Burned Beans — The Shame of Starbucks

There are two major varieties of coffee beans: arabica and robusta.  Robusta coffees are easier and cheaper to grow, but they taste harsher and more bitter.  Arabica coffees, from Mocha, to Java, to a dozen other varieties of more costly “gourmet” beans, have a range of subtle and rich flavors.  However, there is more to coffee’s taste than the type of bean used.  The way the coffee is roasted ultimately determines how it will taste to the drinker.


Coffee is generally either medium roasted, dark roasted, or burned.  (“Light roast” properly refers to a special German and Viennese roast that has little currency.)  When coffee beans are medium roasted, the full range of their abundant and satisfying flavors is brought out.  When coffee beans are dark roasted, they lose much of their subtle flavor but attain a deep richness that some enjoy, for example, in espresso.  When coffee beans are burned, their refined flavor is destroyed.  What remains is bitter and unpleasant.

Most fine coffee beans should be medium roasted.  Junk beans are often burned, because, once you burn the beans, you can no longer tell what sort of quality they might have had if they had been properly roasted.  The fact is, all burned beans taste the same: burned and bitter.  Starbucks coffee is burned and bitter.  You can tell when beans are burned because they take on a black color.  We can only assume that Starbucks starts with the worst possible beans.  After all, burning better beans is just a waste of money.  Unfortunately, through the vagaries of marketing, not only has Starbucks become virtually omnipresent, but nearly every other coffee roaster has jumped on the burned bean band wagon.  That is why, when you visit a shop selling a variety of whole coffee beans, most, if not all, of the beans have been burned black as hell.

Battling Coffees

In the ultimate coffee smackdown, it was yuppie Starbucks vs. Ronald McDonald and the Dunkin’ Kid.  And the clown and the kid won!

Consumer Reports magazine said that in a test conducted at two locations of each emporium, its tasters found McDonald’s coffee to be “decent and moderately strong” with “no flaws.” On the other hand, the Starbucks brew “was strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open.” The March, 2007 issue of the magazine, advises, “Try McDonald’s, which was cheapest and best.”  Several other more recent blind taste tests have consistently rated Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s as the best tasting and Starbucks as the worst tasting coffee sampled.

So, if you want to find decent arabica coffee that is properly roasted and that therefore boasts subtle and satisfying flavor, you should shun Starbucks and try Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s.  And, by the way, blind taste tests, for example, those conducted by Consumer Reports, consistently rate Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s as the best tasting and Starbucks as the worst tasting coffee sampled.

Dunkin' Donuts: Best Tasting Arabica

To see the valiant efforts of coffee lovers to debunk the myth of Starbucks Coffee, check out The Great Starbucks Coffee Mystery -The Starbucks Free Speech Campaign, a web site in which people who love good coffee explain and discuss the inferiority of the Starbucks product.


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31 Responses to Burned Beans — The Shame of Starbucks

  1. jim govoni says:

    Lighthouse Coffee Roasters on Phinney Ridge in Seattle hands down best cup in the city or anywhere

  2. Jake says:

    Here in Seattle, if the length of the lines to get coffee are any indication, there’s still a high demand for Starbucks Coffee though L-rd knows why… Probably just because they’re everyplace you look and worker bees only have 15 minutes or so to grab their cup and get back to their cubicle. But from what I’ve heard from a Starbucks employee (no names) the coffee is burnt so the strong taste will stand out in their myriad foo-foo whipped cream covered specialty drinks… which at $4 to $5 bucks a pop are profitable as opposed to the brewed stuff which isn’t…

  3. grintch says:

    A few years ago I bought a cup of Starbuck’s coffee, plain type, at a trade show where there was no other alternative.
    After a few sips, I dumped it out. It tasted burned.
    I thought it was me, or that they made their “plain” coffee taste bad to accentuate their fancier brews.
    Now I feel better, Knowing it’s not me.

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  5. Bob Schectman says:

    The world is filled with 2 types of people when it comes to both food and drink. Those who live to eat & drink and those who eat and drink to live. Starbucks caters mostly to the section of the population that eats and drinks to live. Those who only allow the most pleasing drinks and foods to interact with their palate try Starbucks only once. Starbucks main strategy has been to monopolize the retail coffee market by opening up as many locations as possible rather than emphasizing quality. As a result, Starbucks was forced several years ago to close many locations due to lack of demand for its product (or too much confidence that everyone in every town would become hooked to its product). Everyone’s taste is different, however, most seeking a great cup of coffee roasted properly eventually stop going to Starbucks. I have found a superb family run coffee roaster (& retail chain) in Louisiana called Community Coffee. Go to their web site and order a sample—their pricing will leave you yelling at Starbucks. By the way, for those who have fallen victim to the Jamaican Blue Mountain myth, be advised that it is the PEABERRY variety of Jamaican Blue Mountain beans (smaller size) that is the smoothest and worthy of the price. Too much bad Jamaican Blue Mountain is pushed off on Americans. And yes, good “light roast” coffees are getting harder and harder to come by—a shame since they can be very smooth and quite appealing if the right bean is used. Once again, Starbucks has been a major player in bringing this about.

    Search for the smaller, quality driven coffee roaster or chain(s). You’d be surprised what’s out there when you look.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments on Starbucks debased coffee. I agree with everything you’ve said. The saddest thing is the fact that, as you say, Starbucks has been “a major player” in seriously curtailing the availability of good coffee. By the way, “light roast” is generally a misnomer. Good coffee is medium roasted. Properly speaking, “light roast” refers to an unusual Viennese or German roast that has little currency.

    • colealoramommy says:

      Yes! I agree. Quit wasting your time in those long lines and money on the glamorous and romanticized, over-priced coffee beans burnt to a bitter shame and covered in refined and sometimes synthetic sweeteners and flavorings (at a hidden additional charge).

  6. dan says:

    I was at Starbucks recently. I avoid places that offer the Budwiser of coffees. I much prefer the micro brewed beer equivalent of coffee. I asked if they had any roasted bean blends that were not burnt. All of the [well trained] coffee monkeys said ‘oh you mean roasted, yes all coffee beans are roasted. That is how they get their flavor.’ After they proudly offered their Pikes Place or Blond Roast, I asked if they knew where the beans came from. This question seemed to perplex them. I had a ‘ding light bulb goes on’ moment. None of these [well trained] coffee monkeys drink coffee and if they did, it would be a non-coffee coffee drink with crushed ice and whipped cream…

  7. Alan says:

    I have travelled quite a bit and what a joy it is to find a coffee shop (such as in Europe) where the emphasis is still on quality, with wonderful smooth coffees and delicious baked goods tempting a daily visit. I am so tired of these businesses being copied and corporatized with the resultant “quick buck” quality being forced upon me. My case in point with Starbucks new Laboulange pastries which are frozen and good until well into 2014 and their awful burnt coffee, which for some reason in the last couple of weeks has just gotten worse. Honestly we only have ourselves to blame by supporting these companies as I like many others have herded into a long line of customers at the local Starbucks only to throw my unfinished drink away as I walk into work.

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  9. lombausch says:

    True coffee lover never go for Starbucks ashes in boiled water with sugar. True coffee fan would end up belly up after drinking starbucks espresso. It’s disgusting and tastes like an ash tray in auto-camping in east germany. The only guys who can beat them is Insomnia coffee. I think they brew their coffee of used tyres.

  10. Jheri Cravens says:

    I have been off coffee for about five years, due to a problem with my colon. I was overjoyed to find that, on my new eating plan, I could drink coffee again, without colon problems. So I started out with an old jar of instant Yuban which had never been opened but which I hadn’t been able to get myself to toss. Omigawd, it was delicious! When I ran out of that jar, I bought another one for backup to a new bag of Peet’s. To make a long story short, the Yuban, the Peet’s, and a bag of Folger’s that I bought in desperation, all taste like burnt beans. Is this the coffee nowadays? I really hate that burned nasty taste and I am so afraid that is all there is. Can you suggest something I could try that isn’t burnt? I know the whole country can be trained to eat (and drink) stuff that I can’t just because I remember when it was good, like the green bananas that the whole country has been retrained to eat. With bananas, I can buy what everybody else eats and let them sit for a couple weeks until they are ready to eat. But how do I unburn coffee beans? Is ANY brand not burning the beans these days? If it possible to get some raw and roast my own without burning?

    Granted I am ignorant. This is my first try at finding something drinkable on the internet. Thank you for any ideas.

    • There are still some good coffees around. Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s sell excellent Arabica coffee that is not burned or bitter. Try them! They’re excellent and beat Starbucks burned beans in every taste test that has been conducted.

    • Mr Disagreement says:

      Although you can roast your own beans at home (I have friends who do this), it is time consuming and takes time to learn. Honestly, I’d recommend getting some Starbucks coffee. Much more recent reviews of Starbucks have shown a great improvement in its flavour in the last few years. It’s what I drink and I can always pick out the subtle flavours of nut in the Columbian blend, and the cocoa and spices in the Guatemala. It’s never bitter or tasteless.
      There are of course others to try, Douwe Egberts does a good pre-ground and I’ve heard good things about Gevalia. Try a few different brands and blends and see what you like.

      • I don’t think Starbucks coffee will ever lose its burned, bitter character. But, obviously, some people disagree with me and with the many surveys that have confirmed my point. Each to his own!

        • Mr Disagreement says:

          You’ve yet to provide a survey that’s current but, if that’s your opinion, that’s fine.
          Personally, I go for Starbucks BECAUSE I can’t stand the burned, bitter taste of other (lesser) brands.

    • Matthew Allen says:

      Any Arabica beans are going to be smooth and not bitter, which I think is what you are looking for. America as a whole has ruined coffee, I get most of my coffee from foreign lands…

      • William says:

        You get your coffee from foreign lands? That’s the only way to ensure that you have gotten even LESS fresh coffee than at Starbucks or any other huge coffee brand. America hasn’t ruined coffee and it is stupid to say so. There are SO many roasters in cities all over the US that make amazing fresh coffee.They just don’t distribute in the massive supermarket chains and they dont have storefronts on every corner. you have to LOOK for the coffee.

    • William says:

      The five year old instant Yuban coffee was not good. It was disgusting and you were just excited to drink coffee again. That being said, afterwards, you bought more disgusting coffee. Also, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds make disgusting coffee. Don’t try and make it seem like those coffees aren’t gross. Just because it’s medium roasted doesn’t mean its good. The brewing of the coffee is arguably as important as the roasting of the coffee. None of these places take either seriously.

  11. It is of course fine if you prefer the burned flavor of Starbucks coffee. Each to his own, as the saying goes. But Starbucks does burn its beans– that is not a myth! And your snobbish mockery of average American tastes doesn’t alter the fact that almost every one who took the many blind taste tests liked McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and found Starbucks coffee bitter and unpleasant. In my experience, gourmet coffee drinkers invariably agree with these assessments.

    • Matthew Allen says:

      I liked the comparison done the other day on ABC where Starbuck’s won with 20 mg per cup; that is not very much caffeine! lol Like the same amount of Coke would have something like 40 and Mountain Due like 60. Now do not hold me to those numbers, those are just examples. Anyone that knows anything about coffee, caffeine, or caffeinated beverages knows how little 20 mgs is. Most eregy drinks nowadays are well into the hundreds..

  12. Frank Sullivan says:


    I liked the story on “burned coffee”:

    “The fact is, all burned beans taste the same: burned and bitter. Starbucks coffee is burned and bitter. You can tell when beans are burned because they take on a black color. We can only assume that Starbucks starts with the worst possible beans. After all, burning better beans is just a waste of money.”

    I have always hated Starbucks coffee and now I know why. While I am not a true coffee connoisseur, I do have my favorites. Two of them are Jamaican coffee and Kona coffee.

    100% Kona coffee is in particular very mild and flavorful. Something to do with the volcanic soil and mountains I guess.

    As far as suggestions, I guess I’d find an article on the best coffees to be interesting. As is obvious, I tend to favor mild coffees. Another one I like is Guatemalan coffee.

    Your friend,

    • Matthew Allen says:

      Those are my two favorites also Frank! Blue Mountain Jamaican and Hawaiian, hands down! They are available in an Arabica bean as a blend that is far less expensive and not too bad. My father is a missionary and always brings me a bag or two from wherever he goes and the best to date was from a small village in the mountains of the Philippines that was very smooth and like rocket fuel!