This is a discussion that could go on and on. I have gone to the side of true coffee obsession (the real dark side) and come back. I found that my zeal for perfection cost me a ton of time, and wasn't appreciated by others in my family. The real coffee obsessed crowd consider Starbucks to be to coffee what McDonalds is to food. However I like Starbucks. I have found that it all depends on the barista at the Starbucks. Some Starbucks are using automated machines to pull their shots. These shots are never bad, never great, just average. Go to a Starbucks where they still have the old machines, get the right barista, and you have a great espresso (or cappuccino or latte). It's when they dump in all the other sweets that their drink strays. Other factors in the quality of the drink are selecting the right bean, roasting, grinding, tamping pressure, pulling a shot, and frothing milk. But I am over with this stuff now and I am returning to the light!
One last thing to watch for when you order - when they pull a shot it should take around 20-25 seconds. Anything faster or slower is going to produce a lousy espresso. When the shot is being pulled, the coffee should appear like the tail of a rat (I'm not kidding) dangline into the shot glass. A thick head (crema) should appear, about 1/8 inch think, on top of the shot.
Hope I answered your question.
Porphyra wrote:So does a Starbuck's latte come close to the real McCoy, for instance?
Or does one have to go to the PNW to experience anything remotely close to the real Italian version?