For better or worse, Starbucks popularized the notion that coffee should be brewed by a barista and cost a few bucks rather than a few cents. Given that history, it might be surprising that Starbucks just released a single serve coffee system called the Verismo for customers to make their fancy coffee drinks at home with the push of a button.
"From the very beginning, we have offered coffee for at-home brewing, so this is not new for Starbucks," a spokesperson says. "We are always innovating and staying relevant, and premium single cup is what customers are seeking for at-home brewing today."
It’s a fair point—Starbucks has long offered their beans for home brewing, premixed frappuccinos in the drink aisle and, most recently, Via instant coffee. Much like Via was low-hanging fruit for improvement (admit it fellow snobs: Starbucks microground Via really is light years removed from your typical freeze dried stuff), so too did Starbucks see coffee’s fastest growing sector, the $8 billion pod market, as ripe for innovation. Yet at the same time, with 38% of coffee machines sold last year being single cup brewing machines—with this sector seeing triple digit growth in 2011—it’s not the sort of coffee trend that the once-trendsetter can afford to ignore.
Much like a Keurig, the Starbucks Verismo system uses coffee pods (fine ground coffee with a filter) and hot water. But what distinguishes Satrbuck’s system is that, rather than simply make coffee like the competition, these pods also brew shots of espresso and "real milk" lattes. They’ll only attribute the trick to "Swiss engineered high pressure technology" and the magic of 2% dehydrated milk, along with a machine designed to brew milk pods at a different time and temperature than espresso pods.
Brew time and temperature is by no means a new idea to coffee, but in pod technology, it’s a technological upper hand that likely means the Keurigs of the world will need to redesign their brewers before just releasing a competitive product. Still, Starbucks doesn’t see their new lead as a technological advantage, but the result of formulation, intense "tasting and tweaking" by their R&D staff. At the end of the day, Starbucks is banking on their taste.
The Verismo is available now for $199. A $399 version should be available soon.
[Image: Coffee via piotr_pabijan on Shutterstock]