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is espresso from McDonald's a luxury?

(image: KenobiwanX)
Yesterday I did something that I rarely do...ventured into a McDonalds. I ate my fair share of McNuggets as a little kid, but since I've been old enough to drive, at least, I am more likely to get a deli sandwich or something a little less...fried. The reason for my visit yesterday is that I had a coupon for a free McCafe 'real fruit smoothie' from the Sunday paper. The smoothies have gotten a lot of hype lately, and why not try one out- particularly if its free.

I opted for 'triple berry,' and it was OK. The flavor was a little sweet- it made me wonder what sort of 'real' fruit they use- but the consistency was good. I drank it as I drove home, and it was all gone by the time I walked in the front door. I don't regret drinking it, but I'm not likely to go back for another one.

McDonald's has been making waves by introducing first espresso drinks and now the smoothies as part of their new-ish McCafe platform (fastcompany article here.) In theory, it makes sense: people are willing to pay for fancy beverages. Starbucks has really pushed the envelope to understand how much people are willing to pay, and in the process has redefined coffee for our generation. There is at least one big difference, though, between McDonald's and Starbucks... buying a coffee from Starbucks has always been (and will continue to be) a luxury service as well as a luxury product. The cost of your latte may be $4, but your paying for good espresso along with friendly service provided by happy employees with good benefits. Going to Starbucks can actually, on occasion, make your day better. I have a hard time believing that McDonald's will ever catch up to that standard. As long as I have to wait in line for a mocha with the people waiting for a double cheeseburger, its going to be a less-than-pleasant process.

That being said, I think American coffee culture could learn a few lessons from the Europeans. In most European cafes, people take the time to drink their beverages at the cafe- out of real glassware. Even in Italy, people pause (if only for a minute or two) to take a shot of espresso while standing at the bar. Slowing down to enjoy the coffee has its benefits- its more pleasant, tastes better, and requires not-so-many trashed paper cups.