20 August 2007

Gloria Jean's Coffees

288 - 290 Flinders St, City (and 66 other locations in Victoria!)

DAILY coffee is a heavenly ritual. I’m thankful to live in Australia’s coffee capital, Melbourne, home of genius baristas and coffee snobs.

So it’s puzzling to see a brown and orange café chain pop up across the city as a purveyor of all things coffee. The daggily named Gloria Jean’s is everywhere. I’ve ignored it for however long it’s been here but was kind of forced into trying their brew recently. Trapped in a suburban shopping centre, choices were limited.

On the face of it starting an American style coffee chain in Melbourne’s CBD seems as nonsensical as putting Starbucks in the middle of Lygon St, our own slice of Italy. Yet Starbucks remains so perhaps they're onto something.

A regular skinny café latte at Gloria Jean’s is a large anywhere else, setting you back $3.35. A small is normal coffee size, $2.95.

For my money, the pathetic excuse for a café latte that arrived was dreadful. Lacking body, it had an empty, unsatisfying taste reminiscent of bad percolated coffee. The latte was deeply unsatisfying, lacked the heavenly aroma that is part of coffee’s joy and completely without oomph. More like coffee flavoured dishwater than golden elixir of life. Hideous.

You might rightly ask who am I to criticise? And I will argue I know what I like... and what I don't. I love the coffee from Mario’s in Brunswick St, Pellegrino’s in Bourke St and coffee from my local in the IBM tower made by two-time barista of the year Tana.

How could it be that GJ's offers a product so utterly unappealing, in my view, when it specialises in nothing but coffee? I made some inquiries and the staff happily told me the beans I was not enjoying were the chain’s Italian roast blend, boasting a “rich, assertive and extremely flavourful” flavour.

Later a look on their website revealed the coffee is “specialty handmade” and I should have tasted “the care and expertise that has gone into every step of the coffee making process.”

I also discovered this franchise began in Chicago 30 years ago and was brought here by the former head of Sydney based DDB Needham advertising agency Peter Irvine, with coffee businessman Nabi Saleh 12 years ago. And people other than me are liking it. Today a staggering 185 stores have popped up across the country.

I didn’t bother finishing my GJ latte. I’d happily concede the poor taste was a one-off, but another attempt at Gloria Jean’s at the airport produced the same flavourless taste. At least they’re consistent.

Perhaps the idea is to try the flavoured coffees. There are plenty ranging from café mocha and caramel latte, to the swanky Irish nut crème which costs a whopping $5.20 for a large.

On the plus side, GJ’s has free newspapers and staff are cheery. Everything is super-sized and operates in a McDonald’s style efficiency where fast service is the key. They take your name and you wait as the barista whacks out your coffee. Your name is yelled out and a coffee left waiting for you to put your own lid on and add your own sugar.

I’ve been told by a friend the soy milk used is quite decent and for non-dairy drinkers, a good option. But I just don’t get it. Can someone fill me in?


- Kate


sexy shreya said...

K & Z,
I have had the same experience at Gloria Jean's and even Starbucks. I find their coffees too bland and tasteless compared to the strong and bold ones from my local cafe.

Maharani said...

Right on the money Katie. If you know your coffee, you won't go to GJ's. If you don't, or you're desperate, it's a likely option. Given the amount of people in the latter category, I'm sure they'll do well. Starbucks thrives because Americans don't know any better!

kate said...

go Kate - totally agree. The chains lack any atmosphere and personal touch - why on earth would anyone choose to drink in a place like GJs or Starbucks when there are a thousand fantastic coffee places in our wonderful city?