Starbucks gets strong for UK coffee drinkers

The coffee chain is trying to appeal more to Brits. Part of that? To put an extra shot in its drinks.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Everyone knows the UK is a nation of tea drinkers – it’s the Yanks who prefer a cup of joe. Or perhaps not. Starbucks has just announced that it’s going to increase the strength of all its drinks in the UK to keep up with Brits’ ‘changing palate’. Thus, its coffee will come with an extra shot of espresso as standard. And the good news is that it won’t affect the price.

Apparently, Starbucks has invested ‘millions’ (how?) into creating the ‘British Latte’: the chain noticed a 60% upsurge in demand for extra shots in the UK, which works out at about 200,000 shots a week. ‘It reflects that, over time, the British have come to expect stronger, more intense flavours in coffee and across other types of food,’ coffee expert Jeffrey Young told the Daily Mail. ‘The British palate has become educated to expect a more vibrant flavour.’

But making its coffee stronger isn’t just a case of whacking in an extra shot: the new recipe has also involved changes to how Starbucks steams its milk. It’s even designed a ‘revolutionary’ new milk steaming pitcher, which ‘spins and folds milk… allowing coffee to rise through the milk’, creating what the company calls ‘velvety perfection’. Sounds good. Unfortunately, that’s meant retraining the 10,000 baristas who work in the UK’s 743 branches (incidentally, London has 237 – six more than New York’s paltry 231).

The new coffee strength is part of a raft of changes the chain is making to improve its chances in the British market. Having introduced the Flat White, which is a smaller, stronger version of the latte, it’s also altered the design of its stores to appeal to Brits more (bunting and Union Jacks agogo, we presume). It’s even introduced bacon butties (although to be fair, the cheese and marmite panini has been around for a while).

All this may have been prompted by increasing competition from (British-owned) Costa Coffee, which last year opened 160 new stores, compared with Starbucks’ 12.

Just as the Beatles had the Rolling Stones to contend with and Superman has Lex Luthor, Costa is quickly becoming Starbucks’ arch-nemesis. Last year, Starbucks was left with a bitter taste in its mouth after the Advertising Standards Authority refused to ban an ad claiming blind taste tests showed people preferred Costa’s coffee. Let the coffee wars commence…

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