The 800-pound gorilla versus the panther


Ainsley Topping

The rivalry between Coconut Grove’s two main coffee hubs: Panther coffee and Starbucks

It is 3:30 pm. Classes at Carrollton just ended and you have a Chemistry test and other homework to complete for tomorrow and you are exhausted from the school day. You walk to Coconut Grove in search of anything that would help wake you up and you come across two cafes: Panther Coffee and Starbucks. Many people may wonder why there are two coffee shops right across the street from each other and how could the local shop begin to compete with the corporate giant, Starbucks.

What are the differences between the coffee?

First, compare prices. A basic cappuccino at Starbucks costs $3.95 while the same at Panther Coffee goes for $4.75 – Panther Coffee is more expensive. However, should price be the only factor that makes you choose Starbucks? The answer is no and this is why.

Yes, Starbucks is able to deliver coffee quickly at a lower price, however, Panther Coffee offers a comfortable and neighborly environment providing a higher level coffee experience. The owners of Panther Coffee, Joel and Leticia Pollock, have a passion for coffee. Joel started as a barista and later became a coffee taster, traveling the world tasting coffee. Unlike Starbucks, Panther also works directly with coffee growers. Panther Coffee shops roast their own coffee beans and use different brewing techniques in order to enhance the unique flavors of the beans. Local coffee shops like Panther Coffee provide a welcoming atmosphere that cannot be compared to chain cafes like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Even though major chain coffee shops dominate world markets, small cafes like Panther Coffee are finding ways to break into these local markets and ultimately are affecting Starbucks’ and Dunkin Donuts’ economic success. Smaller businesses operate with the philosophy of “quality over quantity.” While the big chains focus on preparing drinks that taste exactly the same at every store, the smaller cafes focus on the unique flavor of each individual drink. These small cafes are not concerned with making their drinks identical, it is all about the authentic flavor of the coffee itself.

A school-wide survey revealed that 85.7% of the students prefer Starbucks, 11.6% prefer Panther Coffee, 1.8% prefer Pasion Del Cielo, and 0.9% prefer Dr. Smood. This is not surprising, because Starbucks is both familiar and less expensive.

If you are on the go, Starbucks could be a better option for quick and reliable coffee. Rich, a young man from Chicago, said that he chooses Starbucks because, “it always tastes the same, the Starbucks app makes it easy to purchase on the go, and parking is easy.” What is interesting about the survey results is that most people indicated that the most important factor in buying coffee is “flavor.”

Michelle, a Panther Coffee customer said, “I believe Panther is very transparent about who their producers are. They really understand who they are getting their coffee from – they know their coffee farmers. Starbucks?  I can’t say if anyone really knows…I also am not really about supporting big corporations.” Michelle was a barista for eight years and said that Panther Coffee always meets her high expectations as a coffee drinker, while Starbucks does not.

Panther Coffee has five locations in Miami, has built its own roasting facility and is providing their roasted beans to 137 wholesalers. Although business is competitive between the two local cafes, it is up to the coffee lovers to choose between the corporate giant Starbucks, or their coffee shop around the corner, Panther Coffee.