So who else is getting into the Coffee Biz?

When I was about 16, my local Safeway remodeled and several new sections were added. One of those sections was a gourmet nut-bar, a place where one could purchase exotic nuts and nut-butters with specialty service. No one was ever there, the prices were outrageous, and it was gone within a few years. Seriously. Seems a little over the top, right? I admire Safeway for trying to offer something extra, as long as they do it well.

I walked into the very same Safeway this evening to find this:

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Looks like Safeway is the next corporation trying to jump on the specialty coffee bandwagon, maybe a little too late. On one of my first days of training, I was told, “you’ll never make money in coffee.” Well, that certainly doesn’t seem true anymore; looks like everyone is gonna cash in on the growing market. New shops pop up every day, and now this.

This kiosk is separate from their “overly-roasted-black-cockroaches-in-a-plastic-tube-passing-as-coffee-beans” section in another aisle. Though relatively impressive, the stand was empty. Someone had obviously put in a substantial amount of money towards designing, constructing, and marketing this coffee with their dinky roaster in a semi-professional manner. I actually really liked the drawers and shelving.

Beanwise, they had a large selection of roasted coffee and prominently displayed green beans along the back wall. There was a sense of dissonance. While they had pounds of green Kenya AA among other higher grade beans (some of which had full farm/sourcing information), their selection of no-name mokapots and other brewing equipment to accompany this display seemed a bit out of place, haphazardly chosen at the last minute.

Some of these beans seemed like they were potentially good quality. Apparently, some thought had gone into sourcing. Others just seemed like name dropping; labels like “Yirgacheffe” sell. Some green beans had detailed background information, others simply said “Sumatra” without much description.

As a barista, I see the egregiousness of having poor quality equipment flanking beautiful displays of potentially high-end green beans that await over roasting and left to rot in containers for months. Regular customers probably could care less. That’s how they’re gonna make it; cash in on the market that doesn’t know and doesn’t care to know.

Convinced it couldn’t be real, I started opening the containers and tasting beans. A box labeled “Ethiopian” was not terrible, but something wasn’t quite right. Then, I tried a Sumatra that tasted pretty old. I looked at the Roast Date. The first container was labeled 6/17 and the other on 5/26. Today is August 13th, enough said.

I hope these were mistakes. That’s a pretty big misstep. Price-wise, Safeway is doing far better than SB’s attempt at “artisan roasting.” Most of the coffee at the kiosk was about $11.95 a pound (gotta love the Safeway pricing). Phew, still not beating my home roasting.

This could work. With the amount of resources, organization, structure, and manpower Safeway has, they could put together something worthwhile since they are obviously learning from predecessors of the business. Honestly, if they got the right people and marketed this to the right crowd, it might do very well depending on the location. But first, I hope they learn a little more about care/stocking and correct some very simple yet appalling errors. They have my number.

Should we batten down the hatches? Nope, though this might have signed the foreclosure-sentence of a few small coffee businesses. Just stay ahead of the game, like we always have.

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