A Star Is Born: A Quick Guide to Starbucks History

The early 70s were a big time for coffee culture in the U.S.—and Seattle was ground zero for the revolution. In 1971, Starbucks was born.

Today it’s virtually omnipresent, with almost 20,000 stores in 58 countries, from multiple storefronts on the same NYC block, to the controversial Forbidden City location (which closed in 2007). It can be hard to grasp, considering it’s now the largest coffeehouse company in the world, but the java titan started out as a charming neighborhood café just over 40 years ago.

The Original Starbucks

The Original Starbucks – Seattle, Washington

The scene: 1971, Seattle. The players: a trio of humanities-oriented professionals who were inspired by another West Coast coffee bean guru, Mr. Alfred Peet (yes, that Peet), to sell high-quality coffee beans to the newly emerging market. In fact, for the first year in business, Starbucks actually bought its green coffee from Berkeley, CA-based Peet’s.

And how ’bout that name? Though many of us haven’t read Moby Dick, many of us do pay homage to one of its main characters every time we support Starbucks. That’s because the literary-oriented founders named their shop after Starbuck, the chief mate on the Pequod—a name they initially considered, too.

The original Starbucks kept up its first home for a mere five years, before moving to its current home at 1912 Pike Place. Things were, ahem, buzzing, for several years, but no one could have predicted the astronomical rise that began in 1988, when a new owner started expanding outside Seattle. Within that same year, new outposts opened up in Vancouver and Chicago. By 1992, when Starbucks finally went public, it boasted 165 outlets.

Changing With the Times

Of course, as Starbucks grew, so did its customer. In 2007, Starbucks stopped using milk from rBGH-treated cows. In 2009, it started selling salads and baked goods without high fructose corn syrup. It’s also experimented with removing its own name from a handful of Seattle outlets, and offering beer and wine at some of those and others. In 2009, Starbucks introduced its instant coffee packet, VIA. And in the last few years, more of its stores have begun to offer free Wi-Fi. It also recently bought Evolution Fresh, a chain of juice bars.

Starbucks history changed dramatically in 1996, when it opened its first international location in Tokyo. The international presence really struck big in 1998, when Starbucks took over all 60 of the Seattle Coffee Company outlets in the UK. Now you can find the iconic mermaid logo everywhere from Peru to Hungary to Russia to El Salvador to…the sea. Yes, there’s even Starbucks on cruise ships. Basically you’d be hard-pressed to travel anywhere Starbucks hasn’t already been—which is pretty mind-boggling when you think back to its humble beginnings as a Seattle hippie haven in the early 70s.

Still feeling intrigued about Starbucks history? Get way more info where that came from in Howard Schultz’s book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.

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