Starbucks coffee grinders: Recalls and revamps and romance

My little boys love to help me make coffee, especially if they get to push the button on my little coffee grinder.

It's part of the romance and theater of mornings here at Chez Gilbert. The whir of the grinder... the whistle of the kettle... the heady scent of the beans. Fortunately, I don't use a Starbucks coffee grinder, or the romantic theater might be a bit macabre.

Tuesday, Starbucks announced a recall of half a million coffee grinders because of a "laceration hazard" -- the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Starbucks have received 176 reports of the Starbucks Barista Blade Grinder and Seattle's Best Coffee Blade Grinder failing to turn off, or to turn on unexpectedly. Only in three cases was there an injury.

The units, which were made in China, were sold between 2002 and 2009 for about $30 each. This comes in the same week as the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has revealed Starbucks has plans to change the way it grinds and brews coffee in order to increase the "romance and theatre" of its stores.
Since Howard Schultz took back the reins a few years ago, Starbucks stores have been grinding beans in the morning (instead of using pre-ground beans) and then using them throughout the day.

Once the company makes the change to on-demand grinding, baristas will grind a new batch of beans every time they brew a new pot of coffee. Coffee lovers know this is the best way to assure maximum freshness and aroma; Schultz believes the sound and smell of beans grinding will contribute to the "theatre" he continues to work to achieve.

Timers will go off in 24-, 12- or eight-minute "cadences" to remind baristas to grind and brew a new pot (depending on the variety and time of day).

All these words and sentiments are certainly lovely, and the on-demand grinding will improve the coffee's flavor, though perhaps marginally. However: I'm not sure about the romance. Starbucks' timers remind this customer of a particularly nightmarish alarm clock, and don't contribute at all to the Italian feel of the stores; more timers will hardly be a cause for a standing ovation.

And the sound of grinding beans, while indicative of freshness, is loud. My favorite local coffeeshop has delicious coffee that it grinds fresh before each pull of the espresso machine. And it is impossibly loud. Romance? Only if your idea of love is decidedly rock-and-roll.

Customers who think they have grinders subject to recall can contact Starbucks at (866) 276-2950 or visit the Starbucks Web site for model numbers and recall information.

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