A side-by-side comparison of CSULB’s most beloved coffee chains

coffee cups fighting illustration

Story by Katie Cortez Editor in Chief, Illustration by John Mueller Graphics Illustrator

In the past two years, I have worked at both of Southern California’s biggest coffee rivalries: Starbucks and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. While both places have their pros and cons and I can definitely argue that small-business owned coffee shops are the best, there is without a doubt that CBTL is a much better chain than Starbs. 

Before working at Starbs, I never had a problem with their drinks. Sure, their nutritional value isn’t the best, but I would never say no to the occasional upside-down caramel macchiato. But after working there for a whopping seven months, I had learned to really dislike the place. Fun fact: an upside-down caramel macchiato is just a caramel latte. And their version of a macchiato isn’t an actual macchiato. If you go to Europe and order a macchiato at an espresso stand or any place that serves coffee, you will not be happy with the strong coffee result. 

Not only are Starbucks customers terrible, but calorie-wise their drinks about 10 percent espresso that isn’t hand tamped to perfection, but comes from the push of a button. The rest of the calories come from 30 percent whole milk, and 60 percent sugar. Their teas are just named by color and don’t really taste good without the classic syrup (AKA liquid sugar). It doesn’t look like there aren’t that many pumps in your pumpkin spiced latte, but the amount of sugar in those three pumps is enough to make a diabetic’s blood sugar blow through the roof. 

After I started working at CBTL, I realized how little I actually knew about coffee or tea. Their standard Coffee Bean flavored latte doesn’t come with fatty whole milk or sugary syrup. It’s made of freshly tamped espresso, nonfat milk, and dairy-based powders and the whole thing is whisked to perfection by hand. Your drinks are made with hard work, not by the push of a button. The dairy-based powders have sugar in them, but not nearly as much sugar as liquid sugar-syrup. They taste creamy and delicious, not like you’re going to go in a diabetic coma. And their teas are much more than just colors. There are several green, black, and herbal teas to choose from. For new customers who don’t understand that tea is not just a color, it can be confusing. But for regular CBTL drinkers, they have their favorite types of tea.

Frappuccinos are probably among the worst things you can put into your body. I hate to burst your bubble, but fraps aren’t made with freshly made coffee extract. That frap base is a weird coffee-concentrate syrup thing—not actual coffee. Then there’s milk and pumps on pumps on pumps of syrup.

CBTL ice blendeds are the original frappuccino, made without the sugar or coffee substitute. They’re made of equal parts brewed espresso and nonfat milk—made fresh every day. Then whatever flavor powder you choose is thrown in, blended, and you have yourself delicious icy beverage. 

My go-to for caffeine is usually black coffee, but I’ve never really been able to drink their coffee because it tastes like someone attempted to light it on fire, failed, then threw the match inside the pot for a not-so-delicious burnt aftertaste. 

The food is probably the only thing going for Starbucks.  They may be getting rid of bagels, but the rest of their pastries and sandwiches are pretty on point. Even their salads are pretty good. If I had to name one thing that I miss about working at Starbucks, it would be taking their food home at the end of my shift. 

The one downside I have to say about CBTL is the food selection. The pastries are delicious, but I’d like to see more variety sandwich-wise. I can only eat egg-white, kale, and cheddar sandwiches for so long. 

This might sound like a rant from someone with hard feelings about her former place of employment, but I assure you that this is definitely coming from another place. Starbucks is the McDonalds of coffee. It’s lazy and I don’t know if you realize it, but you don’t really get what you’re paying for. That overpriced latte is not worth it. 


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