Saturday, January 26, 2008

Starbucks Coffee - Prague

"Starbucks says they are going to start putting religious quotes on cups. The very first one will say, 'Jesus! This cup is expensive!'" Conan O'Brien
It's been talked about for a long time, but Starbucks™ has finally arrived in Prague™ . Two mega-brands, together at last.

Using its own particular brand of black coffee magic, the international chain's first store appeared almost overnight in the Czech capital. Not long ago, the restaurant, Square, occupied the same space. That fancy food spot had taken over what had been a history and memory-laden coffee house in the Palác Grömlingovský at Malostranské náměstí.

I went to the Starbucks™ grand opening party. The place was packed when I got to the door. But that's as far as I got."I'm sorry, sir," said the man with the posh British accent. "This is a VIP only party. We would love to have you come by and visit us tomorrow."

I didn't know it was going to be a gala event, but I'm not the type to go to watch the invited press suck down freebies, anyway.

I am the type to press my nose against windows. Or my camera. So, I took some photos and observed omnisciently.

There was a particularly rich scene out in front. I witnessed an old Czech woman ripping angrily into the clipboard-wielding PR guy.

She was basically saying "There used to be a Czech coffeehouse here. This fancy new Starbucks™ doesn't belong here! Take it away!"

Clipboard man was saying coffee was being served again as it was in the past. Isn't that great?

This did nothing to appease the woman. She kept up her one-woman battle to rid historic Prague of this incursion by modern messiahs of the macchiato.

"I'm sorry. There's really nothing I can do," the man said.

He threw up his hands and walked away. But she wouldn't give up and kept at him. Again, he walked away. She zealously went after him again.

Finally, after sensing the clock could not be turned back, and the man kept turning his back, she gave up hoping that the old coffee house could be resurrected.

Inside, there was a mad scene of a different sort at the ordering counter.

VIP guests looked like commodities traders, signaling furiously to the baristas for their coffee futures. Perhaps it was because they didn't have pay to serious cash for immediate delivery of their grande caramel cappuccinos.

There was some music to keep the hopped up guests entertained as they consumed their half-caf, no foam, cinnamon-dusted lattes. And muffins.I'm sure this place will pull in tons of tourists, given their lack of familiarity with the value of the local currency and the store's prime location.

It might also attract some local eye candy looking for a place to pause and pose.Now, if you follow the expat discussion boards on the arrival of Starbucks™, the sentiment is heavily on the negative side.

As for me, I have enjoyed a Starbucks™ plain iced coffee on occasion on a hot day in New York. I won't deny it.

However, I have never enjoyed long lines. These are a regular feature at U.S. Starbucks™, and I have never stood in one.

Even more, it was hard for me to enjoy a coffee drink when it cost around $5 in New York. A 100 CZK cup in Prague™ isn't going to do a lot for my penny-pinching soul.

But because I care about you, the reader, so much, I dipped into my hard-earned savings for an exploratory visit. After deciding to compromise my wallet, I had to compromise on another long-standing principle, as well.

There was a decent-sized line when I got there. Yes, I stood in it.Perhaps there were ten people ahead of me at around 6 pm.

The average price for coffee drinks was around 100 CZK. The price for many of the desserts and sandwiches was also around 100 CZK.

Ordering a coffee here is no simple matter. Here are some instructions.I got to the counter in about ten minutes and ordered a grande Iced Caffè Americano(70 CZK) and a chicken pesto ciabatta (109 CZK). It took another 10 minutes or so to get my drink and sandwich.An investment of 20 minutes and 179 CZK, altogether.

Starbucks™ describes the Iced Caffè Americano this way: "Rich, full-bodied Starbucks® espresso is combined with cold filtered water and ice for a crisp and refreshing drink."

Cold filtered water? I watched the barista throw the espresso into the cup of ice and then hold it under a tap in the sink to top it off.

The result? Watery. Plus, I forgot to ask for milk, so I sucked down several gulps and filled the space with milk from a jug at the other counter.

The sandwich was served warm. The ciabatta seemed to have come from a factory. It was more spongy than crunchy.The fresh basil leaves were a nice touch, and the pesto was good. But the sliced, roast chicken had a bit of a musty, aged taste that was accentuated by the reheating process.

If I really need a sandwich, I'd rather go a block down the street to Subway.

There are a couple of different rooms upstairs with some big, very comfortable chairs. But because they take up so much space, there aren't a lot of them.There is also a pretty big space downstairs with a mix of big chairs and smaller wooden ones. There were more open tables down there.Of course, you can buy bags of Starbucks™ coffee to make at home, if you like. There are also expensive souvenir Prague™ Starbucks™ coffee mugs.

I happen to walk by the store again later in evening, around 8:30 pm. There was no line.

In the future, I may venture again into a Prague™ Starbucks™ under certain conditions.

Like if I'm in the area, it's hot outside, I'm in the mood for iced coffee, there's no line, I just hit the bank machine, and I'm feeling flush with cash.

Otherwise, not.

They do charge an ungodly amount of money.

Starbucks Coffee
Palác Grömlingovský
Malostranské náměstí 28
Prague™ 1

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Anonymous said...

The equivalent of $6.40 for third-rate coffee?

Some people clearly have more money than sense in times of recession.

Brewsta said...

Not having been inside yet, I only knew general prices. 115 CZK? Not every drink there is that much.

But these days, converting the price of anything from Czech crowns to dollars is not recommended for the faint of heart.

Except maybe beer.

Jay said...

Yeah, I popped in yesterday and the line had about 30 people in it. I do have to admit-- I really enjoy just plain, American style, drip-coffee, and so I'll probably stop by from time to time (especially since they have decaf). But 115kc for a caramel macchiato? Damn.

Brewsta, I noticed Mr. Faries called you out in the Prague Post this week (well, without actually naming you). I just wanted to say that I love the blog, mainly because you don't pontificate over what you're eating. You say if you like it, plain and simple. And you actually comment on the prices! Thank you.

Brewsta said...

Thanks, Jay. I read Faries' comment and it was duly noted. I've called him out a number of times in the past, so in a sense, it's fair play.

My urges to pick on his columns dissipated a while ago. I am considering doing one more for old time's sake ;-)

The Lone Beader® said...

I read on another blog that this is near a Coffeeheaven?? Good because I would much rather go there. I am boycotting Starbucks. But, I may stop in to hear some live music. LOL

Anonymous said...

Went there yesterday. The line wasn't too long but the staff looked completely disorganized. I was asked for my name when I ordered for me and my friend. He could not spell my name so had to spell it out to him (in Czech). When it arrived my name turned into "Radek" which was hilarious... a girl next to us said she was Radek (jokingly)and tried to walk off with my latte. Inside is Ok and is just a template from all the other Starbucks. I was there at about 5:30pm and was full of students (hanging over their two/three hour old drink) and tourists. I think that this is the clientele they will get.BTW, I heard they have free WiFi!(unlike coffee heaven) Brewsta, keep up the good work. You are far the best reviewer in Prague. The rest are wannabes...

Anonymous said...

Are the staff Czech ? They couldn't spell your name,but they can spell machiatto(sp!)

Brewsta said...

Thanks Not Radek.

And they probably don't have to actually write macchiato -- just check the box on the cup with a pen.

I'd like to hear them pronounce it, though.

This appears to be the official spelling:

Pivní Filosof said...

Starbucks: About 100Kc for a cup for which I have to wait at the counter and I have to drink from a paper cup.
Your average Prague café: 30 to 50Kc for a cup that is brought to your table while you read the newspaper or your favourite book.

About the Faries question. To me it was gratuitous and personal. Yes, you have critisised him, but it was his style and his work. To me it looked as if he is jealous about another person doing a better job than himslef and for free.
Anyway, I do thing you do a better job, you certainly do consider the value for money issue better than he does.

Brewsta said...

Thanks. I didn't want to get into it too much because no matter what I'd say, it would come off to some as defensive.

But OK, Max. Here's what I think:

I think that his "compliments" to Laura Barank were back-handed and patronizing.

He also says "She understands the importance of accuracy, of discarding personal likes and dislikes in favor of hard-nosed assessment."

One could assume I am one of the "crowded field of laymen" he talks about who don't do that.

And he's right. Except that it's meaningless.

I've always made clear this blog is about my personal tastes. Take them for what they are worth. Many people do. Just about everyone else understands that, at the end of the day, this is a personal blog, not a classic newspaper review.

And what crowded field is he talking about? Laura's is only the second blog in English mainly dedicated to food in Prague (if you don't count the occasional food mentions in beer blogs ;-)

So, Faries' says bloggers who are "ducking into the safety of a pseudonym" don't stand behind their work.

That's just silly. I take my reputation and credibilty very seriously. No one would read if I didn't.

How does it help me to know that Dave Faries is his real name? We both have established our names and reputations, whatever they are, for good or ill.

Brewsta said...

Almost forgot. For the record (and those who aren't following this teapot tempest), here is Faries' Prague Post column:

Anonymous said...


Pivní Filosof said...

I had the same impression with his compliments to Laura.
Personally, I don't like his reviews, I get the impression that they are the work of a snob.
I respect your work more than his because you pay for your meals from your own pocket, so you can asses value for money better than he does. And sometimes he seems to forget he is in the Czech Republic.
He might be a professional, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal tastes. Nobody can tell me how I should eat a steak. It is up to how I like it.
As we say in Argentina, take it for where it comes from. You are doing a really good job.

Anonymous said...

"Best of all, the woman can write." = Other bloggers cannot, and I am such a good writer that I stand in judgment of all others.

I'm not familiar enough with Branik's writing to know how she writes, but I know this:

1. Pretentious writing does not equal good writing

2. Your writing far outshines Faries'. You are fun to read--not just what you say, but how you say it.

Reading Faries is like listening to some pedantic misanthrope complain about how things ain't the way they used to be.

This coming from an amateur restaurant patron (i.e. someone whose opinions don't matter) and a professional writer.

Brewsta said...

Thanks layreader.

For a laugh, I dreamed up a parody of a Faries review. There's a ton of material to work with. Not sure I should post it. It's deliciously mean (and I'm really a nice guy).

Anonymous said...

I remember drinking starbucks only because it was inside the local Barnes and Noble bookstore, while browsing and reading new books for free, somehow that made up for the $4.25 I used to pay for my caramel machiatto. Here I visited cofee heaven on seldom rare ocasions, I have no intentions to visit Star...s anytime soon. Great review as usual. You can tell one of the things your readers value the most is your neutrality and posting of prices.

Sergei said...

starbucks in Prague is not so expensive compared to Starbucks in Moscow,Russia. where your Grand caramel machiatto (471ml) will cost 9 (nine) USD

so you're lucky :)

EB said...

Well, Starbucks coffee has been called "coffee for people who don't like coffee." As such, Brewsta, you shouldn't be surprised that an iced Americano was watery! To me, Americano is just a horrid style: the flaws are emphasized and the virtues minimized of an espresso. Give me a ristretto or a good drip coffee, not this neither-fish-nor-fowl. But again, that's just me.
I thought you didn't go to Starbucks for coffee, anyway. You either go for a hot drinkable dessert only somewhat related to coffee or to sit in a comfy sofa for ages and use their free wi-fi without anyone hassling you about only having bought one drink. At least that's how they stay in business in Madrid, where you can't throw a stone without hitting a traditional cafe whose plain espresso or con leche kicks Starbucks' plain coffees to the curb. Starbucks' margins are high enough, evidently, that you only need to buy one drink.
Lastly, given the daylight robbery involved in buying a plain and very mediocre coffee at the Castle, I'm glad there's a Starbucks close enough to give them hella competition.
Oh, one last thing you may like: this excellent argument about Starbucks vs McD's coffee by two cartoon cats.

Anonymous said...

Starbucks tastes like poo, and their prices are shit.

Pivní Filosof said...

"Sergei said...

starbucks in Prague is not so expensive compared to Starbucks in Moscow,Russia. where your Grand caramel machiatto (471ml) will cost 9 (nine) USD"

Just as with, Gordon Ramsey's Prague restaurante is cheaper than those in London and New York.
It is an argument without any sense. Of course they will be! Prague has got considerably more expensive in the last few years, but it is still MUCH cheaper than Moscow, London, NY and quite a few western European cities.
Starbucks is horrendously expensive given the average income of a Czech, or the average price of a cup of coffee or any other drink, will cost in Prague.
To me, is about value, not just price, and, for what I've read here and elsewhere, SB does not deliver.

Anonymous said...

Thank for this, I'm visiting Prague next month and had no idea how to rationalize the Czech Koruna to the dollar for spending purposes.