From visionary action to reactionary handling / Starbucks forced into its own third-wave

The success of Starbucks, with its founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker, prompted Howard Schultz to pay them a visit in 1981. He was curious as to why that company kept ordering an unusually high amount of plastic cone filters from his Swedish employer, Hammarplast. In 1982 he joined Starbucks as director of marketing.

On a buying trip to Italy in 1983, he was impressed by the country’s coffee culture. His wish to popularize the serving of espresso based drinks in centers for social gathering had begun. Schultz approached his employers with the idea of moving Starbucks in that direction. Up to this point, Starbuck was a successful supplier of specialty coffees to a growing number of coffee shops, and their founders showed no interest for Schultz’s idea. As a result, he chose to leave the company to build his own business based on the Italian model. Having found the necessary investors, in 1986 he founded Il Giornale and, before long, its success attracted the Starbucks founders. They sold him the Starbucks retail business in 1988 and acquired Peet’s Coffee and Tea, focusing on selling coffee specialty seeds. The Il Giornale business model was then named Starbucks and the expansion began.

While living in Boston, my interest for coffee was ignited after a couple of visits to a Mexican restaurant in Harvard Square. Although I was new to the taste, I felt the need for places in which to relax and socialize outside of a restaurant setting, but in New York and Boston, with the exception of a couple of book shops with coffee, the only alternative was a number of chains similar to Dunkin’ Donuts and Dinners. Thanks to the Mexican restaurant, I knew coffee could be much better. The emergence of Starbucks was a welcome treat, for they provided a different approach to coffee brewing and their lounge atmosphere provided the social frame I yearned for.

Through the success of the first four Starbucks localities, a nourishing bed for coffee culture had begun and Seattle was becoming a Mecca for specialty coffees and the coffee shops, known in the industry as the “third-wave”. Today, many of the third-wave coffee companies have their roots in Seattle and Portland and are the same companies that have forced Starbucks into what I see as their very own third-wave phase in 2015 – the Starbucks Reserve.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

The world of coffee lovers owes Starbucks great gratitude for their revolutionary beginnings dating back to 1971. Like no other they motorized and energized the caffeine industry with specialty coffee and made us aware of the importance and joy in expecting more from a coffee drink than a mere cup of Joe for our morning dose of caffeine. But with their success grew their hunger for power and soon they began exercising their power on their competitors, causing anger and protests in the 90’s. Their love to detail became a love for profit.

Noticing in 2010 that in London their exceptional La Marzocco machines from Italy had been replaced by the Swiss-made Mastrena superautomated coffee machines, gave me sufficient signs as to the direction in which they seemed to be going: namely, away from the production of high-end coffee drinks made by well-trained baristi. They were shifting from their first-wave (making detail-oriented servings) into their second-wave (for the sake of mass and speedy production). With Mastrena machines having being installed in most of their shops since 2008, the barista became irrelevant. Their employee serving coffee does not need to understand a machine, nor the way coffee reacts to pressure, water and temperature. A barista just pressing buttons, stops being a barista. There is no tamping and no porta filter handling.

While globally we have witnessed the third-wave of coffee for the last 20 years, the Starbucks Reserve shows that the original company has just reached their internal third-wave. The brand new shops are being introduced with siphon machinery; small batches are being praised anew; cold-brewing has become the centre of their advertising and the new machines resemble much more the design of more classical espresso machines.

In the western civilization, the coffee culture is generally divided in three waves. The first could be seen as the coffee pots of the mid-twentieth-century found in Dinners, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck-full-o-nuts and the like, while the second refers to the changes that Starbucks brought about through specialty coffees in the 70’s, and in the 80’s with their lounge-like coffee shops. Through the work of various individuals that were not satisfied with the Starbucks understanding and vision of coffee, the third wave developed, spreading from Seattle and Portland into Brooklyn and the rest of the country. Simultaneously the third wave manifested itself in cities like London, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Copenhagen and many others, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few). Around the world baristi (known as baristas in English) began working religiously to develop drinks, machines, brewing methods, coffee blends and also ideologies about the politics of and around coffee.

Just a few months ago I began seeing several signs pasted on Starbucks shops throughout New York, announcing “small batches”, “cold-brewing” and “single varietals”. Now I understand why. They have decided to catch up with the international third-wave movement and have seen that those companies respecting coffee are making money as well. At the New York Coffee Festival, last month, they presented a stand with siphons and small Vietnamese, Hawaiian and Ethiopian batches.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

At Starbucks – second-wavers and best known coffee servers of the globe, at Dunkin’ Donuts – well-known US-American chains, and at Stumptown, Blue Bottle, La Colombe and hundreds more that form the third-wave: everywhere you will find thousands lining up for a cup of coffee every single day. It shows that our palate choice is truly a matter of taste. However, being more demanding on an individual level will very likely show us that we might have been naming our taste prematurely. Quality is not truly a matter of taste.

A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

India Coffee House / An Article by Isabel Putinja

After having obtained joy from this find, I wish to share it with the Coffee Dramatist readers and with that, most surely multiply my joy.

Isabel Putinja spends much of her time writing about her culture and her surroundings. A couple of her articles address a special Coffeehouse concept found in India. These Coffeehouses serve not only a coffee with a demanding approach based on tradition, but they are owned and operated by coffee worker co-operatives. Even for many of us, who perhaps will never visit these parts of the world, it is inspiring to see how throughout the planet the coffee industry is not only contributing to the economy, but also to the culture behind and around it. Most of all it is satisfying that also on the political level much progress is being achieved.


Coffee House Waiter/Server

Like the Calcutta Coffee House, Bangalore’s own India Coffee House on MG Road is one of the city’s historical landmarks. It’s part of a nation-wide chain of coffee houses run by the Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society of which the Bangalore chapter was established in 1957.

The India Coffee House, ran by a Coffee Workers Co-operative Society (Street View)

As part of my personal protest against coffee chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista, which remind me too much of very similar chains in other parts of the world, I try to frequent independent cafés which usually also happen to have more character and ambiance. The India Coffee House definitely has lots of both and stepping through its door is like stepping into the Bangalore everyone reminisces about. Though I have visited it several times since I’ve been here, I haven’t gone as often as I would have liked to. If I had known that it wasn’t going to be around forever, I definitely would have visited much more often. Now that there’s news of its imminent closure, I’m truly sad that this Bangalore landmark will soon disappear into dust and probably make way for one of those horrible glass structures which are slowly taking over the city’s landscape. The face of MG Road is also changing at a fast pace… in the past few months many old buildings have been torn down and trees have been chopped down to make way for the metro which will permanently scar this major artery.

I was at the India Coffee House not too long ago… on a Sunday morning in December. The downstairs section was full as it often is, so we headed upstairs via the narrow outdoor passage and stone staircase. From the front window I had a good view of MG Road which is almost treeless now. There was only the trunk remaining of one of the huge trees and a worker was busy sawing its last remaining branch… A sad sight.

Inside the café, patrons were busy having breakfasts of omelettes and dosas. The waiters serving them were dressed in their trademark India Coffee House turbans and uniforms, elegant but completely filthy. I sipped at my coffee and nibbled at my dosa and remembered that I don’t like their coffee or their dosas – you can get better South Indian filter coffee and crispier dosas at any of the city’s many sagars and darshinis! OK, so the coffee actually isn’t great, the café is more than a bit shabby and the toilets are definitely a no-go area, but all these things do not matter. These are just minor minus-points which I’m willing to easily overlook because I don’t go to the India Coffee House for the coffee. I go for that old-world ambiance and to get a feeling of how Bangalore once was, in a place that probably hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.

The Coffeehouse Guests

There are reports that the lease has now expired and the café will be either renovated or demolished by the owner of the property. It may move to another location if a suitable one is found, but of course the original atmosphere and setting will be difficult to recreate. The India Coffee House will close its doors at the end of the month. I think many of Bangalore’s inhabitants and visitors will mourn the loss of this favourite haunt.

Also in India a Mirror is welcomed in a Coffeehouse for some extra elegance

Photos: India Coffee House.

* Reblogged with kind permission of Isabel Putinja and originally published in her blog India Outside My Window *



The Mission of the International Coffee Organization


Sacks of raw coffee

“The International Coffee Organization (ICO) is the main intergovernmental organization for coffee, bringing together exporting and importing Governments to tackle the challenges facing the world coffee sector through international cooperation. Its Member Governments represent 97% of world coffee production and over 80% of world consumption.”

“The ICO’s mission is to strengthen the global coffee sector and promote its sustainable expansion in a market-based environment for the betterment of all participants in the coffee sector.”

“It makes a practical contribution to the development of a sustainable world coffee sector and to reducing poverty in developing countries by:

  • enabling governments and the private sector to exchange views on coffee matters, market conditions and trends, and coordinate policies at high-level meetings
  • developing and seeking finance for projects that benefit the world coffee economy
  • promoting coffee quality through a Coffee Quality-Improvement Programme
  • promoting market transparency by providing a wide range of statistics on the world coffee sector
  • developing coffee consumption and markets for coffee through innovative market development activities
  • encouraging the development of strategies to enhance the capacity of local communities and small-scale farmers
  • promoting training and information programmes to assist the transfer of technology relevant to coffee
  • facilitating information on financial tools and services to assist producers
  • providing objective and comprehensive economic, technical and scientific information on the world coffee sector.

“The ICO was set up in London in 1963 under the auspices of the United Nations because of the great economic importance of coffee. It administers the International Coffee Agreement (ICA), an important instrument for development cooperation. The latest Agreement, the ICA 2007, entered into force on 2 February 2011.”


And the Coffee Winners are… (The Good Food Awards)

I have just read in the Coffee Section of the New York Times about the finalists and winners of the Good Food Awards. On January 14 Alice Waters hosted the ceremony celebrating the winners.

Congratulations to all!!!

About the Good Food Awards…

“For a long time, certifications for responsible food production and awards for superior taste have remained distinct—one honors social and environmental responsibility, while the other celebrates flavor. The Good Food Awards recognize that truly good food—the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities—contains all of these ingredients. We take a comprehensive view, honoring people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions.”

“The Good Food Awards were created through a collaboration of food producers, farmers, food journalists and independent grocers organized by Seedling Projects.”

Visit the Profiles of the Coffee Finalists 

Barrington Coffee Roasting Company – Ethiopia Nekisse (Lee, MA)
Blue Bottle Coffee – Kemgin (Oakland, CA)
Carrboro Coffee Company – El Aguacate (Carrboro, NC)
Counter Culture Coffee – Finca Kilimanjaro (Durham, NC)
George Howell Coffee Company – Konga Ethiopia (Acton, MA)
Gimme! Coffee – Finca San Luis (Ithaca, NY)
Madcap Coffee – Los Lobos Costa Rica (Grand Rapids, MI)
Montana Coffee Traders – Etiopian Peaberry (Whitefish, MT)
Noble Coffee Roasting – Kenyan Kiaora (Ashland, OR)
Public Domain – Kona Cloud Forest (Portland, OR)


Coffee Quote #24 (Fascism)

Perhaps the most important Fascist contribution to the development of Italian coffee culture was that the term ‘barista’ made its appearance in Italian as an alternative to the American barman – no doubt in deference to the regime’s desire to purge the language of foreign influences.

Jonathan Morris, Professor for modern European history

“Women in Coffee” A Report from Int. Trade Centre and EAFCA

iStockPhoto Fair trade coffee farmer

© iStockPhoto Fair trade coffee farmer

By Morten Scholer, ITC
International Trade Forum – Issue 3-4/2008

On the family-owned coffee plots that produce most of Africa’s coffee, it is usually women who undertake the majority of maintenance and harvesting work. Here, and in other coffee-producing areas around the world, their contribution is vital. Despite this, however, they tend to have little control over the harvest proceeds, and coffee industry structures seldom, if at all, make provision for women’s interests. Without information or training beyond purely field-related issues, women have limited opportunity to contribute to the decision-making processes that affect them.

Research shows that increased access to resources for women, particularly in the agricultural industry, has great effects on education, health, nutrition and overall welfare, and on poverty reduction. For women – and thus families and communities – to thrive, traditional gender divisions need to stop confining women to subsistence production and start looking at women’s potential in the commercial sphere. Rural women won’t be offered the opportunities they deserve until governments make targeted reforms. Awareness and education are crucial.

Associations of women in coffee

Historically, women’s groups and associations are a well-established means for improving rights and access to services, thereby providing social and economic empowerment. Capacity building – through access to information, credit, infrastructure and other business development services – is required to ensure women’s involvement in decision-making processes.Using the rich base of knowledge in its Coffee Guide book and the website version at, ITC is currently supporting the Eastern African Fine Coffees Association (EAFCA) with development programmes in 11 countries, including a component on women in the coffee sector. The role of women in coffee has been included as one of the themes at the next annual EAFCA coffee conference in Kigali, Rwanda in February 2009, which ITC is supporting.

In October 2008, ITC arranged to send two female EAFCA employees to Costa Rica for the first truly international conference for women in coffee. Women in Coffee (WIC), a leading information sharing and training organization for women, which is active primarily in Central America, coordinated the conference.

WIC is one of a very small number of organizations dedicated to improving the conditions of women in the coffee sector. Another of the few active associations Continue reading ““Women in Coffee” A Report from Int. Trade Centre and EAFCA”