When the small tasting group decides it has struck new-blend gold -- a process that proves far more efficient with a tiny staff -- more people are invited to a three-cupping standoff. With success, a blend gets a name and a colorful, artistic label complete with the blend’s origin and story.
Lately, Langworthy and company have been having even more fun because they’ve been assisting Starbucks’s latest push for single-origin coffees, premium selections in which every bean comes from the same region or even the same farm. At flagship Starbucks locations in Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, and Boston, these coffees (as well as all the other Starbucks coffees) can be enjoyed via the Clover brewing system, a $10,000 coffee machine that brews one cup at a time, slowly and with more flavor concentration. Try three variations of Clover coffee side by side and you’ll taste unrelenting transitions from herbal to woody to fruity. In celebrating the locations and values of these coffee origins -- through C.A.F.E. Practices, fresh blends, and new ways of delivering those blends to customers -- Schultz believes Starbucks is returning to the personality-focused business model that made his company a success in the first place. The headquarters is evidence of that strategy; after all, Kurtz, Langworthy, and almost every other major face at the corporate office got his or her start at Starbucks as a barista and then worked up through the company in ways that reward only the world’s biggest coffee fans.
In that respect, Schultz sees hard work on both ends of the supply chain, from the tree to the cup, speaking to what customers ultimately want in their daily cup of joe. And the thousands of Starbucks employees worldwide are following Schultz’s lead. They’ve come up with discounts, marking down baked goods and sandwiches to give shoppers more options. They’ve come up with Via Ready Brew, the instant coffee whose patented microground process results in a smoother option than any instant coffee that's come before it. And they’ve come up with cool ways to express Starbucks’s push for sustainability, from providing more stories about the coffees’ origins to having stores filled almost entirely with recycled tables, counters, walls, and signs.
“The thing that resonated with us is that our consumers support companies whose values are consistent with their own,” Schultz says. “We’ve never been in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.”
Sam Machkovech is based in Seattle and writes regularly for arts magazines and websites such as The Escapist and Publicola.net. He takes his coffee with just enough cream and sugar to not notice either.