The drive thru

To Bean or Not to Bean?

The Human Bean opened its first store in Ashland, Oregon, in 1998. Early success and positive customer reception encouraged us to open additional locations throughout Southern Oregon during the next five years. We now own and operate twelve corporate stores with plans for modest corporate store growth in the Pacific Northwest. The most significant growth of the brand has occurred through franchising.

The Human Bean is the one drive thru I’ve really wanted to do a review about. I’ve heard great things about their coffee and their franchise, and thought it was time to give them a try and write an analysis about my experience.

As I pulled up to the coffee shop I gave the stand a look over. Visually appealing, clever logo, even cleverer name. Their menu didn’t shout anything too spectacular, but it covered the basics and added a couple specialty drinks- not uncommon. Giving it a quick scan, I decided on a 16oz double shot mocha. Beginning to pull forward I glanced at the ordering window. Laden with stickers of brands, it showed that they are proud of their sponsors and product producers. The barista stepped forward, opened the window, and asked me what I wanted.

That’s when it started going downhill.

In my experience, more then half of the coffee experience is the environment. I could get the best brew on earth, but if the staff serving it is rude and impolite, the coffee is probably going to taste weak and dusty.
Drive thru coffee shops are unique in that they have only minutes to set the atmosphere, make the coffee, and give the customer a good experience. Typically drive thru coffee shops, whether they be locally owned or a corporately managed, will only employ baristas who are full of energy and exploding with happiness. Hopefully this barista will influence the customer in such a way that will turn them into a returning customer, then a regular.

The drive thruI noticed several things shortly after ordering my drink. First, the barista (a college-aged female) didn’t look very excited. Granted, it’s a Sunday, it’s cold outside, and the booth looked pretty crammed. I probably wouldn’t want to be in her place. That being said, she was already putting a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended).
To make things worse, she didn’t talk to me while making my drink. Again, giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may have been focusing on making a good coffee. After a couple moments of awkward silence, I attempted to strike up some small talk.
“So, what kind of coffee do you guys use?”
“Coffee…like, regular coffee or espresso?” she said.
“Espresso.” I replied
“Farm Friendly Direct.” is what I think she said. It was a little hard to hear her above the whir of the steaming milk.
“Oh, ok. Cool.” I replied.

After a couple more moments of silence:
“So, what kind of roast is that?” I asked.
She paused,
“Is it like a medium roast?” I asked, prompting her.
“Yeah, I think it’s a medium roast.” She replied, after some hesitation.

At that point it became clear that the barista really wasn’t sure what kind of coffee she was serving me.

Now, please don’t misread what I’m trying to say. This one barista may not be the standard that The Human Bean normally employs. In fact, she may have simply been having an off day.
The fact of the matter is that I really wasn’t impressed with the service.

So, those are the cons. What are the pros?

My coffee was made quickly, and served with a chocolate covered coffee bean. If nothing else, I left with a sweet present to snack on. I didn’t get a chance to try the coffee until I got home, but here’s my review:

Not entirely strong. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if The Human Bean does use a medium espresso blend. In fact, here’s what their website says:

Our signature blend combines Indonesian, Central American, and African beans to create espresso that is smooth with a hint of berries and a bright finish.  It’s great for mocha’s and flavored lattes.

Well, it really was pretty good in a mocha. I’m not a huge fan of weak coffee, but I did enjoy this particular drink. The mocha was well made: smooth beginning, hints of the espresso with a strong chocolate note to accompany. Both notes rang clear through the end of the sip, and as they hit my palette the orchestra erupted into the climax of the song. The finish was smooth, like the beginning, with the classic mocha aftertaste: bittersweet, with thick saliva containing leftovers as if to remind me of what I’m drinking. Truthfully, I did enjoy my mocha.

Will I visit The Human Bean again? Probably, if only to give it a second chance.
I wasn’t impressed with the service, and the coffee was ok, but in all honesty I think the real problem of The Human Bean for me boils down to one thing: it’s a franchise. Their website says that their real growth started when they franchised. Fiscally, I understand this. But relationally? My first impression was negative. The barista didn’t talk to me, and what questions I did ask were responded to with hesitation and slight ignorance. To me, this equation has a couple variables that are off. My call is that somewhere in the franchising of the “local” Human Bean, something vital was lost. The customer care. Now, while it’s true that franchises can get their mojo back, I always am sad to see such great potential lost at the hands of untrained baristas, automatic espresso machines, and fancy logos.

My hope is that next time I visit The Human Bean, they’ll prove me wrong.

What’s been your experience with coffee franchises? Do you like The Human Bean? Comment and let me know!

The Coffee Guy

5 thoughts on “To Bean or Not to Bean?

  1. I really like the Human Bean… it’s one of the few places where I know I’ll always get a good latte or americano. Both of those are my test to see if the coffee is good. Folgers tastes good with a lot of sugar and cream… so, give the Human Bean another chance!

  2. I enjoy the Human Bean as well. Most of the time I just tell them to surprise me and the Baristas I go to always make me the best drinks! Come on Coffee Guy…give the ol’ Bean another try! 😉

  3. I have to agree with Christine and Meg, I enjoy the Human Bean! I have 2+ years of barista experience and also consider myself an ameture coffee connoisseur. I may not invest time and money in becomeing a critic of coffee and coffee businesses, but I have worked at two different coffee houses and consider myslef knowledgeable. I was once that shy young teenage girl working the late shift alone and know how intimidating it can be. Especially if the Human Bean Barista saw you snapping a few pictures of the logo. So I think to make a “more accurate” review of the Human Bean you should try it again and take a different aproach since you already have the photos you need. So Coffee Guy give it another try!

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