Friday, May 2, 2008

Can the people who brought you the McShaker Salad seriously be a threat to Starbucks?

It probably depends on how deeply indoctrinated you are in the church of the divine roast. If you save your religious fervor for the deeper parts of your soul, then McCafe is probably okay for you. If Sunday mornings mean some serious communing with your espresso machine, then you’ll probably agree with my assessment.

First, McCafe is hardly the premium coffee bar its described as. It’s one corner of the regular McDonald’s counter with a bistro inspired logo above a completely automated plastic machine. The barista training presumably consists of a quick tutorial of which button to push. Forget the laundry list of choices available at Starbucks and other premium coffee outlets. McCafe keeps it simple: latte, cappuccino, regular, non-fat, three syrup choices, plus sugar-free. I ordered a non-fat vanilla latte and asked for two pumps of syrup instead of the standard four.

The coffee tastes exactly as you’d expect, just a notch above the stuff you get from the vending machine outside the jury duty waiting room. There’s none of the bold edge that comes from the slow forcing of the hot water through the tightly packed grounds. The milk and espresso come out together from the same spout, so one could contest even calling it an espresso drink. Even with the syrup cut in half, it’s too sweet, and there's a hint of cleaning product in the aroma. To top it off, at $2.79 + tax ($3.02), I pocket a mere eighteen cents in savings. Hardly worth the sacrifice.

That said, I don’t think Starbucks is the pinnacle of coffee either. It’s just highly consistent, readily available, and pleasantly satisfying. If I’m going to pay for a premium coffee, that’s usually what I get, but there’s certainly better out there.

Maybe if my parents had been taking me to McDonald’s for a stiff cup of scalding liquid asphalt instead of Happy Meals all those years, I might have a soft spot for their java. But I’m definitely not loving it.

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