Life as I know it… plus commentary

Starbucks vs. Coffee Bean vs. everyone else

with 19 comments

Yesterday was a kind of errand day. Had to run by the ATM, drop off mail, get Anakin chew toys (so he won’t eat any more remotes… the Tivo remote is the latest victim), etc. On my route, I stopped by the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. There were six people in front of me and I had to wait 20 minutes to get my coffee. (For Kyle… I know this because when I finally got my coffee, I couldn’t believe how long it had taken and I looked at the time stamp on the receipt)(For everyone else… sorry about that. I had to put that in to forestall the inevitable “It was probably more like five but you’re so impatient it only seemed like twenty minutes.”) Anyway, I got back in my car, headed over to Petco, took a sip of my non fat, decaf, iced mocha and realized there wasn’t a shaving of chocolate in it. And it had three pieces of ice in it. So I went back, (nicely) asked them to make me a correct drink (Yes, I showed them my receipt with the order on it. You knew I would, didn’t you?) and even got a free drink coupon.

All this to say, I hate Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

I have to remember this whenever I am out and I’m tempted to poke my head in there rather than walk the half block to the nearest Starbucks. I’ll say this for them. Their flavored coffees are pretty good. They make the best vanilla lattee of any of the places I go. Their chais suck… they use a powder and we don’t do powder. But their customer service is just awful. Seriously, 20 minutes for 6 people to get coffee (with 2 people behind the bar) equates to each cup taking six minutes each.

Starbucks, on the other hand, is so fast they’re like the coffee version of Kyle on the flag football field. (I had to throw in a compliment after I gave that accurate version of Kyle’s response up there). The chai is the standard by which other chais are judged and their coffee drinks aren’t bad. I did have a barrista friend who used to call the place Charbucks, accusing them of over roasting their beans. This is a bit more refined tasting than I am capable of. When it comes to coffee beans, anyway. I like that you can also get a variety of good lunch sandwiches under 350 calories and under $5. Not to mention interesting music. And I like the mix of people working, people chatting with friends, job interviews and church staff ditching the office that hang out in a typical Starbucks.

There’s also Peets which I don’t really like much. I go to Peets because Eric and Nathalie like that place because it’s also next door to Noah’s Bagels. They make their chai drinks using brewed chai tea. Really good for straight teas, but it’s a little weak for lattes. I also end up at It’s a Grind because it’s across the street from work. (Ever notice how many coffee shops are named with puns?) They’re OK coffeewise but don’t expect much ambiance. 90% of the people there are on Macs and iPods silently and very much individually taking advantage of the free wifi. Not much of a community feeling there.

I used visit this place called Cappuccino Charlie’s when I lived down in South Pasadena. First, the name made me laugh because I kept wondering how long the owner had the nickname. I kept picturing a third grader nicknamed Cappuccino Charlie at the water color easel. The only other reasons I went there were that it was close and on the way to the freeway onramp and the morning cashier had the most amazing auburn hair and I liked to look at it while she made my coffee. Eventually the place closed when the Wells Fargo/Starbucks moved in up the street. (Eric and I used to call this place WellBucks. Actually, I called it that and he made a run at StarFargo but that never caught on)

Hands down, the winner of this Versus is Starbucks.


Written by arnold

February 10, 2008 at 11:29 am

Posted in Versus

19 Responses

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  1. You gotta come down here so I can take you to The Sunflower. Once I finally taught them how to make an iced latte, they make a better caramel one (with the syrup I give them, of course) than any other place I’ve been, including Starbucks. Granted, you don’t get a wide selection, and you really can’t get anything from there if you’re on your way to anywhere else (cuz they don’t really do to-go), but the atmosphere is unbeatable. This place is as close to Cheers as any coffee shop ever will be. If I had any kind of business savvy, I would open up a place just like it as soon as I got back to the States.

    I think I blogged about pretty soon after we got here in ’06. Never seen anything like it. The manager comes out from behind the counter and regularly sits down at my table. The owner came to our Christmas party. I have my own drink and they make pancakes just for me. And as soon as I finish my bottle of caramel syrup that they keep in the back for me, I’ll bring over my bottle of Starbucks gingerbread syrup for lattes and mochas.

    Hands down for me, the winner of this Versus is The Sunflower.

    SA Cubby

    February 10, 2008 at 2:14 pm

  2. OK. I’m not usually one to be argumentative BUT

    You basically described a place where you supply exactly everything that you like. The only things more you could have done was milk the cow yourself and roast the beans. Even Cappuccino Charlie’s could have made me a perfect non fat decaf no whip mocha if I gave them choice beans, and Belgian chocolate.

    Not to know your Sunflower though. It really seems to have a nice community feel to it although I’m disappointed it wasn’t named the Mbwebwe Cafe of some name with clicking sounds in it.


    February 10, 2008 at 3:14 pm

  3. But isn’t that what we all really want, though? A place that’s exactly what we like? If that means that I have to bring in a couple of things here and there, I’m OK with that. The point that I was making with that, though, was that they LET me bring in other stuff. Can you imagine doing something like that at a Starbucks? Never gonna happen.

    And they leave the names with clicking sounds for the other side of town…although that would be pretty cool.

    SA Cubby

    February 12, 2008 at 2:53 am

  4. I don’t want to leave a bottle of my favorite single malt scotch down at the local pub just so they can pour me a dram when I walk in. I can pour it myself at home. I don’t believe that is why we go to such places. If we want to hang out, as long as the coffee is decent (maybe not going to put starbucks out of business) but the atmosphere is great, it is a good place. Just my $0.02


    February 15, 2008 at 4:48 pm

  5. I hardly consider a place that you’d have to bring your own stuff into a versus. Atmosphere may win but I wouldn’t count drinks if they don’t sell them to everyone. It doesn’t do any good to suggest a place for the awsome drink that can’t be made unless you bring your own stuff. It’s not their drink, it’s your drink. You could get that exact drink at any place if you bring the bottle. You even bring Starbucks syrups to them! lol Personally I’d be offended if I worked at a local coffee shop and someone brought me starbucks syrup pumps to make their drinks. If you want Starbucks flavors, go to Starbucks…

    Gingerbread though? Seriously? We’ve discontinued the gingerbread for the season since the new year and still can’t get rid of the stuff. We even underordered in an attempt to run out faster. Can’t wait for that to go into the garbage where it belongs. It’s almost as disgusting as the sugar free mocha syrup.


    February 22, 2008 at 11:18 am

  6. Excellent replies Bill and Andrew. While I can understand your actions, Cubby, they’re a personal action and not exactly ammo for a comparison debate. And I didn’t realize you brought up gingerbread syrup. What is that exactly? Gingerspice flavor? Or does it try and capture the cookie taste? Either way ginger and coffee sound gross to me.


    February 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm

  7. At Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, each store is different depending on their management…Same goes with Starbucks too.


    June 12, 2008 at 10:48 pm

  8. the whole point of a chain is hat you have a similar experience wherever you go, so an egg mcmuffin tastes the same no matter where you buy it. If in fact, these “renegade coffee beans” are different than the rest of the chain, that just makes the chain even worse.


    June 13, 2008 at 8:35 am

  9. Hi. (Total stranger jumping in, don’t mind me!) I don’t know if that’s fair arnold. Every large national chain will have regional menu variations based on local taste. I happen to sometimes stop in at a “renegade coffee bean” and I think the whole idea is pretty cool: Coffee Bean is right at that cusp where it is both “local, small enough to care, able to be responsive to micro-variations in taste” – I mean, really, a couple drinks this store makes would be complete anachronisms three blocks away, but in this location they make many of their customers very very happy – but it’s still “big enough to do the job right.” And it IS a similar experience, that’s what’s so cool, you walk in you know right away you’re in a Coffee Bean, I can still get my Swedish Berries iced tea, whatever, they just have a few extra options.

    {*whew! caffeine makes people passionate!*}

    Anyway, about your experience last February, that is really unusual, and I’m in Coffee Beans all the time. It happened a few times to me at a new store, a few years back, but the problem cleared up pretty quickly. If it wasn’t a new store the only thing I can think of is maybe each of those six people ahead of you walked out with trays of drinks for multiple people, four iced blended’s and no-foam caramel lattes, whatever. That DOES sometimes happen to me.

    What can you do? Lots of us think it’s damn good coffee. {*shrugs and goes back to lurkdom….*} {*and no, I do not work for CBTL!*}


    July 10, 2008 at 11:38 pm

  10. Don’t mind it at all 🙂 Jump in from lurkdom anytime


    July 12, 2008 at 7:56 am

  11. I agree totally with sandee. I’ve never had a problem with any CB&T I’ve gone to. But I have to admit, even the best of any store can have an off day….overly cranky customers, stuff doesn’t work, or just one of those days where nothing goes right. I’d say give them another chance before you cut them out all together.


    July 18, 2008 at 8:16 am

  12. Oops, make that altogether. haven’t had my morning CB&T.


    July 18, 2008 at 8:18 am

  13. Without a doubt, this article is really the latest on this deserving topic. I agree with your conclusions and am eagerly look forward to your future updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary clarity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Gratifying work and much success in your business endeavors!

    Ora Beechler

    December 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

  14. The only thing I can aggree about in your post is the pun CHARBUCKS! That is sole reason I NEVER go there!

    And, I LOVE Coffee Bean Teas! They have the SUPER large ice tea for $3 now.



    January 14, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    • I’m with you. In fact, I’m sitting outside Starbucks right now wishing there was a Coffee Bean next door. Other than plain black Iced Tea, I’ve never found any drink I like at Starbucks, it is always disappointing… consistently. Then again CB&TL always impresses me and it is always consistent, at least it has been in my 15 years’ experience.


      October 19, 2012 at 8:54 am

  15. What I wanna know is how many SUPER large ice teas you had today. Caffeine much? 🙂


    January 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm

  16. I like this Coffee. It a great wake-up blend. I like that it is on the Subscribe and Send menu. Kudos to Coffee Peoplek!


    March 27, 2010 at 3:17 am

  17. Actually, we don’t use a powder for the Chai so you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. At Coffee bean we use real ingredients, unlike Starbucks. All of our tea Latte’s use the same VANILLA powder (With the exception of the Moroccan Mint Tea Latte, that uses Mocha powder) that we put in the Vanilla Latte you like so much. But the actual Chai is REAL tea that we brew through an espresso group head, after which we add vanilla powder and steamed milk. Starbucks on the other hand uses a nasty corn-syrup mix that they call chai (no tea is used and it tastes nothing like real Chai tea).

    The Coffee bean you go to must be a very poor example because at the Drive-thru I work at we could never get away with taking 6 minutes on a drink. We bust out drinks way faster than most of the Starbucks I’ve been to. Furthermore, If Starbucks is faster then it is because they use super-automatic espresso machines which grind, tamp, and extract for them. Sure, this is convenient for the barista, but it is impossible to make a proper shot with a full body and crema. Also, Starbucks coffee is burned so they can achieve a darker roast more cheaply, which tastes horrible. And Peet’s is truly a great brand which, in most instances, is as good or better than the Coffee Bean. I won’t even consider Starbucks I’m sorry haahaha. Saying Starbucks makes decent coffee is like saying Mcdonalds makes good food, except that Mcdonalds is reasonably priced.


    June 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

  18. tyler

    August 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

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