Five Reasons to Boycott Starbucks

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s Protest Starbucks page and our All About Organics page, and our Millions Against Monsanto page.
Starbucks. It’s the largest coffee chain in the world, with 20,100 stores, and annual sales of $14.9 billion. CEO Howard Schultz is worth $1.6 billion.
It’s a fortune built, by consumers and coffee farmers, for Schultz and Starbucks’ shareholders.
But what if consumers stopped buying Starbucks? And instead, sought out companies that promote fair trade organic coffee? And fair trade cappuccinos made with organic milk?
The Organic Consumers Association has been pressuring Starbucks for 12 years to change its policies and practices around organics and fair trade. Yet apart from one victory—in 2007, when in response to consumer pressure Starbucks agreed to stop using milk containing Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone—the company has largely ignored consumer demand for organic, non-GMO drinks and snacks.
It’s time to ratchet up the pressure. The OCA is joining with GMO Inside to (again) ask Starbucks to switch to organic milk. Until Starbucks switches to organic and GMO-free, the company remains on our boycott list.
In the Starbucks 2013 Annual Report, Schultz says, “I hope you will agree that we are achieving our goals in ways in which we can all be extremely proud.”
Here are five reasons we think Starbucks has nothing to be proud of.
Starbucks uses non-organic milk from factory farms
In 2011 (and the company has grown steadily since then), Starbucks used over 93 million gallons of milk per year, enough to fill 155 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
None of it was organic.
But what if it were? Imagine the impact Starbucks could have on the organic milk industry. The pressure it could exert on the marketplace by forcing other coffee chains to switch to organic, in order to remain competitive. And the role the company could play in ending the abuse and unhealthy practices rampant in factory farm dairies.
Starbucks likes to tout the fact that since it stopped using milk that contains Monsanto’s rBGH growth hormone, it uses “GMO-free” milk.
That may be true. But by its refusal to switch to USDA certified organic milk, Starbucks is a huge promoter of the GMO agriculture model—because dairy cows are fed a steady diet of GMO feed, including corn, soy, alfalfa, and cotton seed.
That’s an unhealthy diet for animals. And an unsustainable model for agriculture.
Starbucks peddles mostly non-organic, GMO (junk) foods and drinks
Starbucks may use GMO-free (non-organic) milk in its coffee drinks, but only 1.1 percent of its coffee is certified organic.
And there are plenty of other GMO-tainted (and non-organic) products and ingredients on the Starbucks menu. In fact, the addition of breakfast sandwiches, juice and tea are credited with a recent uptick in company sales.
“The single largest contributor to the comparable sales growth in the quarter was food,” Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead told Bloomberg. “It resonates with customers.”
Here’s what would “resonate” with consumers who want healthy food choices—organic, non-GMO food and beverages.
Instead, as “Food Babe” Vani Hari wrote last year, Starbucks’ offerings include preservatives, high fructose (GMO) corn syrup, proplyene glycol, chemically derived sugars, cellulose gum (a filler made from wood pulp), and azodicarbonamide, a substance banned in other countries and linked to asthma. And that’s the short list.
Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association
Maybe all those GMO-tainted foods are the reason Starbucks supports the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the lobbying group that has spent millions of dollars to defeat GMO labeling laws?
Last year the anti-GMO movement was locked in a fierce battle—on Starbucks’ home turf, Washington State—with Monsanto and the processed-food industry, over I-522, a citizens’ initiative to label GMOs.
The measure was defeated, by a mere 1 percent, after companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola, and their multi-billion dollar lobbying group, the GMA, spent millions to defeat it.
The GMA stooped to illegally laundering contributions to defeat I-522. The group also donated $2.2 million to defeat a similar labeling initiative in California, in 2012. All told, GMA and its members spent about $20 million to defeat Prop 37.
During the Washington I-522 campaign, the OCA reached out to Starbucks to ask the company to withdraw its support from the GMA and come out in support consumers’ right to know.
Motion denied. Starbucks continues to support the GMA, which is now pushing a bill in Congress that would preempt state GMO labeling laws, and overturn existing laws, like the one recently passed in Vermont.
The OCA has called for a boycott of all members of the GMA, including Starbucks.
Starbucks fails the Fair Trade test
Starbucks wants you to feel all warm and fuzzy about buying its coffee. But here are the facts. According to the company’s own global impact report, only 8.4 percent of the company’s coffee purchases in 2013 were certified fair trade.
So how does the company get around such a dismal fair trade track record, and still fool consumers into thinking it “cares” about coffee farmers? By creating its very own “fair” trade standards.
Again, according to the coffee giant’s global impact report, 95.3 percent of Starbucks coffee is “ethically sourced.” But all that means is that those coffee purchases meet the (weak) standards of Starbucks’ in-house program, called CAFE (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices). These sub-standard standards are often applied to large-scale plantations, which then compete against small-scale coffee co-ops for which (real) fair trade standards were intended to provide market opportunities.
Starbucks’ CAFÉ standards are focused on the farm level, not on Starbucks’ own commitment to farmers in terms or long-term stability. Unlike genuine fair trade standards, the CAFÉ program standards don’t specify either a minimum price or a standard for negotiating price that would guarantee a fair price for small farmers.
You can learn more about how Starbucks skirts the Fair Trade issue at the Fair World Project.
Starbucks is negotiating “free trade” in secret
¬Starbucks isn’t content to just make up its own “fair” trade standards. The company is also working behind the scenes to finagle corporate-friendly (as in, not worker-friendly) conditions for global trade.
A representative from Starbucks has a seat at the table of the highly secretive negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a global trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors. The public and most of Congress have been shut out of the negotiations—but nearly 600 corporations, including Starbucks, have full access.
When a representative from the OCA’s Fair World Project contacted Starbucks to ask what role the company is playing on the negotiating team, and what policies the company is advocating, she was referred to the company website for its “policies on free trade.”
Surely, a company as profitable as Starbucks can do better. But if it won’t, it’s time for Starbucks to own up to the fact that, despite its purported concern for society, the company worships exclusively at the altar of profits.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is national director of the Organic Consumers Association.


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Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) is a regular contributor on 100 Days of Real Food. To learn more about Vani check her out on “Our Team” page.

Trying to get through the maze of what is offered at Starbucks can be pretty daunting – hopefully this information will clear up any nagging thoughts about what’s REALLY in their food and drinks. I couldn’t help but shake my head at the things I uncovered, which had me asking – how many times have people unknowingly gotten sabotaged at Starbucks?

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Starbucks was using crushed up bugs to color their Strawberry Frappuccinos. Luckily, they responded to the public outcry and eliminated that beetle juice. You’d think they would have taken the time to clean up the rest of their menu, but no such luck. Did you know that Starbucks uses ingredients that are scarier than bugs and could even be harmful to your health? That’s where the real sabotage begins…

Top 5 Ways To Get Sabotaged At Starbucks:

1. Coffee

You might think it is a bit radical to suggest not drinking their most prized ingredient that makes over 85,000 different combination of drinks, but it’s also radical drinking and paying a premium for coffee that’s ridden with potential toxins. Let’s get real here, they do not actually serve organic coffee at most Starbucks locations, which means (like all brands of conventional coffee) it’s been sprayed with pesticides. We all know Starbucks coffee ain’t cheap, but most people don’t know that regular consumption of conventional coffee can be a serious source of pesticide exposure.

Starbucks coffee is grown all over the world in developing nations. The United States doesn’t regulate the type and amount of pesticides foreign countries use in their production of coffee beans, which makes consuming non-organic coffee on a regular basis pretty risky. You could be drinking toxins from pesticides that are in fact banned here in the United States but not else where, like the pesticide Chlorpyrifos that is a contact poison. It has caused human deaths, and has been linked to birth defects. It is extremely toxic to birds, freshwater and marine organisms, bees, and other wildlife.

Furthermore, we know that increased exposure to pesticides are linked to birth defects, nerve damage and cancer. The President’s Cancer Panel has urged us not to consume food sprayed with pesticides and doesn’t believe any amount is safe.

And in regards to their decaf… did you know that conventional decaffeinated coffees are made decaf by soaking the beans with a chemical called ethyl acetate used in nail polish and glues and a carcinogen called methylene chloride?

2. Soy Latte (or anything else with Starbucks organic soy milk)

Logically, it makes sense to choose organic soy milk, since Starbucks decided to eliminate organic cow’s milk as an option a few years ago. But not so fast. Starbucks organic soy milk has one ingredient they would rather you not know about. This ingredient was recently highlighted in a report generated by the Cornucopia Institute and echoed in a recent NYTimes article about non-organic ingredients allowed in organic food. One of those questionable ingredients is carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed and is in Starbucks branded organic soy milk. This substance is reported to cause intestinal inflammation and can be become a carcinogen once it is digested.

How such an ingredient became allowed in organic food is bigger than just Starbucks. However, companies ultimately make the decision to use or not to use these harmful ingredients.

Carrageenan can also be found in other Starbucks food and drink products including their cakes, scones, yogurt and Light Frappuccinos.

3. Baked Goods & Other Food Offerings

Sure, Starbucks made a commitment a couple of years ago to eliminate transfat, artificial colors, and high fructose corn syrup from their food products. They said they listened to us and responded. However, I think Starbucks may need a hearing aid. Just because a company gets rid of certain ingredients doesn’t automatically make the food completely natural or “real”. For instance, the Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake has over 75 ingredients!

Ingredients in Starbucks food products still include:

  • Refined Flours – White flour that has been stripped of its nutrients and provides nothing but empty calories that contribute to chronic disease & obesity.
  • Chemically Derived Sugars – Some products like the lemon pound cake contain 6 different types of processed sugars (e.g. powdered sugar, glycose syrup, corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc.).
  • Preservatives – The Mayo Clinic reported that the preservative sodium benzoate (an ingredient found in the Iced Lemon Pound Cake) may increase hyperactivity in children. Also, when sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) benzene can form a carcinogen and kill DNA cells, accelerating aging.
  • Growth Hormone – Starbucks has eliminated growth hormone milk in their core dairy products, but not in their food products. That means you could be still be ingesting a substance that has been reported to cause breast, colon and prostate cancers.
  • Cellulose Gum – This a filler made from wood pulp your body can’t even digest.
  • Proplyene Glycol – This is an ingredient in the Apple Fritter and Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Cake, which is derived from petroleum and a key chemical that is used to make anti-freeze.
  • Azodicarbonamide – This substance, found in Starbucks croissants, is banned in the U.K., Europe and Australia, and if used in Singapore can result in fines up to $450,000 and a 15 year prison sentence! This ingredient has been reported to cause asthmatic symptoms in people who inhale it and can also increase certain food sensitivities.
  • Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMOs) -Several of the listed ingredients are likely genetically modified. We’ll never know for sure how much of Starbucks products are genetically modified since they are currently not required to be labeled in this country. But we do know that the consumption of GMO foods poses a serious threat to our health and have been linked to toxicity, allergic reactions and fertility issues.
  • Cheap Oils – Soy, canola or corn oil can be found in almost all of Starbucks’ products. Over-consumption of these cheap oils are causing an abundance of Omega 6 fatty acids in our diets. The imbalance of Omega 6 fatty acids increases the risk of inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and prostate and bone cancer.

4. “Refreshers” Beverage

This brand new drink that just came out last week gives the allure of fresh and real, but it’s anything but. The ingredients are the same for both flavors of the refresher drinks. What? How can one taste like “Cool Lime” and the other one taste like “Berry Hibiscus” when they have both have the same base ingredients? Huh? Looking at the two different boxes these “handcrafted” drinks came out of, the ingredients read:

Starbucks Refreshers Beverage: Water, Sugar, White Grape Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Natural Green Coffee Flavor, Citric Acid, Erythritol, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid E300), Rebaudioside A (Stevia)

Starbucks calls white grape juice concentrate (which involves heating the juice to high temperatures and adding some chemicals to get a more condensed product) “real fruit juice.” The only difference between the two drinks was the addition of freeze dried lime to one drink and freeze dried blackberries to the other. I guess that explains how they “handcraft” it. McDonalds must also handcraft their burgers when they put the bun on them, huh?

It is interesting that Green Coffee Extract was not actually in the drink like they advertise. It is included in the refresher products they sell packaged in the store, but not in the version baristas make behind the counter. Is this their way of tricking us into buying a cheaper derivative of Green Coffee – just the flavor and not the extract?

When I realized that both drinks contained added sugar as the second ingredient and “natural flavor,” I immediately knew this drink was pure JUNK. Manufactured natural flavor is contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth. This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the flavors they have synthesized trick your mind into wanting more and more. Starbucks doesn’t give us the full essence of a hibiscus or cucumber mint – just the best 1 millionth part of the taste – so we only want more of that product, which in turns fills Starbucks’ pockets. When companies use manufactured flavor, they literally are “hijacking” your taste buds one-by-one.

Please note, natural flavor is found in almost all of Starbucks products, not just this new drink. Their smoothies are also made with a product that comes from a box and contains juice concentrate with natural flavors and natural color as opposed to 100% real fruit. I should also note that their mocha chocolate sauce, used to flavor many drinks and their chocolate smoothie, still contain high fructose corn syrup, too. They haven’t eliminated high fructose corn syrup in their drinks, only their food. This is yet another marketing trick Starbucks has played on us.

5. Frappuccinos

Did you know the CEO of Starbucks doesn’t even drink Frappuccinos? And I think I’ve figured out why. Frappuccinos are full of refined sugar, natural and artificial flavors, and a substance called caramel coloring. California recently included caramel coloring on its annual list of carcinogens that require warning labels.

This type of caramel isn’t the stuff you make at home by cooking sugar. This caramel color is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds. Caramel color is classified into four different classes; Class IV being the worst and the one that is listed on the Starbucks Frappuccino label. Whether you choose the regular or light version of a Frappuccino, you are getting a dose of this known carcinogen proven to cause liver tumors, lung tumors, and thyroid tumorsin rats and mice.

When The Center for Science in the Public Interest studied two different brands of soda earlier this year, they found that both had dangerous levels of caramel coloring and could be contributing to thousands of cancers in the US. This prompted Coke and Pepsi to quickly change their formulas so they didn’t have to include the cancer warning label on their products in California. I wonder what level of carcinogenic compounds a Frappuccino has, don’t you? Maybe someone should test it. I think it should be removed altogether from the FDA’s approved list of additives considering this substance is only added for cosmetic reasons and serves no real purpose!

Frappuccinos aren’t the only products at Starbucks that contain caramel coloring, the “Perfect” Oatmeal even has it! This is alarming to say the least, considering the oatmeal is one of the most popular and “safer” sounding menu items at Starbucks. To quote Starbucks, “The most important meal of the day is the first. So why not make it nutritious and delicious?” I’m not sure if consuming carcinogens first thing in the morning is really nutritious, are you?

Despite all these ways in which Starbucks can sabotage me, I still like to use their free internet. Many of the stores now carry bananas, organic dried fruit, and some quality granola bars without synthetic ingredients that I would buy if I needed a snack. I always read the label no matter what I am buying just to be sure.

My favorite treat to get at Starbucks is absolutely free. They will give a cup of hot water to anyone that asks. Since I always carry a few extra bags of organic tea with me, I know I can always have a healthy beverage on the go from Starbucks for free anytime I like. I also like to use this free hot water option to make my own quick cooking oatmeal without carcinogenic caramel coloring!

But if you aren’t a tea drinker and are still clamoring for a Frappuccino, but don’t want to consume harmful ingredients…I’ve got a couple of recipes for you! Try my Homemade Organic Frappuccino with no refined sugars, artificial colors, flavors or carcinogens today or try Lisa’s Maple Mocha. Both of these recipes are so easy to make, you’ll never have to worry about getting sabotaged at Starbucks again.

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at


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The campaign group, which wrote an open letter​ to Chobani founder Hamdi Ullukaya last summer urging him to “be a leader and announce a phase-out of GMO animal feed for your cows​” is now calling on coffee chain Starbucks to do the same.

GMO Inside, which has also targeted dairy giant Dean Foods over its sourcing policies recently​, called on Starbucks to serve only organic milk sourced from cows not fed genetically engineered animal feed.

Launching a new campaign website​ and Facebook page, GMO Inside said Pret a Manger had already made a commitment to serving organic milk in its stores and still sells coffee at competitive prices: “The reality is that the process Starbucks put in place to remove rBGH from its milk source can be used to source organic milk.”​

Starbucks did not immediately respond to requests for a comment on the campaign.

Ben & Jerry’s: The fresh Vermont milk and cream that our family farmers supply to us is not organic​

However, even companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, which has made a commitment to using only non-GMO ingredients in its products by this summer, say it will take much longer to switch to sourcing milk from cows that are not fed GMOs given the ubiquity of GM corn and soy in US animal feed.

Explaining its position on its website, the firm says: “The​ fresh Vermont milk and cream that our family farmers supply to us is not organic. This means that it is almost certain that some portion of the cows’ feed contains GMO ingredients, such as corn. With almost 90% of corn grown in the US being genetically modified, it’s hard for conventional farmers to find non-GMO feed.​

Dunkin’ Donuts Pledges to Help Coffee Growers Adapt to Climate Change

As several countries mark International Coffee Day this Saturday, September 29, it’s important to remember our favorite morning brew is one of the most traded commodities in the world, and farming it allows 25 million families in more than 60 countries to make a living. Yet experts say climate change will pose an increasing risk to coffee crops.

By 2050, growing areas suitable for the world’s most popular coffee strain—Arabica—will drop by up to 70 percent in some key coffee-producing regions, the BBC reports. A warming climate could also exacerbate pests such as the dreaded coffee berry borer, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Such stark changes not only threaten your morning cup of Joe, but also put millions of livelihoods at risk. Smallholder farmers, who produce roughly 70 percent of the world’s coffee, will be forced to adapt in order to maintain their way of life.

To that end, global coffee giant Dunkin’ Donuts and National DCP, a $2 billion supply chain management company serving Dunkin’ franchisees, are launching a new partnership to protect the global coffee supply while supporting farmers.

The companies pledged to donate up to $2 million to World Coffee Research (WCR), a nonprofit collaborative research and development program for the global coffee industry, over the next five years. California-based WRC focuses on coffee genetics with the aim of developing more resilient strains that can better withstand weather extremes, as well as pest and disease problems that may increase due to climate change.

“With rising temperatures and more extreme weather, the need to make coffee plants more resilient to threats like diseases and droughts has never been more urgent,” Tim Schilling, CEO of World Coffee Research, said in a statement.

Dunkin’s investment will move in increments, as the company donates a price percentage of every pound of Original Blend coffee beans sold to its franchisees. WRC has similar deals with other large coffee suppliers through its CheckOff Program, but Dunkin’s pledge makes the company one of the nonprofit’s largest donors to date.

“We are excited to support the work being done by World Coffee Research benefiting farmers around the world and shoring up long-term supply assurance for our franchisee cooperative members,” Matt Daks, director of strategic sourcing for coffee and tea at National DCP, said in a statement. “Through WCR’s CheckOff Program, we can help combat the impacts of climate change, develop more vibrant, vigorous, varietals and ensure farmers can grow healthier trees, resulting in better quality and higher volumes.”

WRC’s work in coffee genetics not only safeguards supply chains for large purveyors like Dunkin’, but also protects livelihoods by providing coffee farmers with better, higher revenue-earning varieties.

The social element does not appear to be lost on Dunkin’. “As a leading coffee retailer, we have a responsibility to protect the commodities we source, and the farmers and producers whose livelihoods depend upon them,” said Karen Raskopf, chief communications and sustainability officer for Dunkin’ Brands, which owns both Dunkin’ Donuts and ice cream icon Baskin Robbins.

As a leading coffee retailer that sells 80 cups of the stuff every second, Dunkin’ is in a position to make a huge impact on the way the commodity is sourced and sold—and coffee sustainability is top of the list when it comes to the company’s corporate responsibility initiatives.

Dunkin’ continues to expand its work with the Rainforest Alliance, and all espresso beverages served in the U.S. and approximately 16 international markets were made with 100 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified beans as of last year. Dunkin’ and National DCP are also working to certify all of the brand’s Dark Roast Coffee through the Rainforest Alliance—meaning supplier farms meet rigorous standards regarding biodiversity and natural resource conservation, as well as farmer well-being. In European markets, which consume the largest share of the world’s coffee by far, Dunkin’ restaurants also serve Fair Trade certified espresso.

On the environmental side, earlier this year Dunkin’ announced plans to phase out its infamous foam coffee cups, which are difficult to recycle. The company will swap in a new, double-walled paper cup that’s already in use in most of its international markets and will reach its entire retail portfolio by 2020. The switch will remove nearly 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream annually, though “the new cups’ recyclability will vary by city, state and municipality,” the company told Treehugger in February.

Image credit: The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) via Flickr

With more than 21,500 stores in 64 countries and territories, the Starbucks coffee chain has enjoyed the image of omnipresence for so long that jokes about walking across the street from one branch straight into another have themselves become clichéd. In certain cities, it’s simply the reality: Seattle, for instance, where the now universally recognised green mermaid got her humble start.

But when the very first Starbucks opened on 30 March 1971, its sign bore not a green mermaid but a brown one — and a more anatomically detailed one at that. Founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker (friends from the University of San Francisco, all instructed in the art of roasting by Peet’s Coffee and Tea founder Alfred Peet) drew the theme of their new coffee company from nautical mythology, commissioning that first version of the company’s signature siren and picking a name out of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick – “Starbucks” having narrowly pipped the second-place contender, “Pequod”.

You can still see Starbucks’ original mermaid, baring her breasts and spreading her tails, on the window of the “original Starbucks” (actually the second location of the original Starbucks, to which it moved in 1977) at Seattle’s tourist-beloved Pike Place market. A site of pilgrimage for Starbucks habitués the world over, the store offers not just all the drinks on the company’s modern menu — from normal coffee and espresso to chai tea lattes and caramel Frappuccinos — but a sense of just how much the operation has changed over the decades.

The Seattle cafe has become a site of pilgrimage for Starbucks habitués the world over. Photograph: Kevin P Casey/AP

Those who visit the original Starbucks will find themselves at the back of a line stretching well past the small building’s door, and once inside will see nowhere to sit and linger — just as Baldwin, Siegl and Bowker intended. They founded Starbucks not as a place to drink freshly brewed coffee, but as a place to buy freshly roasted beans. The home-brewing coffee aficionados of 1970s Seattle loved it, and demand had grown sufficiently by decade’s end that a curious Howard Schultz – then the general manager of their filter supplier, Hammarplast – paid a visit to No.1912 Pike Place to watch this booming small business in action.

Impressed, Schultz joined Starbucks as director of marketing in 1982 and, on a buying trip to Milan, experienced the cultural awakening that would give the company its destiny – in the form of the Piazza del Duomo’s many coffee bars, all of them serving high-grade espresso, all of them providing quasi-public meeting places for Milanese society. There, amid “the light banter of political debate and the chatter of kids in school uniforms”, the question hit Schultz: why couldn’t American cities have the same thing? And if they could, why couldn’t they serve coffee made with Starbucks-roasted beans?

Unable to convince Starbucks’ founders of the viability of a concept as novel as coffee bars in Seattle, Schultz left the company in 1985. The next year he opened a coffee bar of his own, named “Il Giornale” after one of Milan’s newspapers. Two years after that, he found enough investors to purchase Starbucks outright, which put him in a position, as CEO, to set about his Milanifying mission in earnest: first Seattle, then the United States, then the world.

The layout and decor of the Pike Place branch is largely as it was when Starbucks first launched in 1971. Photograph: Kevin P Casey/Associated Press

Starbucks’ greatest period of expansion began in the early 1990s: having already opened money-losing branches in the US-midwest and British Columbia, it then moved profitably into California in 1991, making its initial public offering on the stock market the following year. Starbucks seemed unstoppable throughout that decade and most of the next, opening on average two new stores every day until 2007. But the increasingly globalised company’s fortunes started to mirror those of the global economy, and the following year saw Starbucks shutter hundreds of locations, a grim necessity unthinkable just a decade earlier.

The Great Recession played its part, but Starbucks had also lost its own way, a fact nobody admitted more readily than Schultz himself. Having stepped back from his duties as CEO in 2000, he wrote a memo diagnosing the company’s ills – quickly leaked to the media – which cited “a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering-down of the Starbucks experience”. These included the adoption of fast automatic espresso machines bereft of the “romance and theatre” of the old ones, and easily replicable store designs “that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs the warm feeling of a neighbourhood store”.

Ostensibly, Schultz had addressed the message to then-CEO Jim Donald — tellingly, a former executive at Wal-Mart, the “big box” retail giant which surely exemplifies the very opposite of what Schultz revelled in on the sidewalks of Milan. As the revisions of Starbucks’ mermaid rendered her bland and asexual, so the revisions of Starbucks itself drained it of whatever local charm could have made its stores into social centres.

Schultz’s Starbucks has always aspired to create what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg first termed “third places”: real-life sites that “host the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work” — exactly, in other words, what the life of the suburb-housed, crime-fearing American commuter lost in the 1970s and 80s. He wrote of the importance of the “‘place on the corner’, real-life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life that do not necessitate getting into an automobile”.

Today Starbucks boasts more than 21,500 stores in 64 countries and territories worldwide – but none in Italy.

Now that so many street corners seem to have a Starbucks, has the international chain truly become that “place on the corner” where people connect? In fact, Oldenburg dismisses the Starbucks coffee shop as an “imitation”, debilitated by the company’s pursuit of that other quintessentially American obsession, security, and the sterile, predictable environment it produces. “With its overriding concern for safety,” Oldenburg told Bryant Simon, author of Everything But the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, “it can’t achieve the kind of connections I had in mind.”

Walk into a Starbucks today, and you may not notice much connection going on: some customers come in chatty groups, but many others arrive in search of nothing more than a place to open their laptops and get some work done; in effect, using Starbucks not as a third but a second place — their workplace. Most simply grab their coffee and go, never pausing to avail themselves of the chairs and couches provided, while others prefer to keep human interaction to an absolute minimum by using the drive-through window, a resoundingly un-urban feature Starbucks introduced in 1994.

Starbucks’ ongoing retooling and experimentation suggests that Schultz, for all he talks about his company’s resurrection of the “third place”, has yet to hear a sufficient amount of political banter and schoolchildren’s chatter in his stores. Starbucks’ enormous scale and need to service the American demand for frictionless convenience contradicts its mission to replicate the appeal of continental coffee-house culture: how much of a neighbourhood-rooted venue for chance encounter can you provide when you have to run thousands and thousands of them, making sure they all do more-or-less the same thing?

Starbucks aspired to create what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg first termed ‘third places’. Photograph: Simon Crumpton/Alamy

Still, when Starbucks moved beyond its little original store and wove itself into the fabric of American cities, it primed the public for subsequent waves of more genuinely local coffee shops that really do function as third places. These smaller players may accuse Starbucks of abusing its unfair advantage, ignoring city-planning regulations, saturating the market with loss-making stores in prime real estate, and setting its lawyers upon even the faintest hint of trademark infringement, but the fact remains that Starbucks paved the way by introducing an urban coffee culture into places that had never known it before.

Starbucks’ opening in the already coffee-soaked Tokyo in 1996 marked its first step outside North America. The company’s international president, Howard Behar, spoke at the time of losing sleep over stepping into a city with such entrenched competition, but now Japan has well over a thousand Starbucks stores all over the country.

Of the ever-fewer nations in which Starbucks hasn’t yet established itself, one in particular stands out: Italy. Schultz speaks now and again of his intent to bring his coffee bars into the land that gave him the idea in the first place, but also hints that the company doesn’t see that coffee-saturated market as its highest priority.

Milan, for its part, now boasts several branches of Arnold Coffee, a homegrown chain that promises “the American Coffee Experience” – one friendlier to students and laptop jockeys than what traditional Italian coffee bars offer. So closely did Arnold’s founders model its branding on Starbucks’ that they had to alter the original circular logo to avoid a lawsuit – opting instead for an inoffensive and decidedly un-mermaidish coffee mug in profile, which seems like a missed opportunity. If you can get away with a racier logo than the original Starbucks’ anywhere, surely you can do it in Italy.

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Why are my Dunkin Donuts coffee beans smaller than my fancy organic coffee beans?

Beans naturally grow in a variety of sizes, or grades. Extra Fancy is the largest grade, at 19/32 inches. Then Fancy at 18/32 and on down the line. The higher grades, or larger size beans, tend to have fewer defects while the lower grades have more. Hence, the lower grades and smaller beans are less expensive. Keep in mind that bean size and cup quality are not always correlated.

Now here’s where I’m going to get some hatred. Organic coffee has nothing to do with quality and is actually counter-indicative of bean size. There is no laboratory experiment, no professional cupper, no method ever invented that can consistently distinguish between organic and non-organic roasted coffee in a blind test. The only way to know for sure is to follow the paper trail.

With other foods, such as organic tomatoes or grapes, there is a distinguishable difference because A) we eat the fruit raw and B) those fruits are often sprayed with large quantities of easily detectable insecticides. Neither of these are true for coffee. With coffee, it’s the seed we’re after and we cook it first. The coffee berry borer (broca) is the most common coffee pest and it lives inside the coffee bean where insecticides can’t reach it. Even if insecticides were used, they don’t get into the seed in significant quantities. Even if they did, they are likely destroyed somewhere in the pulping, drying or roasting process.

The other big deal with organic is fertilizers. I won’t get into the environmental impacts, just the impacts on the coffee itself. Coffee is a heavy feeder. The way it is grown commercially, the coffee plant can produce so much coffee it can kill itself (overbearing dieback) if not fertilized and pruned properly. Proper fertilization is difficult to do with organic methods. Not impossible, just difficult and expensive. A high nitrogen organic fertilizer is maybe 9% while a synthetic fertilizer can contain 46%. That means I need far less synthetic fertilizer than I do organic fertilizer. Furthermore, I take soil samples in order to determine exactly what the soil needs and doesn’t need. With synthetic fertilizers I can add only the desired nutrients while avoiding over application of things like phosphorous. That is much more difficult to accomplish with organic fertilizers.

I won’t even get started on things like organic weed control. It’s the same story though, organic methods are more difficult and less effective without necessarily being beneficial to the environment or the end product.

Most of the world’s coffee is organic whether it’s certified as such or not. The certification process is expensive, about $1000 per year, far too expensive for the average third-world coffee farm (that $1000 has to be made up in profit margin from the word “certified”, not just $1000 worth of coffee sales).

For every dollar I spend on fertilizer, I get two dollars back in profit (approximately). Proper fertilizing makes my coffee trees healthier, less susceptible to pests, more productive and and the beans are larger. From an economic standpoint, the only reason to grow organic coffee is for the marketing appeal. Driving around the farming community here, I can easily spot the organic farms because their trees look anemic and half dead. That’s why “high quality” and “organic” are often opposites.

TL;DR Small beans are cheaper. Organic is more about marketing than bean quality.

11 Things You Didn’t Know About Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee

Dunkin’ Donuts is arguably better know for its coffee than its doughnuts — it’s one of America’s most popular coffee spots. The chain sells everything from Dunkin’ branded K-cups to cookie-flavored lattes. To keep quality high, Dunkin’ Donuts employs two chief taste-testers who over see the entire coffee operation. The Boston Globe profiled Hélène Marsot, one of the two people that hold the highly caffeinated position, and revealed a slew of interesting facts about the coffee taste-testing process. Below, 11 facts about Dunkin’ Donuts’ famous coffee:

1) It’s a full time job: Dunkin’ Donuts has two chief coffee taste-tasters. Their job is to ensure that “millions of cups of coffee the company serves each day taste exactly the same.”

2) Coffee tasters are rigorous: The chief taste-testers taste about 100 cups of coffee each week.

3) And very dedicated to their work: Though sometimes they taste 100 cups in a single day.

4) Science! Dunkin’ Donuts operates labs in nearly every country from which it buys coffee. There, other taste-testers and machines “determine the moisture content and other measurable qualities of the beans.”

5) Being thorough is part of the job: The chief taste-testers must repeat the tasting process once the beans are stateside as a measure of quality control.

6) Coffee cupping: The chief taste-testers score the coffee on a scale of 1 to 7 for a series of attributes like aroma, sweetness, body, and balance.

7) Only the best for the Dunkin’-obsessed masses: If just one attribute in one cup of coffee is out of range, the entire cargo ship container that the sample cup came from will be shipped back to the roaster.

8) Requirements for the job: One of the chief taste-testers has a degree in food microbiology and sensory evaluation. She also worked as a spirit taste-tester and worked in quality assurance at a ham factory.

9) It’s not easy: Because the coffee is sourced from multiple countries, it’s difficult to ensure each cup has the “same taste.”

10) On-the-job training: It takes employees about three years to perfect their sensory sensitivities so they can detect specific scents in coffee.

11) Ensuring objectivity: Dunkin’ Donuts requires that three trained testers sample each cup of coffee to “help eliminate personal differences.”

Dancing Mule Coffee Company

Many businesses claim they are serving specialty coffee. Specialty coffee is often defined as the top 10 percent of coffee available in the world. Let’s talk numbers.

The J.M. Smucker Company bought the Folgers brand in 2008. It has been a very successful acquisition for the company. Smuckers gross revenue in 2010 was $4.6 billion. Folgers is the number 1 store brand of coffee in the United States. The Folgers brand accounted for approximately 40 percent of Smucker’s sales in 2010 or about $1.8 billion. The Folgers brand family also includes Millstone and a 25-year agreement to provide coffee for Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts sales were $276 million of the total, making Dunkin’ donuts the number 2 “specialty” store brand behind Starbucks.

Speaking of Big Green (Starbucks), it has around 11,000 stores in the United States and 17,009 stores worldwide. Starbucks sales were $10.71 billion in 2010. Starbucks bought 269,000,000 pounds of coffee in 2010.

McDonald’s by comparison has 32,000 stores worldwide, 13,700 stores in the United States and $24 billion in sales. McDonald’s sells coffee in addition to burgers – about 500 million cups per year.

Why have we thrown all these numbers at you? The coffee that Dancing Mule serves, roasted by PT’s Coffee, is not available in enough quantity to provide the big boys (J.M. Smuckers, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, McDonalds) with coffee for a day. PT’s sold approximately 205,000 pounds in 2009, and PT’s primarily buys coffee from small farms in small lots. One of their recent micro-lots from Hawaii was 210 pounds and sold out in two weeks.

PT’s develops direct trade relationships with coffee farmer’s that benefit the farmer by giving them a better price for their hard work and benefit PT’s by allowing them to source the top 1 percent of coffee available in the world. For more information about PT’s Direct Trade policies you can go here:

For more information and a longer discussion of the definition of specialty coffee check out this article by Ric Rhinehart the Executive Director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America titled “What is Specialty Coffee?”

Having the best coffee available is only a starting point to providing truly special coffee. The coffee must be prepared and served correctly. The fact that there is only one Dancing Mule is a huge advantage over large coffee chains in regards to serving quality coffee.

We don’t have to make our coffee taste the same in 17,009 stores! We are a locally owned family business with daily management and involvement by the owner’s of the business. To sum it all up, Dancing Mule is Stubborn About Great Coffee.

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