Ever since Starbucks and Caribou switched all their espresso machines over to fully automatics their drinks have never tasted the same. Both establishments used to use machines where the barista actually needed to know how to make an espresso. The people making the drinks knew how to pull shots of espresso and make the perfect cappuccino. As both companies focused on expansion they made the decision to change all their quality manual machines to automatic ones.
What does this mean?
It means now you put the beans into a hopper and press a button and voila you have an espresso. No more grinding the beans putting them into a portafilter and tamping. Never used an espresso machine and want to work at Starbucks? No big deal because you don't really need to know how to.
What does it mean to you the consumer?
It means you don't get that rich foamy crema on top of your espresso. The drinks also are not as robust as they used to be.
I can guarantee you that if you put a espresso, latte or cappuccino side by side from a small coffee house and one from Starbucks or Caribou there will be a dramatic difference. First the small coffee house will use beans that have been freshly roasted and they will be a lot more oily. All of this will give you a more robust thicker crema. Secondly they are going to pull the perfect shot out of their commercial portafilter machine. Espresso will be strong but smooth and, as for the other drinks - you'll be will wanting seconds and thirds.
I have a lot of coffee friend junkies who now order 4-5 shot drinks at Starbucks because they feel that their lattes are not robust anymore.
Stay tuned my final part of this series will be a video presentation of me making espresso and lattes on my own machine.