In The Battle Of The Beans, Starbucks Should Be Worried

Just as the new ads for Starbucks are lazy, the ones for McDonald's new coffees are horrendously grating, not to mention lowbrow. "McCafé Your Day" is bad enough, but how about "A Better Day is Possiblé"? Huh?. Or  "It's All About The Accent Mark"? Accent mark???.

So I naturally assumed that the drinks would be awful too. After all, the worse the ad, the worse the food, right? (Note: this doesn't always work in reverse--Denny's and Jack In The Box sometimes create brilliant ads, but I'd hardly call their grub wonderful).

But it's not really fair to criticize without trying them, so, rather than make do with a drive-thru, I headed down to a genuine, full-fat McCafé yesterday (CLICK HERE to find your nearest).

The verdict? Although totally indistinguishable from one another (see photo), the latte and cappuccino were not bad. Not bad at all.

Notice I didn't say good--I can't bring myself to. They were... surprisingly pleasant? They were creamy, with the right amount of foam on top, and, shock horror, you could actually taste the coffee.

True, I did burn my mouth on the first sip as they were way too hot.

True, I hadn't realized I needed to ask for sugar when I ordered the drinks, although it's surely better to make it straight and then allow the customer to add their own?.

And, true, for an overall "experience", surrounded by screaming kids and shopping carts in a megastore, it was hardly romantic or even relaxing, and not exactly in keeping with the faux "French chic" slant of the ads.

But, still, it exceeded my expectations, and not just in terms of price ($2.79 for a medium/16oz latte, nearly 50 cents less than the equivalent at Starbucks).

And that's the point. While the likes of Peet's and Kéan, in a league of their own, don't have any reason to start quaking in their boots, Starbucks does. It may be trying valiantly to hang on to loyal customers by proclaiming "Beware Of A Cheaper Cup Of Coffee", and slashing the cost of the odd drink here and there (its grande iced coffee recently dropped to $1.95), it has ignored the question of taste. Of course, people want to pay less, but there's more to the equation: if a competitor's product is cheaper and as good as their current one, they'll make the switch.

Don't believe me? Try it for yourself. For nothing: some McCafés are still handing out free samples. At the one inside the Wal-Mart in Santa Ana ( 3600 W. McFadden Ave.), it's from noon till 2pm this coming Friday (May 15).

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