Drinking the Kool … Coffee

By Lloyd Graff.

I was out in Palo Alto visiting my daughter and made a call on my new favorite coffee shop, Philz Coffee. The Philz approach to coffee makes Starbucks seem like a crude imposter, and I don’t think Starbucks is all that bad at what they do. But Philz is what Starbucks started out as, before it lost its way and corporatized, and before Howard Schultz wanted to own a pro-basketball team in Seattle and have books written about him.

Philz was started by Phil Jabar 10 years ago, and the original location was in a corner grocery shop he owned. He had been experimenting with coffee blends for 25 years and wanted a store as quirky as he was. Today he has 13 locations in the Bay area and the two that I’ve tried are always crazy busy.

The coffee is different because each cup is a Philz mixture of flavors. No lattes or cappuccinos, and though his drinks taste similar to such creations – they are different. Each cup is brewed individually with a filtered water drip process. The barista adds the sugar, or milk, or soy, or celery salt – you name it – to make the drink to your taste. It is less acidic than other coffees and the concoctions are screwy and wonderful.

But the real differentiating aspect of the Philz coffee experience is the warmth and engagement of everybody who works there.

Starbucks began with this approach of developing its people, but the fattening of the behemoth has diluted the experience. Philz is seemingly all-in on the people side. It’s Web site goes on almost ad nauseam about its emphasis on genuinely friendly, helpful team members, but the amazing thing is that they really do believe in it. They honestly drink the Kool … excuse me … coffee they make.

When I went to one last week I just had to burst out and say, “you’re all so nice here.” The lovely young woman at the register said, “Look up at the wall. That’s our mission.” Printed in huge type it said “The Philz Mission, Better People’s Day.

This place really seems to live its motto. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did.

Question: Do you still do Starbucks?

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17 thoughts on “Drinking the Kool … Coffee

  1. Ray Frattone

    Starbucks coffee is a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, in my opinion. I also believe that the people who patronize Starbucks do no go for the coffee.

    1. Emily

      I personally love Starbucks coffee. I buy it from Costco under their store brand name, grind the beans myself, and brew it a cup at a time with a paper drip filter every morning. A splash of half and half and I’m ready to start my day.

  2. Jim Goerges

    Never got into Starbucks thing, their coffee in my opinion is overpriced. 8 years ago, I did the math and for the price of 2 cups of coffee, I bought espresso machines, grinders and commercial coffee makers for my plants. In Little Falls, Mn, a retired school administrator moved back to town and started Reality Roasters. We get fresh roasted beans from around the world and the guys in the shop love the aroma and the variety of flavors! We got it going on in that department!!

    Lloyd, any talk at the coffee shops about our President you voted for about war, military strategy and the worst ego of any president putting Americans and other innocent people in harms way, all because he shot his mouth off and looks bad, again?

  3. Jim

    “…before it [Starbucks] lost its way and corporatized…”

    Jealous much? Everyone loves to knock on Starbucks, but everyone also wants to be Starbucks. Starbucks made a lot of money for investors by consistently creating a great coffee experience.

    When I’m travelling, I seek out Starbucks because I know I will get a great cup of coffee.

    Philz now has 13 locations, so it sounds like he may be going down the “corporatized” road. Perhaps we can save him from this ruinous path by not buying his coffee?

  4. Ed Gnifkowski

    I don’t know if my pride is justified, but at 82 I’ve never had a Starbucks coffee experience. As a life long lover of just plain real coffee I consider it an accomplishment.

  5. JOL

    Never bought a cup of coffee from Starbucks, so why start now. Do the math and buying a cup of coffee daily instead of brewing your own is assine

  6. Peter@PolygonSolutions

    I get the Kool… and drink a Starbucks about once a week, and I agree with Ray it’s not all about the coffee. My kids love it, they get free iPod aps, check out the hipster music and have a shake, err… strawberry latte frap or something like that. In today’s world it cost me $100 to go to take my family to the movies and hundreds more to a sporting event. I get off pretty cheap being the hero for the day for $20, plus over the years of trial and error I’ve developed my own favorite: “venti three pump peppermint mocha, no fat, no whip, half-caff” and it lasts me all day.

  7. Kelly

    Starbucks is above my pay grade.
    Bought a Keurig coffee maker years ago and have had a fresh cup every morning in 1 minute, while still in my pajamas.
    That’s hard to beat.

    1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

      I’ve heard the K-cups are really expensive. Do you know the cost per cup on those things?

      1. Bruskie

        Good point Emily. My wife got a cheaper Keurig machine given to her from a client. I cringe when I think each k-cup of great coffee costs $.50 each, and also the environmental impact of the waste.

      2. Emily Halgrimson Post author

        I agree. I use the same drip method Lloyd was talking about with a plastic single-cup cone and a regular coffee filter in it, which costs almost nothing. It makes fantastic coffee and I just pay for the beans. I think the K-cup thing is a fad, and not a great one (cost and waste). Reminds me of the bread machine.

  8. Greg Knight

    Love my K-cup, because I can have one cup of coffee before leaving for work in the morning. And I can have a different kind of coffee every morning, not different flavors, but different roasts. It’s about fifty cents a cup, if you buy them from Keurig with their discount program.

    When traveling, I enjoy visiting various local coffee shops, when I have time. But stopping at Starbucks, while it may not be as unique, at least you know what to expect, and the Wifi always seems to work there if I need that. No argument that there is better quality coffee available than Starbucks.

  9. Jeff Scott

    I have never liked or patronized starbucks for two reasons. First..I happen to like black coffee and don’t need all the add in’s and different names that starbucks uses to market their products to a supposed “hip” younger population who grew up watching friends. Second..with their owner/founder’s loud pronouncements at his annual shareholders meetings spewing his left coast/left wing political and social views and telling all those who don’t agree with his points of view and those of his company “to go someplace else…we don’t want your business”.
    For me it wasn’t a problem but once I showed the video of his outburst to my wife and kids….they all stopped going to starbucks for their overpriced product which was the correct choice in my view!

    1. Seth Emerson

      Jeff -Did you actually watch the video? He said if you think you can get a better rate of return on your investment – then you should sell your shares. Better than the 38% they returned. Yes, Starbucks provides equal benefits for same-sex partners, and they supported laws to require what they already provided. That might be a little self-serving. But they have supported diversity in the workplace for 20 years. PS – I think their coffee is too bitter, I do use gift cards to get a brownie or scone at times!

  10. Daniel

    I like coffee, black coffee, strong coffee, coffee you can taste.
    I think Starbucks is a great business, (for the shareholders) but I go there with my wife and daughters for them to get $4.00 “coffee milk shakes”, and I won’t buy a cup of “real” coffee for myself there anymore. I find it bitter and acidic time after time. Great company?…sure. Great product? It must be there, but if so, I don’t think it’s the coffee.


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