This is what Starbucks workers really think about the chain’s changes to how they’ll make cold brew and other iced drinks

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  • Starbucks just unveiled new technology that will change how workers make cold-brew coffee and other iced drinks.
  • Insider spoke to nine US Starbucks workers to hear their thoughts on the announcement. 
  • Workers told Insider that they want changes that will make their jobs easier, but not at the expense of their craft. 

A week after Starbucks announced plans to overhaul its cold drink-making processes, nine of the coffee chain’s workers across the US told Insider they have mixed feelings on the changes: They say the new procedures could help them serve customers more quickly, but some worried that speed could come at the expense of quality.

“If what you want is a giant frappuccino vending machine, then you’ll be happy with the direction Starbucks has been taking,” one barista in Boston told Insider. 

One of the biggest changes coming to Starbucks: The Siren System, which is a new set of procedures and equipment for cold drinks that the chain says will cut down the time to make a Grande Mocha Frappuccino to 36 seconds and 13 steps — compared to 87 seconds and 16 steps with the current system. And a new system for making cold brew is even more of an overhaul: So called “cold-pressed” technology will allow baristas to make cold brew in a few seconds compared to the 20 hours it now takes to brew the stuff.

And cold drinks are important to the company: Iced drinks now make up about 70% of Starbucks’ sales, CEO Howard Schultz said recently. They’re particularly popular with younger Gen Z and Millenial customers. 

The company said all the drinks and machines were developed in collaboration with baristas and are based on input from workers. Meanwhile, the company said workers will have further opportunities to share their thoughts before the machines fully roll out across stores. Starbucks says the Siren System also will cut down on some of the most labor-intensive parts of being a barista, like bending and reaching and carrying ice buckets.

A supervisor from Detroit told Insider that the new machine that will allow workers to brew a single cup of hot coffee on-demand is “fantastic.” And baristas from New York, California, and New Jersey all agreed that the machines had the potential to make their jobs easier and ease some of the issues that lead to customer complaints.

“I think the new cold brewer will save a ton of time and tedious work,” a supervisor from Detroit told Insider. The workers’ employment was verified by Insider, but they asked to remain anonymous because they hadn’t been authorized by Starbucks to speak publicly.

Still, other workers were skeptical that the new machines would work as well as Starbucks was describing them, questioning potential reliability. 

If the new cold brew machine breaks, workers might have to start the old, 20-hour brewing process anyway, for example, a California barista said. And workers will likely have to be trained on both the “old” and “new” ways of making drinks — in case machines break down, the employees noted.

More complex technology comes also with “different cleaning procedures and equipment maintenance,” a New Jersey barista said. The supervisor in Detroit said without knowing how difficult the cleaning of the new machines will be, it’ll be hard to tell whether the benefits outweigh the cost.

The biggest issue, workers told Insider, is that the new machines could also change the nature of their jobs — potentially changing the best part of working at Starbucks.

“As a barista, I love making people their drinks and being hands-on and adding my own flair to it,” the California barista said. They value “knowing I can make someone’s drink exactly the way they like it and seeing a smile on their face.”

A barista in Washington told Insider that they were drawn to a job at Starbucks to gain cafe experience, so it’s “disappointing to know a lot of the traditional cafe skills just won’t be relevant anymore.”

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