The Starbucks and Kolache Factory on Bellaire Boulevard at Stella Link have always had a symbiotic relationship. There's no way that Seattle-based Starbucks can come up with a breakfast item to match a good ol' Texas kolache, and if you didn't care for Starbucks coffee or didn't want to wait in two lines, Kolache Factory could offer a reliable cup of Douwe Egbert coffee service.
Every morning there's heavy traffic between Starbucks and the Kolache Factory two doors down, and people sitting outside and inside Starbucks drinking coffee with a Kolache Factory bag at their side. For some reason, most people go to Kolache Factory first, then to Starbucks, even when they're getting both to go.
Recently, I noticed a new sign outside the kolache store: "One local favorite serving another." Seems the Kolache Factory empire is hoping to change the arrangement a little by offering locally roasted Katz coffee. Would it make a difference, at least at this location? (or at any of the Kolache Factory locations near a Starbucks?)
I've made coffee using beans from Starbucks and Katz at home in a French press. Since bean origins and roasts can vary, I can't play the "better than" game, but can say that both roasters are in the same league.
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The Taste Test
To compare, I arrived for the test at 8:45 a.m., as both stores should have coffee at the top of their games at that time. I ordered the Pike Place Roast at Starbucks, which cost $1.85, left it outside with a friend, and then went to Kolache Factory for an equivalent-size Bold coffee, which set me back $1.35. Right away I could see that the Kolache Factory was at a disadvantage, as the coffee was self-serve from an insulated pump container. I also bought a sausage, cheese and jalapeño kolache, because they are delicious.
The Katz coffee from Kolache Factory was actually hotter than the Starbucks product, and the foam cup gave it a flavor that, ironically, tasted slightly of paper. The Starbucks had a smoother, less acidic taste. However, after a few sips of each, the difference faded a little, and after eating the kolache, the superiority of the Starbucks was even less evident.
I believe that if the Katz coffee were brewed in a manner similar to Starbucks', not poured into a pump container, and served in a paper cup the way Starbucks is served, Kolache Factory coffee would easily be in the same league as the Starbucks. It's still worth it to make the trip back and forth between the two spots, but if there's not a Starbucks nearby, Kolache Factory's local coffee is a worthy cup.