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Coffee News, 2/6/2015

Delta Partners with Starbucks

Starbucks Coffee on Delta Flights Should Make the Red Eye a Bit More Bearable
After a pilot program serving Starbucks coffee to passengers on selected routes during 2013 and 2014 proved successful, Delta Airlines started serving Starbucks on all flights starting on February 1. What makes this particularly interesting is that while most airlines have been offering fewer and fewer amenities while charging ever-higher prices, Delta seems to have decided that the opposite approach might have certain perks. They've experimented with higher-quality in-flight meals and craft beer offerings, and they see the Starbucks partnership as an opportunity to offer a touch of comfort to their passengers. Starbucks, for its part, sees this as a move toward expanding their reach and brand awareness. As air travel becomes an increasingly austere experience, the Delta/Starbucks partnership could pay significant PR and brand awareness dividends for both companies.

Black Coffee, or Black Eye?

We've recently remarked on the bumpy roll-out for Keurig's 2.0 system. The company is now getting a stark reminder of exactly how displeased customers are with the new product in particular, and with Keurig in particular. During the last quarter -- the first full quarter during which the machines were on sale -- sales tumbled 12 percent, accompanied by a five percent loss in stock value. Keurig Green Mountain CEO Brian Kelley chalked the losses up to supply chain issues and doubt on consumers' part as to whether they'd be able to brew their favorite coffees; that explanation may be too charitable by half, since vendors and customers seem less doubtful than angry. Several of the former have filed antitrust suits against Keurig, while the latter have shown the same distaste for their coffee being Digital Rights Managed as they have toward music, movies, and software with DRM attached. It seems a bit tone-deaf for the company to expect that people would respond favorably to their coffee being tampered with. As The Verge memorably put it, "You shouldn't have to hack your coffee." Keurig has a new cold-beverage machine (developed in tandem with Coca-Cola) coming in the fall. While the company (and its investors) clearly hope this signals a turnaround, CNN Money notes the falling popularity of Soda Stream, and we can't help but wonder if Keurig will be following an ill-received product with one whose time may have passed.

Blue Bottle Opens in Tokyo

For many people, Blue Bottle personifies the third wave of coffee. One of the many contrasts to be drawn between Blue Bottle and Starbucks is the glacial pace at which owner James Freeman has expanded his business. It's no surprise, then, that Blue Bottle's latest opening -- in Tokyo -- is causing a splash. This is partly for the company's expansion into a foreign market, and it's also because the Japanese aren't particularly known as coffee drinkers. The first Blue Bottle location in Japan opened on February 1 in the Kiyosumi neighborhood; another will follow in the Aoyama neighborhood on March 7. The move is as bold as Blue Bottle's coffee, but it's as likely to be helped along by Freeman's legendarily obsessive focus on quality and careful product sourcing as it is by Japan's closer availability to quality Indonesian beans. With the company's reputation for understated hospitality and attention to craft, we get the feeling they should fit right in.

A Few Thoughts on "Tip Creep" and Coffee

The New York Times caused a minor kerfuffle a few days ago by noting that "tip creep" has crept its way into the coffee shop. The term refers broadly to the fact that more and more businesses don't just expect, or suggest, that you tip for service; they're practically enforcing it. Like us, you may have gone to a restaurant and found that your bill already had the "suggested" gratuity factored into the final amount. There's a certain amount of sense to this; some folks, left to their own devices, won't tip at all, or will rely on others in the group to make up for their parsimony. What was once the preserve of higher-end restaurants serving larger parties of people has now begun to trickle down to other businesses, from cafes to taxis, that rely on smart devices for payment processing.
Tip Your Barista!
Reactions have been mixed, with The Washington Post noting that some chalk it up to necessity (your average barista isn't exactly making bank), while others find it to be an intrusion. We'll let The Awl's Matt Buchanan have the last word here. Buchanan says, and we agree, that "until our civilization betters itself, the formula by which one should tip in a modern coffee shop is simple: a minimum of one dollar per drink. (This includes iced coffee and tea. And if you order twenty flat whites for your entire office during the pre-work or post-lunch rush—or something that involves a blender—you should probably leave a lot more!) If you cannot abide by this, drink Diet Coke."