Cappuccino and the Lies of Packaging

McCafe MochaLast week I stopped for a McSkillet burrito on the way to work. I could probably write a post just on how much I love those and Qdoba breakfast burritos, but I’ll spare you. While I was at McDonalds, my curiosity got the best of me and I ordered a McCafe Mocha rather than stopping at my favorite coffee shop.

Colorful, sophisticated signs and packaging with earth tones surround you and make you feel as though you’re stepping up to a European cafe. You’re not, though. I watched carefully as the person behind the counter pressed the right buttons, stirred the contents, and capped the drink off with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate.

I got to the car, took my first sip, and… blech. I’m not sure what happened, I believe there was a malfunction with the machine or something, but it tasted like bad expresso shots covered in whipped cream. I can almost stomach any coffee (I was in the Navy for goodness sake), but I had to throw it out. Of course, their team wouldn’t know if there was a problem either – any less than they’d know good ground beef. 😉

StarbucksWe have a Starbucks downstairs from my work, so it’s difficult for a coffee hound to pass up. I’m especially fond of their peppermint syrup… just as our ancestors found out that Coca-Cola had cocaine, I fear that we’ll someday find out that Starbucks Peppermint has something illegal in it.

Starbucks has a very clear, clean logo that used to tell folks around you that, “I have so much money that I can spend $4 on some burnt beans.” (Some of my friends call it Fourbucks). Alas, the cultural icon that was Starbucks has begun to fade. I rarely hit the long lines and can pass up a Starbucks as easily as a Gas Station with a coffee stand. The cup is still elegant and distinguishable, though.

Coffee CupTo the left is, perhaps, my favorite coffee of all. My good friends Jason and Chris run a great coffee shop, The Bean Cup around the corner from my home.

The coffee is imported from a coffee roaster out of Hamilton, Ontario. Every sip, even if it’s decaffeinated, is still very smooth, rich and creamy. It’s hard to explain the difference that a properly roasted, ground, tamped and steamed bean can produce such an incredible liquid and sweet foamy surface. The baristas at Indianapolis’ best coffee shop carefully measure and time every shot to ensure its flavor is maximized. Often, I see them dump and retamp beans until they get the right shot – sometimes humidity can play havoc.

They don’t cost as much as Starbucks and they’re so much better (exponentially better than McCoffee), yet the cup is plain and white. Nothing special… except for what’s inside. That’s what I came to buy, isn’t it? I do pay for the experience that the shop has to offer, too! Plenty of room, free wireless, and some comfortable seats.

Oh, the lies of packaging! I can’t imagine how much money McDonalds has spent to try to make what’s in the cup look better from outside the cup.


  1. 1

    I can deal with bad coffee too, but I feel like a Motrin Mom. I hang out at Starbucks because it’s the only place I can go on break from work that is warm and has comfortable seats in the winter. The lines do suck, the coffee isn’t great and the atmosphere is worsening with kids running around like small pets.

    Good, independent coffee shops are so rare around these parts. But, I have a few and I patronize them dearly. Long live the unmarked cup!

  2. 3

    FYI: At the Starbucks in Broad Ripple, a large (venti) coffee is a smidge over $2.00. The Bean Cup’s online menu says the same is $1.55. I think the tales of the $4 cup come from markets like NYC.

    But, great post Doug!

  3. 4

    I too, tried the McBlech coffees. You didn’t experience a malfunction. I know that because I gave them three chances. One cold caramel-flavored latte. One hot latte. One hot mocha. I was surprised at how bad they really were. If I received a coffee that bad at a coffee shop, I would give it back and tell them to try again.

    I would be greatly surprised if anyone used to imbibing coffee-shop coffee would switch. My solution: I purchased a decent quality, but still inexpensive espresso machine. The thing probably paid for itself in a month or two. Now I make my own exactly how I want them for a fraction of the cost. You know what they say about a pig in a dress.

  4. 5

    I found you because of @swoodruff’s Five in the Morning.

    I’m not a coffee drinker but I am a tea drinker and there are some places that have “tea” in their name but stink at tea.

    I’m curious, you don’t feel it’s a marketing mistake not to have a logo on your coffee cup?

    Let’s say person X is in dire need of coffee, they pass person Y holding a coffee cup. Person X asks where did Person Y get the coffee. Maybe Person X is bad at giving directions, maybe Person Y has no sense of direction, maybe Person Y doesn’t speak English so well, so Person Y is having trouble finding the coffee shop. If the blank coffee cup had in fact had a logo Person Y would know what to look for.

    Let’s move the example to wine. I do remember the names of some wines but not all. When I go to buy wine, I’m on the outlook for familiar labels.

    I believe logos are important and it’s a mistake not to brand your product with your logo.

    • 6

      Being friends of The Bean Cup, I’m quite sure they don’t have a logo simply due to the cost of the cups. They’d rather spend the money on great beans and I’m thankful for that!

      Thanks to Steve for the mention and hope you return soon!

  5. 7
  6. 8

    Very interesting post. Also being a fan of your favorite coffee shop makes it even more interesting as well. I agree, I think a logo would probably help The Bean Cup, but I also think it’s probably not worth the cost to do it. In the example above, I think Person Y would easily and quickly let Person X know where they got the great cup of coffee and exactly how to get there. I say that because one thing I know is that I’ve done exactly that on numerous occasions.

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