Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Since 1987, Starbucks’s star has been on the rise, growing from 11 Seattle, WA-based stores to more than 1,000 worldwide. Its goals grew, too, from the more modest, albeit fundamental one of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection to, more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. An exemplary success story, Starbucks is identified with innovative marketing strategies, employee-ownership programs, and a product that’s become a subculture. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer, or a curious Starbucks loyalist, Pour Your Heart into It will let you in on the revolutionary Starbucks venture. CEO Howard Schultz recounts the company’s rise in 24 chapters, each of which illustrates such core values as “Winning at the expense of employees is not victory at all.”

The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living with a Grande Passion

Introducing the life you’d gladly stand in line for

You don’t stand in line at Starbucks® just to buy a cup of coffee. You stop for the experience surrounding the cup of coffee.
Too many of us line up for God out of duty or guilt. We completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. If we’d learn to see what God is doing on earth, we could participate fully in the irresistible life that he offers.
You can learn to pay attention like never before, to identify where God is already in business right in your neighborhood. The doors are open and the coffee is brewing. God is serving the refreshing antidote to the unsatisfying, arms-length spiritual life–and he won’t even make you stand in line.
Let Leonard Sweet show you how the passion that Starbucks® has for creating an irresistible experience can connect you with God’s stirring introduction to the experience of faith.

What It’s All About?

I recently picked up “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks”.

As you might know, I am a bit of coffee coin-a-sewer, owning a $2000 espresso machine and such. You might also remember the only popular blog post I’ve ever written – the one about the Starbucks logo. I was always very interested in everything Starbucks. The reason? Well, I really could not understand how a company with coffee that is so bad could be so popular.  I mean, have you tasted the stuff?

“It’s Not About the Coffee” – wow, I thought, this should clear some things up. Because, I for sure know that it’s not about the coffee. I’ve had good coffee. It just can’t be about the coffee. 

The first sentence of the book (int the A Note to Readers) reads: “Although this book is titled It’s Not About the Coffee,  of course it is about the coffee–it’s about the people and the coffee.” Leadership lesson number one: start out with a lie, then weasel out. 

Cloying, sacchariney  corporate doublespeak only got worse on the following several pages, I am not even sure I can get through the book at all.  There might be some interesting Starbucks anecdotes further down, so I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile I get a weird feeling about Howard Behar – the same I used to get about Soviet Politburo members: I could not understand if they believed themselves in the ideals that they extolled. 

Ok, I read a couple of more pages, and was instantly rewarded by learning this interesting, although disturbing fact: besides the coffee passport, which I knew about, there’s a piece of corporate propaganda known as the “Green Apron Book.”  Almost like Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Neat.

All of this reminded me a story that I’ve read somewhere about a North Korean student at a Moscow university that used to carry around with him a little portrait of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. He would meditate, looking at the picture for hours, and even used it instead of a mirror while shaving. When asked – how could he shave without a mirror, he said – this is better than a mirror.

I guess, if you can make people shave in front of a portrait, you can make them believe that Starbucks coffee is tasty. There are ways…

Cafe Grumpy

Recently I jumped into my minivan and took a road trip on the BQE to visit Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It used to be impossible to find a decent espresso in all of Manhattan, but now even Brooklyn boasts several world class cafes, of which Cafe Grumpy is one.

Located in a handsome three story circa 1890s Renaissance Revival (correct me if I am wrong) building, Cafe Grumpy takes up the whole first floor. Notice a movie prop truck – apparently “The Brave One” starring Jodie Foster is being shot in the surrounding streets.

Cafe Grumpy building

Greenpoint is a formerly bad/industrial neighborhood that is being gentrified like crazy. Notice a fresh crop of condos in the background. I bet having Cafe Grumpy across the street is a strong selling point – it’s probably enough for a bloodsuckerRealtorTM to take the clients for a cup of coffee to seal the deal.

Cafe Grumpy Logo

Inside you find a typical Victorian interior of a high end cafe: pressed plaster ceilings, exposed brick and plastered walls, hardwood floors, schoolhouse lights, and mac-toting hipsters.

Cafe Grumpy Interior

The big selling point is not food.
Cafe Grumpy organic eggs

It’s the combination of the best espresso machine money can buy (Synesso Cyncra),

Cafe Grumpy Synecco Syncra

freshly delivered coffee roasted by some of the best roasters (Counter Culture in this case) and highly trained staff.
Cafe Grumpy Counter Culture beans

As I was enjoying an impeccable espresso and a latte with a perfect textured milk rosetta (made from two different types of beans), fresh beans arrived. I bought 3 half pound bags of Counter Culture-roasted goodness.

There’s also an art gallery in the back, but I am not particularly into the local arts scene.

Cafe Grumpy Gallery

Cafe Grumpy is holding a “Coffee Nerd Fest” on Wednesday, September 6th, at 7:30 pm. There will be a cupping (sounds dirty, but it’s actually a technical term for coffee tasting) and beer. And maybe they’ll let me pull a shot or two on that Cyncra.

They are located at 193 Meserole Ave, Brooklyn, NY. They have a website and a blog.

How Do You Like Them Apricots?

Today I received in the mail a fresh shipment of coffee from Victrola Coffee. Inside, along with the coffee was a handwritten postcard, thanking me for buying their coffee and encouraging me to let them know what I think about it.

I bought a pound of their house blend, Streamline Espresso ($13 /lb), as well as half pound packages of pricier special coffees, Colombia La Esperanza #1 Cup of Excellence ($18/lb) and Kenya AA Mtaro ($14/lb).

If I had sufficient financial resources, I would buy coffee in half pound increments, on a weekly schedule, because coffee is only at its best for a few days after roasting. I would also buy a Synesso Cyncra and a Clover machine. Well, ok, enough dreaming, as what I have in terms of coffee and equipment right now is pretty damn good.

I loaded the award winning Colombia La Esperanza into my grinder and pulled a shot. There was a lot of crema (as there always is with coffee this fresh), but it wasn’t deep red. There were little dark flecks which I guess could pass for “tiger flecking.”

“Juicy, complex citric notes in the dry aroma turn into dried apricots in the crust. The cup is astonishingly clean with brilliant cranberry acidity, white wine, honey & melon.”

– says the website.

Tasting wine, coffee and cigars is highly subjective, and gets rather ridiculous, just like judging audiophile equipment. I never know if I am so stupid and insensitive that I can’t detect all the subtleties that the real fanatics detect; or so stupid that I believe that generally vacuum tube amps sound more pleasant and that there are “notes” of different stuff in good coffee, wine and cigars.

Starbucks has a huge variety of coffees. They all taste pretty much the same though, because they are over-roasted and under-extracted. Espresso made from any of their beans has the same notes: hydrochloric acid, burnt coffee and donkey. Yet they go on and talk about notes of chocolate, toffee and oranges; conduct coffee tastings and train their employees to talk about it to the customers.

Once you properly pull a shot of well roasted coffee that is also fresh, it does not have enough acid that would cover up the thousands of complex aromatic organic molecules that really confuse your taste buds. Your brain starts trying to assign familiar tastes to the weird electrical impulses generated by your taste buds. Without overpowering bitterness and burnt character, the playing field is leveled for these subtle and rather weird flavors. Coffee starts tasting the way freshly ground coffee smells.

The beans of Colombia La Esperanza had a smell that I have not encountered in my life yet. It was similar to the way really expensive chocolate-covered dried apricot would smell, although that wasn’t it. It was something else. But if it were sold, it would come from an expensive store individually wrapped in tissue papers inside a well-made wooden box.

Espresso made from the beans was amazingly tasty. The major taste element was that weird apricot smell which actually went away after a while, replaced by something very similar to an expensive white wine aftertaste.

In short, some of the best espresso that I’ve had in a long while. And that apricot-like taste still haunts me.

Bolivian Cup of Excellence

I am sitting here, reading my blogroll, having a double espresso out of a special cup (“on loan” from a certain European monarch’s palace). The espresso is made from Bolivian Cup of Excellence Juan de Dios Blanco that has the following sad story:

Juan de Dios Blanco, the grower of this #1 ranked Bolivian Cup of Excellence Coffee, passed away in a car crash less than a week after his coffee was awarded the highest dollar amount ever paid for a Bolivian Coffee.

Victrola Coffee staff describe the flavor like this:

This coffee is a mind blower. It is wonderfully sweet with layers of butterscotch, honeysuckle, orange marmalade, dark chocolate and toffee. It is silky on the tongue with a nice, clean finish. Add a drop of cream and there will be no need for dessert.

You’d think this is a load of bull, but no, not so much. I have no idea what honeysuckle and toffee tastes like, but it definitely tastes a little bit like dark chocolate and orange rind. And it is sweet, even though I could not bring myself to throw out the first shot which never comes out right (that does add a bit more acidity than I’d like).

And now I want is some grilled cheese.

Japanese Convinience

In one of the stories of the late genius science fiction writer Robert Sheckley, the main character needs crazy and exotic items to cast a spell. Bat wings, eyes of newt, etc, etc. Seemingly hard to find items, yet the character did not have any problems finding them. Why? Because he lived in Manhattan. You can find the most obscure, impossible to locate items in New York. Dried parasitic fungus that feeds on caterpillars? I had no trouble finding it.

A couple of days ago I made a happy discovery. It looks like Manhattan has it’s own chain of authentic Japanese “konbini” – convenience stores. When I visited Japan, I really liked konbinis. They have 7-Eleven, just like we do, but also Ministop, Lawson, Sunkus and FamilyMart.

So, what’s different in a Japanese konbini? The variety and quality of junk food that they sell is a lot better. They are stocked with a humongous variety of snacks. Dozens of types of dried squid and fish for beer, Japanese sweets, nuts, edamame, sashimi quality fish, japanese pickles like umeboshi. The variety of soft drinks and genki drinks. They also have Japanese shampoos and skincare products. In short, they are stuffed with Japanese goodness of overpowering variety.

I’ve been to SAM BOK store at 127 West 43rd Street before. It was nice but not the same as the real Japanese kombini. Also there’s a big Chinese supermarket in my are which has a lot of Japanese stuff. Not the same either. But then I found JAS MART. It even has 3 locations!

35 St. Marks Place, (Bet 2nd & 3rd Ave), NYC
212-420-6370
Sun – Thur: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Fri & Sat: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM

34 East 23rd Street, (Bet Park & Madison Ave), NYC
212-387-8882
Mon – Fri: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Sat & Sun: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM

2847 Broadway, (Bet 110th & 111th St), NYC
212-866-4780
Mon – Sun: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM

They even have genki drinks and Coffee Boss coffe! I’ve been to the one on 23rd street and promptly loaded myself up with goodies. Unagi eel, unagi sauce, roasted rice tea, sencha tea, several types of dried ika and fish, umeboshi, edamame. It’s a little expensive, but hey – beats buying tickets to Japan.

Coffee Boss is a brand of Japanese canned coffee drinks with a J. R. “Bob” Dobbs-look alike mascot. They are sold in Japanese style soda machines which look rather different from the US Coke/Pepsi machines. They can serve the cans hot or cold. I wonder why somebody doesn’t bring some of these to Manhattan – it looks like the design of soda machines hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years!

Pocari Sweat is a brand of Japanese sports drink, and despite the name rather tasty I might add. Notice the recycling can next to the machine – apparently the Japanese etiquette requires you to finish drinking your soft drinks next to the machine and not walking around with them. Almost every machine sold unsweetened green tea, in many cases Coke or Pepsi-branded.

The Pigeon Washer

I ducked into the Hidden Starbucks to get a sandwich and a Venti Quad Iced Latte for lunch, then sat down outside on the parapet of the weird little plaza to eat. There were a few salariemen and women sitting on the curb, eating, drinking coffee and smoking. But once I got up to return to my cubicle, I noticed something very strange. See, there was this woman sitting on the parapet, and she had a blue plastic bucket with soapy water and a washcloth. In her hand she held a particularly gnarly sick pigeon. She was giving the pigeon a bath. Unless she’s washing the poor bird for food (hey, you never know), Nikola Tesla, who lived and worked close by would have approved.

The Naked Barrista

I haven’t written about one of my very expensive but ultimately rewarding hobbies for a while, so I will try to correct this. You see, I like espresso and espresso based drinks. One of these days I’ll write a long post about everything that I ever learned about making them, but for now, here’s a short progress report.

There are hundreds of cooking shows these days. Even the British, famous for their indigestible cuisine, field two awesome shows: The Naked Chef and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. All of a sudden, London is referred to “City of Chefs.” In any case, I am sure that both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay prepare very tasty meals in their restaurants. But I am also pretty sure that if you order an espresso or a cappuccino there, you’ll get the undrinkable crud. Jamie Oliver, for instance has a FrancisFrancis! – a beautifully designed, but highly mediocre espresso machine in his home kitchen. Would one show about coffee and coffee training for celebrity chefs and their restaurant staff be too much to ask for?

As my financial means increased, I’ve progressed through a series of espresso machines. For a year or so I’ve been a proud owner of a Reneka Techno. It’s a common choice amongst espresso enthusiasts who always wanted a La Marzocco machine, but finally gave up, as new ones cost too much (around 6K) and used ones are hard to come by and troublesome. The scarcity of used La Marzocco machines is a mystery to me – Starbucks replaced almost all machines that it used to own with superautomatics of unknown to me make, reportedly forcing the closure of the US La Marzocco factory. Where did they all go?

Anyway, strange as it is, but a French company, not an Italian one is making a machine that mostly replicates a La Marzocco for home users. So, what separates this machine from hundreds of competing espresso makers?

Well, for starters it uses a rotary pump instead of the most common vibratory one. Rotary pumps give a steady pressure, unlike vibratory ones that provide the same pressure in a series of very rapid pulses. This is similar to analogue vs. digital sound, and just slightly less controversial, as the results are easier to compare. For the record, I like analog sound better too.

The second highly desirable feature is the separate high powered steam/water boilers. Add to that a digital temperature control circuit tunable to 1F and you got yourself a great machine. With this little bit of digital trickery you get in-boiler temperature stability that the bigger machines get through great size and painstaking adjustment. The temperature stability at the group (the coffee holder) is another question altogether, but it’s not bad there too.

Of course, to get all that you have to suffer some difficulties – like having a 220V outlet installed. This is not too difficult – you just need to have access to two 120V lines on a different phase and have your electrician put in a special circuit breaker. You also need a direct water connection, as rotary pump machines don’t have water tanks and need to take in water at water line pressure. This is not too difficult as well – you need to have your plumber to lead a flexible copper water line from the sink. If you install the machine near the sink, you can also tie the coffee machine’s drain into the sink drain. I am not as lucky – my machine drains into a big vase.

Here is my Reneka Techno with the side cover removed. You can see the pump as well as the badly placed pressure gauge. Pressure is adjustable, mine is set at about Schomer-recommended 8.5 bar.

A new trend in espresso shot-pulling is the so-called naked portafilters. Techno came with an extra portafilter, which I had modified at Home-Espresso.com for only $25. The idea is that you get to see the cream formation and flow of espresso though the filter bottom, noting the evenness of extraction. Also, crema touches fewer surfaces, ending up mostly in the cup.

I’ve ordered some coffee from Victorola, this is a shot of their Streamline Espresso. The crema looks a little light, but espresso did not taste sour at all. Is that the mysterious “tiger flecking“? I don’t know. In any case, this was a trial shot, I’ll keep playing with my new toy and new coffees from Victorola.

I am sad to announce my continuing suckage at the fine craft of latte art. Look and laugh at this misshapen rosetta. Ewww. Well, practice makes perfect.


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Matcha doing?

I’ve been to Joe’s today and had one of their iced lattes. And then another one. It’s so nice to finally have a high quality alternative to Starbucks in Manhattan. I really, really hope they take off. I mean think about it — every espresso drink they make is light-years ahead of the same Starbucks drink. You can taste burnt beans and probably ass in Starbucks iced lattes, the Joe’s version is smooth and almost chocolaty, and tastes like the coffee smell (that’s the best way I can describe it).

I told Jonathan, the owner of Joe’s about Matcha teaa long while back, but he totally blew me off. I even offered to come over and make some for him. Anyway, *$’s is pushing Matcha based drinks and having some success with them. Why wouldn’t they – Matcha to tea is what espresso is to coffee. Maybe now he’ll consider it, and do it right for a change. Matcha should be enjoyed whipped in a bowl with water, although mixing it with milk, and even spreading it on a toast with butter is acceptable to me at least.

I guess I should stock up on Matcha though – Starbucks purchasing might raise the prices a lot. Somehow I doubt that they buy the good stuff from Kyoto. Maybe they figured out a way to get it someplace cheaper — at a couple of bucks a gram I don’t think high quality “thick” Matcha is attractive to them.