This concern for financial wellbeing explains in part why the farmers Kurtz met in Costa Rica showered her with gifts as well as with gratitude. “It saved this man’s farm,” she says of when Starbucks became the farmer’s largest purchaser. Peter Torrebiarte, director of Starbucks coffee sustainability, has plenty to say about the market side of beans -- numbers, futures, bottom-outs -- and also makes the message clear through his business-speak: He wants Starbucks’s partner farms to stay open.

The company purchases roughly 70 percent of its beans from small farms (some with just 1,000 trees each), and for those farmers, even a few pennies’ difference per pound can ruin their livelihoods. Because of this, rather than assert his company’s dominance and set prices, Torrebiarte went to several farms in 2002 and bargained outright, asking for an honest answer to the question, what do you need to stay in business?

It’s but one tier to Starbucks’s mission of total sustainability -- keeping its farm partners healthy and operational in all respects -- and the company’s Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices speaks to that goal with a full gamut of guidelines. Keeping tabs on issues like pesticides, water waste, and underage labor looks good for the company, sure, but these are also pragmatic moves that lower costs for farmers and ensure that Starbucks’s supply of preferred beans never suffers.

While Starbucks is the world’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified (FTC) coffee beans, C.A.F.E. Practices has finally begun to put pressure on the largest traders, ones of a size that voids FTC eligibility. Kurtz says 77 percent of Starbucks’s suppliers exceed C.A.F.E. Practices standards as of today, and she believes the company will reach its goal by 2015: that every single Starbucks cup will be “responsibly sourced and ethically traded.”

Kurtz’s vacation stories are interrupted by a seemingly off-topic question: What’s been the most frustrating part of her work as one of Starbucks’s public faces? “I’ll be frank,” she says with startling immediacy. “To not respond. We do the right thing, and we leverage our scale for good. But for too long, we were afraid to toot our own horn. We waited too long.”