6 Surprising Facts About Starbucks

March 8, 2011

Starbucks Old Logo

Happy 40th Birthday Starbucks! Hard to imagine a world without the coffee store on every corner, but 40 years ago such a dark world existed. Then, in 1971, the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle. The first store just sold whole coffee beans. It moved in 1975 to the current location of "The First Starbucks Store" in another spot in the market. When Howard Schultz joined the company in 1982, it was poised for expansion and expand it did. The company went public in 1992 and now has 17,000 locations in 55 countries. Schultz, who came back as CEO in 2008, spoke about the company and its future in an interview with USA Today. In honor of the coffee giant's birth, here are 6 facts you might not know about your favorite coffee shop:

1) How the founders came up with the name: Now, the conventional belief goes that the founders settled on the name of Starbucks because of the character named Starbuck from Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Turns out, that explanation is only partially correct. In a 2008 interview with the Seattle Times, co-founder Gordon Bowker revealed that the name was very nearly Cargo House (which he admits would have been a "terrible, terrible mistake"). Instead, they happened upon the old mining town of Starbo on an old map. The founders thought "st-" words were powerful and Bowker jumped to Starbuck. In Moby-Dick, Starbuck has no love for coffee so the name is purely coincidental. It seems to make sense, though, given Seattle's maritime history.

2) The number of possible drink combinations: According to various reports in 2008, the company offers 87,000 (that's not a mistake) drink combinations to customers. Starbucks declines to say how they arrived at the number, so it could actually be higher or lower. One researcher actually estimated the number of possible combinations as high as 38 million. Regardless of the actual number, it seems fair to say that you can have pretty much whatever you want.

3) Company's Biggest Flop: Well, according to Howard Schultz the biggest flop was the Sorbetto, a Pinkberry-inspired yogurt treat. Part of the company's goal of offering drinkable frozen snacks for customers, the product was launched exclusively in California (and more specifically, Los Angeles) in 2008. Less than a year later, in 2009, they scrapped the idea. Customer reaction was lukewarm and baristas complained the machines were extremely difficult to clean.

4) Poorly Publicized Internet Policy: The company built an in-house digital network that will allow consumers the ability to access internet sites they would ordinarily have to pay for— think Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Starbucks partnered with Yahoo! to enable the internet access, which will now accompany the free Wi-Fi available in all stores. Content from USA Today, Zagat and other internet sites will be featured prominently.

5) Secret Drink Size: Do you think that the smallest size available on any Starbucks menu is a tall? Wrong! Though non-publicized, baristas will happily comply and serve you a "short" drink, if you ask for one. A short (8 oz.) contains the same amount of expresso as a tall (12 oz.), which means a bolder coffee taste. Apparently, customers prefer the "venti" size, which often contains hundreds more calories than a "short" would.

6) Starbucks Prompts People to do Weird Things: Take, for example, one man named Winter. In 1997, he set out to visit every single Starbucks in the world. At the time, the company only had 1,500 stores throughout the world. Now, they have over 17,000. Winter remains undeterred though. In 2007, he was the subject of a documentary and, as this video shows, he recently visited his 10,000th location. Billy Chasen had a much different challenge. After receiving a free drink coupon, he set out to make the most expensive drink at Starbucks possible. The result was a "13 shot venti soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha with extra white mocha and caramel." Apparently, it tasted disgusting fresh, but pretty good frozen.

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