Starbucks vs. McCafe


I like cafe.  I like espresso.  There are many chains here in Los Angeles.  The usual stuff I am sure you all have in your neck of the woods.

Starbucks?  Check.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf? Check.

Peet’s Coffee and Tea? Check.

Seattle’s Best (usually inside of a Borders around here)? Check.

Kelly’s? Check.

Rosy’s Bakery and Cuban Cafe? Check.  (Okay, I snuck that one in because…well…you’ll see).

McCafe? Check.

Starbucks, is well, everywhere.  There are 4 within a mile of each other in my little corner of L.A.  I was in San Francisco and they are literally a block away from each other.  Seattle?  Well, that is its home.  In Seattle, like in your own home, there is a Starbucks in the kitchen, the hall closet, the garage, the basement, the bedroom and in the bathroom.  It’s almost like a roommate that won’t leave you alone to entertain your “guest” on those special nights.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf serves a much better espresso than Starbucks.  Starbucks tends to be over-roasted.  CB&TL has it pretty good.  Strong and Bold, with just enough of that bitterness but not overwhelming. 

Peet’s is just okay.  Take it or leave it, there are better.

Kelly’s?  Skip it for espresso.  Seriously.

Seattle’s Best is probably the best of the “big guys”.  It is the perfect blend of strong, bold, creamy, and bitter.  The perfect blend.  This was my go to place.  It was until the clown showed up.

McD’s is now serving espresso.  Now, I am not totally surprised.  This was going on in Europe for years.  We were in London in 2005.  And there, inside the McDonald’s was a “Cafe”.  It was cool.  It had its own “space” within the “space”.  The espresso’s were well made, but not PERFECT.  I thought, eventually the US McDonald’s will figure this out.  It’s 2009.  What the hell took so long? 

RANT: US McD stopped serving FRIED apple pies and switched to BAKED apple pies.  If you are old enough to remember…those USED to be FRIED!  I guess in 2007 the dream came to an end for me.  London no longer sold FRIED apple pies.  Neither did ITALY.  McD’s Europe went CALIFORNIA!  WTF!?!?

Okay, sorry.  I had to vent.

Back to the espresso.

If you have been living under a rock or don’t drive/ride/walk past a McD’s on your way ANYWHERE then you will know that McD’s has introduced Iced Coffees a while ago.  I don’t drink them, but I heard they were pretty good.  Recently, McD’s opened a select few McCafe’s in direct competition with Starbucks (SB).

Starbucks, you have been warned.  My millions of reads will soon flock, run, ride, drive thru, skip from the Green Mermaid to the old trusty Clown.

If you are into the Iced Coffee drinks or Lattes or Vanilla whatevers…Find Your Nearest McCafe Now!  (You will have to search in your area using the almighty one).

There you have it.  Order an espresso.  Order a cappuccino. Order a Latte.  YOU. WILL. NOT. BE. DISAPPOINTED.

Oh yeah, Rosy’s.  Well, Rosy’s serves up the most consistent shots of espresso.  Period.  They use the best cafe in the world.  It’s made by Gavina.  You may know this brand as Don Francisco or La Llave.  There is no better cafe/coffee in the world.  Trust me.  There isn’t.  Stop looking.  Seriously.

I said STOP.

Now, I think, the Clown is using a brand of cafe/coffee I quite like…is it?  Could it possibly be? IS IT?

Taste it for yourself.  You will never visit a mermaid again. 

Unless she looks like Daryl Hannah.

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5 thoughts on “Starbucks vs. McCafe

  1. MR.A, what the fuck are you talking about? do you know why I can just be disappointed by your post..right?

    Look at my “heritage” about coffee:
    http://www.anticocaffegreco.eu/
    http://www.illy.com/wps/wcm/connect/us/illy/

    And…not to forget this, amico caro:

    There are so many different types of Italian coffee, and by now we know them all, right? Latte, mocha, Frappuccino…

    You won’t find a single drink by those names here in Italy.

    Ordering coffee in an Italian bar is quite a different story, and I often give my guests a little primer on coffee in Italy (much like How to Avoid a Pickpocket I wrote Monday). Torani syrups to “personalize your coffee experience” and nonfat whipped cream don’t exist in Il Bel Paese. Instead, there are a series of coffee variations you can count on finding in almost any bar in Italy. Italy doesn’t have Starbucks and in my opinion, it doesn’t need it. The next time you say “Venti” remember you’re ordering 20oz. of a coffee drink. And that’s only the medium.

    Jeff Israely, the Rome correspondent for Time touches on the mystery of un caffè in Italy in his article Black Magic – he even says….

    …the consumption of espresso at the local bar is a rare example of standard fare, identical throughout the country: a brief but intense pausa from life’s travails that is a national bond…

    The fact is that there is relative consistency in the quality as well as the coffee drink names across Italy. You won’t have to worry about mixing your ice blends with your Frappucinos as you go from bar to bar and town to town. Maybe you won’t be able to learn how to make the perfect Illy espresso (part 2) like David, but at least you’ll know how to order it!

    Popular Italian Coffee Drinks:
    Caffè – In Italy the word “caffè’” naturally implies an espresso. There is no need to specify “espresso” when ordering. It will be served in a porcelain demitasse cup “tazzina” with its own saucer and little stirring spoon. Pronunciation tip: Cahf-FEH’

    Caffè Macchiato – In Italian, macchiare means to “stain” – and this espresso in a demitasse cup is stained with some hot milk, probably frothed, though no attention is placed on serving foam. This is not a mini-cappuccino.

    Caffè Macchiato Freddo – An espresso served in a demitasse cup with cold or lukewarm milk on the side. It looks like a normal caffè next to a carafe of milk. It is! Many bars provide a communal container of milk on the bar, so often someone can just order a caffè and add the milk themselves. It’s best to order the caffè macchiato freddo and let the barman direct you. If you absolutely want to add the milk yourself, you can make sure to specify, “il latte a parte”

    Cappuccino – Probably the most well-known and loved coffee drink, it has a long history. Espresso and steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam in a larger cup, a tazza.

    Marocchino – In some areas of Italy, also called an Espressino or Mocacchino, this is my drink of choice and was what ultimately led me to be addicted to coffee 9 short months ago. It is a shot of espresso served in a glass demitasse (for aesthetic reasons), with a sprinkling of cacao (added either before or after the milk, sometimes both!) and milk foam spooned on top.

    Latte Macchiato – Milk “stained” with coffee, and served hot in a glass cup as shown or in a tall glass, larger than a cappuccino.

    Caffè Corretto – An espresso in a demitasse cup, with a “shot” of liquor of your choice. Popular liquors are grappa, Sambuca (anise-flavored liqueur), cognac, rum, or my personal favorite, Baileys Irish Cream. You can also ask for a Marocchino Corretto and they should oblige you.

    Popular Variations on Caffè Espresso
    These drinks are further variations on the coffee itself. Most of these drinks can have milk added to them but the important thing about ordering these drinks is specifying how it is brewed – doubled, water added, chilled, reduced!

    Caffè Doppio – Two shots of espresso, served in a larger cup (tazza).
    Caffè Americano – A shot of espresso with hot water added and served in the larger “tazza.”
    Caffè Lungo – A setting on most espresso machines, more water is being run through the filter, resulting in a “longer” coffee. The consistency and strength is not the same as an espresso.
    Caffè Stretto or Ristretto – Made with less water than a normal espresso, this caffe’ is more concentrated and strong and served in a demitasse.
    Caffè d’Orzo – Espresso made from barley is a popular alternative to traditional espresso. It can be ordered as a single, doppio (double) or macchiato like a normal caffè. You can see this macchiato has some bubbles because the caffè d’orzo is not as thick as a regular caffè.

    Caffè Freddo – Espresso is left to raffreddare or get cool, or is sometimes refrigerated and served cold or lukewarm.
    Caffe HAG – Not only is this the most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee in Italy, it can also be a way to indicate a decaffeinated coffee when ordering. It can be ordered as a single, double or macchiato like a normal caffè. (Pron: Ahg – the H is silent).
    Special Coffee Drinks
    Not all bars will have these specialties available (and some not year-round) but if you find a bar that does them right, you’ve found a favorite for life!

    Granita di Caffè – Granita, an icy coffee treat was recently covered by Shelley at At Home in Rome at the famous Tazza d’Oro in Rome. This can be found in some gelaterias or bars that have granita, but it is not a common flavor.
    Caffè Completo – This may be available at a few select bars (ask if you don’t mind striking out every once and a while!) but Shelley’s Caffè Completo at Cafffè Camerino had fresh whipped cream on top with a sprinkling of cacao.
    Caffè Shakerato – I recently posted about Caffè Shakerato, my favorite summer coffee drink. Coffee shaken with ice and sugar (if requested). It’s great on its own, or try it with Bailey’s Irish Cream for an even better experience!
    Bicerin – A Torinese specialty – hot chocolate, espresso and frothy milk served in a glass. I just posted about this here when I went to Torino and had a Bicerin at Baratti & Milano.
    Caffe’ con Panna – Espresso with fresh-whipped cream. Some bars will have this as a specialty but not all bars will have whipping cream on hand.
    Sweetening Your Coffee
    There are a few standard additions to your coffee if you don’t want to drink it amaro – fig: “black,” lit: “bitter” :

    Zucchero: Plain white, refined sugar. Some people collect the bags as almost every bar will have their logo and/or specially-designed bag.
    Zucchero di Canna: Unrefined, cane sugar that is darker and has larger grains. My preference. Most bars will have this as an option, but not all. I usually have to stir a bit longer than the white sugar to make sure it’s dissolved entirely.
    Dietor: A popular sweetener made with saccharin (similar to Sweet n’ Low). [site]
    Miele : Honey, an alternate and natural sweetener, is not available everywhere, but it is usually in packet form or in a little carafe on the bar top.
    Cacao: Though most of the bars will use unsweetened cacao (cocoa powder), it gives a different taste to your coffee. Cacao can be added to almost any drink, and many bartenders will ask if you want cacao on top of your cappuccino as it’s often added. Some will leave a little shaker on the counter for self-service.
    Non-Coffee Drinks
    Latte – Milk. If you ask for a latte, you will get a large glass of (most-likely) hot milk.
    Cioccolato Caldo – Hot chocolate. This beverage deserves its own post and it will have it around winter.
    Te’ – Tea. They will usually provide you with a carafe of hot water or with the tea already brewing in the carafe when they deliver it. Note: Most bar owners do not look favorably upon ordering hot water and making tea with your own bags.
    Camomilla – Chamomile tea
    A note on Drinking Coffee at Home like an Italian
    Most Italians go to the bar because they believe the coffee is better, and it’s espresso coffee. At home, most Italians use a “Moka” which is a stovetop brewer of coffee. The consistency is quite different from espresso, and most will add quite a bit of milk to it for their breakfast. If you want to make “moka” at home, you will need the following:

    Bialetti Moka Express (I suggest the 3-cup)
    Illy fine ground coffee, arguably one of the best coffee brands in the world
    Demitasse/espresso cups (These are very similar to the ones we use at my house)
    A milk frother (if you want to make a simple cappuccino at home)
    What’s your preferred way of drinking coffee? How many cups do you drink a day? Do you switch drinks in the summertime?

    Now..Mr.A….What you are saying is BLASFEMOUS! Now you are touching MY RELIGION buddy! 🙂

    Jihad on you!

  2. I am giggling!

    I have always said that I am a “awed” at the relative consistency of a caffe in while I am IN Italy. Unfortunately, I am NOT in Italy and so I must make due with what I have.
    I always, FYI, remind people of the roots of their caffeine habit. It is Italian. I remind them, as you have pointed out, that Venti, grande, doppio, macchiato, latte and capuccino are all italian words (not something Starbucks invented all on their own).

    I use my Bialleti 3-Cup here at home. I usually use La Llave. Period. I have found that the Illy (my favorite for a long time) just didn’t measure up in taste and mostly intensity to La Llave. Can I send you a package of La Llave so that you can try it? I will say that the SF MoMA serves the best Illy in the Bay Area. I do, however, prefer the Segafreddo Bar down the street from the Trolly stop.

    Do I drink caffe? Too much actually. I start my day with 3 cups of La Llave (the entire pot). Then at various points throughout the day, I turn to my Electric Bialleti (6-Cup) and make some more at the office.

    I drink it straight. No sugar. No twist of lemon. No saucer. No spoon. Like a man.

  3. Got it.
    Being caffeine categorized as a real DRUG, instead of “the more the better”I think the best way to go is “THE BEST, the better”.

    Do you have a grinder for coffee grains? (No..a regular blender wont work)

  4. I do own a grinder. It is hard to find the right beans though. I have purchased the whole beans that Illy produces, and yes the aroma is astonishing, but the taste is lacking. I prefer their “all ready” ground Moka version. I don’t have “settings” on the grinder. It is an all or nothing. You can never “under”-grind, but over grind? Yes. I am guilty. I am not the best bean-grinder. I admit I have my faults, but I can sure drink caffe! 🙂

  5. Funny facts to add:

    Do you still drink milk, just as you did when you were a little kid? Not all that many adults do, although Michael, my friend always has a glass of milk before going to bed at night and apparently can’t sleep if he doesn’t have it. So IF you are a milk-drinker and want to assuage your thirst for nature’s calcium-crammed drink, go right in to your local Italian café’ and ask for a “latte, per favore” and that, my dears, is just what you will get. Milk!

    If on the other hand you want one of those drinks that Starbucks and others call a “latte”, remember NOT to use the L-word in Italy. You will simply have to force yourselves to use a slightly-longer expression and ask for a “caffelatte” which is in fact the tall, milky, medium=tan coffee drink (without foam, mind you) that is often, although not always, served in a glass and which had its birth right here on THIS side of the Atlantic . Many Italians drink it in the morning (never in the afternoon!) as part of their breakfast. Others order it at their local bar or café’ when they leave their homes for the office or decide to have breakfast on the run. At the bar, a majority appear to prefer the cappuccino, a smaller drink served almost always in a large coffee cup and replete with foam and powdered cocoa.
    I admit it: I’m intolerant. Intolerant of people who travel abroad and make not the slightest attempt, not to fit in – that’s pretty hard for the average foreigner (yes, folks, no matter what you do, Italians can recognize you a kilometre away!) but at least to temporarily immerse themselves in the culture or lifestyle of the country they are visiting. As I have pointed out elsewhere, it is already kind of repulsive to Italians to see someone eat an entire meal and finish it up with a cappuccino, something you only drink for breakfast or, possibly, if you have skipped lunch. So if you are someone who can’t live without lattes made with pumpkin spice, gingersnap, vanilla, toffee nut, cinammon, eggnog, chocolate or chai, I suggest you simply stay home since you won’t find anything like that here. (Correction: I did recently see something like a hazelnut flavoured caffe latte at an Autostrada rest-stop but hope it was a mere aberration!)

    And while I’m at it, here are some other words that don’t exist here or which Starbucks and its like have totally taken out of context. There is no such thing as a mocha here. Actually, I don’t have a clue as to how the name of this sweet, I believe chocolaty drink is pronounced back in the old US of A but here in Italy, the word moka refers to the classic home percolator style coffee pot that was patented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, of household design fame. Like Starbucks, Bialetti no doubt got the name from the Yemeni seaport known as al-Mukh? from whence came the coffee bean which some think has a kind of chocolate overtone. Here in Italy, it’s the pot you use at home to make non-espresso Italian coffee and, in case anyone is interested, is my favorite.

    Macchiato. I am not sure where Starbucks got this, but in Italy macchiato simply means an espresso (or any kind of coffee) to which a few drops of milk has been added, and means -literally – spotted or stained. There is no such thing in Italy as a Frappuccino although there may be someday and the name, I admit, is a rather ingenious one.

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