beginnings of a game-changer. Up until then places like Denny’s, mom and pop diners, and donut shops (Dunkin) were the main delivery outlets for a cup of coffee. But in most cases, coffee was still a drink relegated as a side-show to other foods until it came into its own in the Nineties.

This is of course the era that Starbucks decided to turn on the juice. Though founded in the early 1970’s, Starbucks became a corporate golden child in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Dunkin easily had a grip on the East Coast, but Starbucks, for nearly a decade was opening a new coffee house DAILY all over the United States. This rapid expansion all but eliminated Dunkin’s, already underpeforming and poorly managed, franchisee presence in the West. To this day, despite Dunkin Donuts’ meteoric resurgence in aggressive marketing and re-dedication to their proprietary coffee blend, they still have fewer than a hundred stores West of the Mississippi.

Starbucks developed growing pains by 2005 as well as increased competition by smaller coffee chains, store brands, Peet’s coffee and the behemoth McDonald’s corporation. McDonald’s, and to a lesser degree, Burger King set out on a campaign to directly challenge Starbuck’s coffee dominance by offering bolder consumer-tested coffee blends at a value price point. McDonalds pushed further into specialty coffees by 2007 and continues to gain market share every quarter on Starbucks. Both Dunkin Donuts and Peet’s coffee are recently growing rapidly especially in the East. Even smaller specialty chains like the Midwest’s Panera Bread are making inroads onto the national coffee scene as economy-minded patrons turn to home-brews or ‘grab n’ go’ value over the subdued ‘gourmet experience’ of the domestic pioneer, Starbucks.

So the next time you grab a cup of tasty ‘joe’, take a moment to regale in its long hot journey. If you want to save some coin, blind taste tests show, that you can rarely buy a more flavorful or fresh cup of coffee than one properly brewed at home. Wow, too bad – NOW what are you going to do with that extra $3 a day? Take it from a failed coffee grower, save that dough, ‘cause when it comes to all things coffee – Life’s the Pits!

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