The Frappuccino – A Glorified Milkshake

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Yes, this is another blog about Starbucks. I must be intrigued. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading the book, Starbucked, by Taylor Clark, and yet there is so much that still resonates with me. I want to dislike Starbucks for its ubiquitous nature alone, and for taking away the unique character of every town in this country, or more accurately, the world. There aren’t many places you can step off a plane, walk out of an airport, and not find a Starbucks within a twenty-mile radius (chances are a Starbucks, or two, will be inside the airport).

But to be fair, Starbucks isn’t the only American corporation plopping its banal stores across multiple culturally-diverse nations. This blog isn’t to rag on Starbucks (maybe) or rant about why we should consciously buy Fair Trade coffee over non-Fair Trade coffee. The debate about how the free market has created a huge surplus of coffee beans, causing the price to plummet so low that coffee growers have burned millions of pounds of their own product because they can’t make a living selling what takes them years to grow, will not happen here – at least not now.

I’m dedicating this blog to the Frappuccino.

Do you know how the Frappuccinno was created? I didn’t know either until I read this book. First, what is a Frappuccino? After some research it seems that a Frappuccino is nothing more than a glorified milkshake, but as of 2007 data, Starbucks makes more than a billion dollars from the Frappuccino alone.

Damn, those people who invented the “Frap” must be raking in the dough, right? Um…sadly, they’re not.

The Frappuccino was invented in a Southern California Starbucks store in 1994. Two managers of a Santa Monica Starbucks wanted to do something to put bodies in their establishment that found itself mostly empty by the afternoon. Apparently, not many people favored sipping on hot coffee under the midday blistering sun. So managers, Anne Ewing and Greg Rogers, began experimenting with a blender and concocted a drink made up of half and half, regular sugar, espresso, ice, vanilla powder, and chocolate powder – all ingredients lying around the store.

It didn’t even take a special delivery to create a billion-dollar plus drink.

Only months after they began serving this sweetened-chilled chocolate potion to their sweaty customers, it was making up thirty-percent of the store’s sales. Starbucks added to the blend and then presented it to all its stores in April 1995 – and sales took off.

How did Starbucks express their gratitude to the original creators of the drink that was boosting company profits to astronomical levels? By giving them a $5,000 bonus, a President’s Award glass statue, and a Rolex.

What!!!?? Five grand? Seriously?? A bonus no less than six-figures would have been the least the company should have offered. I know. I know. The managers received a Rolex, but that Rolex came only after complaints. Which means those greedy bastards at Starbucks thought $5,000 and a $ucking glass statue was a sufficient enough exchange for a billion dollar-generating drink. And this from a company who charges four dollars for a cup of coffee that costs pennies to make.  $uck you, Starbucks.

I’d be pissed and bitter too, even after that Rolex. There’s a story where one of the original creators was in a store and he pointed to a bottled pack of Frappuccino for sale and told the stranger next to him that he invented that drink. She laughed in his face and walked away. Maybe she did this thinking it was the lamest pick-up line in history (which it would have been if it weren’t true). Or maybe she couldn’t believe that the man behind the invention of one of the world’s most famous drinks was wearing such cheap shoes.

That guy stopped telling strangers about an achievement he should have been very proud of ….and that’s very sad.

Just so that this post isn’t a complete rag on Starbucks, one nice thing about the company is they offer insurance and stock options to part-time employees working twenty hours a week. This is practically unheard of in the retail sector – of course the employee first has to meet these hourly requirements consistently for six months and there have been accusations of Starbucks deliberately cutting employee hours (Wal-Mart style) to avoid coverage. Sigh. I tried to make you the good guy Starbucks. I really did. But these kind of shenanigans make it very hard.

Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Starbucked…Again

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the book, Starbucked, written by Taylor Clark after reading one chapter. I’ve since finished the book, and with close to three hundred pages, writing a full synopsis of this piece would go way beyond the suitable length for a blog, but there is much to say/debate about the cultural issues and business practices that arise when Starbucks invades your neighborhood. Yes, “invades” because Starbucks travels in packs, never alone. When you have one, you will soon (emphasis on soon) have another. And another.

Starbucks is everywhere. The gourmet coffee craze has taken over the world.

Paris, France, the city known for its essence of cultural snobbery, has twenty-three stores (and more coming) of this ubiquitous American company wrapped within its famously charming and romantic streets and landmarks. Oman, Qatar, Chile, and Cyrpus are also places Starbucks calls home. Along with, Seoul, South Africa, London (Britons now consume more coffee than tea. What? No more spots of tea?), and Saudi Arabia.

Starbucks even made it into Beijing’s Forbidden City, the “political and cultural heart of imperial China” for over five hundred years. That’s a lot of culture, but still, when a “Forbidden City” opens a Starbucks, it loses much of its mystique. Now I’m walking into that “forbidden” town as though I own it, “Billy the Kid style blazing through Dodge” because there’s nothing less ominous than a store with a mermaid logo and employees bouncing behind a counter donning green aprons and khakis while lame remakes of Bee Gee songs play in the background.

Forbidden City, you need to be a little more forbidding.

There are so many Starbucks locations in this world, it would probably takes less time to list the cities and countries where they’re not.

*Note – there were more fun facts and not so fun facts I learned about Starbucks that I will share in a later blog.

*2nd Note – this book was written in 2007 – so when I write that a city has twenty-three Starbucks, seven years later, that city most likely has two-thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine stores now.

Starbucked

I’m not a coffee person. I prefer tea. I don’t hate coffee. I just don’t need it the way my caffeine-crazed, addicted-induced, coffee-hound friends do. And when I do drink coffee – I sip on decaf. (Yes, there is a point to decaf coffee, especially if it’s flavored. It tastes good!)

Last night a friend asked if I wanted to meet for a cup of joe. “Sure,” I told her.  “Where do you want to go?” (Silly question.)

“There’s a Starbucks down the street (of course there is). We can meet there.”

I’m reading the book, Starbucked, by Taylor Clark. I’m not far enough into the book to give a synopsis. My bookmark lies across the page titled Chapter Two, so I don’t know yet if this book is going to be a “balls-out” bashing of Starbucks and everything that’s wrong with Corporate America, or if it will tell the history of how a young and inexperienced Seattle-based coffee company, losing over a million dollars in one year (1989) with eighty-five stores, would transform into one of the largest and most profitable chains in the world. (I suspect the book will include a little bit of both.)

At the end of 2013 there were close to 20,000 Starbucks locations, globally, with a collective revenue of $14.9 billion dollars. That comes to a net income of $1.7 billion dollars. *

Christ, that’s a lot of coffee, but more importantly, that’s a lot of expensive coffee. With Starbucks opening almost two thousand new stores every year, the coffee isn’t gonna stop pouring anytime soon.

I’m curious to learn how the concept of “gourmet” coffee was sold so easily to an entire society because not only have people accepted this, but they’ve seemed to embrace it in the way of an arms-stretched-wide thank-you hug.

“Thank you, Starbucks, for introducing ‘customized’ coffee wrapped up nicely in pretentious, nose-in-the air terminology.” If someone hasn’t written an “Ordering Starbucks Coffee for Dummies” book yet, they should, because it’s kind of of ridiculous.

Last night, I ordered the coffee for me and my friend. Three times she had to tell me what she wanted  – tall, skinny, vanilla latte iced. She noticed the dumb expression I was sure was sitting across my face and said, “Don’t worry. They’ll know what you mean.”

I walked to the counter repeating the order over in my head. I waited behind two women with coupons. It took a while and the last thing I needed was more time to forget what I was supposed to say. When it was my turn, I stepped to the counter. “I’ll have a medium…errr… tall mocha…I mean latte… vanilla…ummm…skinny with ice.” Yep. I got this. (As I wiped the sweat from my brow.) And thank you, Starbucks, for forcing a chubby thirty-eight year old to use the word “skinny” in her order. Me and the rest of your svelte-challenged customers appreciate it. 😉

Now, I am not new to Starbucks. I go there more often than what my stammering over an order of coffee would have implied. But I mostly order tea (very simple) and I don’t use their stupid size labels either – short, tall, grande, venti, or trenta. It’s small, medium, large, or extra-large – thank you very much.

Which, if you didn’t know, short is used for only hot beverages and trenta only applies to iced ones. This is where I think Starbucks attracted its customers from the beginning. Starbucks appeared as an exclusive club where only those “in the know” knew not only the correct terminology, but the precise word-order when ordering a Starbucks coffee.

It may be hard to imagine Starbucks as “exclusive” now – with tens of thousands of stores (the word’s basically out) – but I remember when Starbucks was first starting to pop up on every street corner (and then kitty-corner to that corner), and I avoided it like the plague. I thought it was super-trendy and I’m not a trendy person. I have no clue (or interest) what the latest style is. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a fashion disaster. I have left my house wearing outfits that forced people to ask if I own a mirror (and these are from people who like me). Holding a cup with the Starbucks logo on it seemed to be a fashion statement, but that wasn’t the only reason I kept it out of my hands.

I was so damn intimidated at the mere thought of standing in front of a counter and staring at a coffee menu filled with words I didn’t know – lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas, and not to mention all the different ways one could order these new drinks –  no foam (wet), foam (dry), extra shot, skinny, iced, hot, vanilla, hazelnut, caramel – so many choices!

I stayed away, but I seem to have been the only one because here we are and I need to know how we got here. Why are we so willing to shell out ridiculous prices for coffee?

I used to work with a young woman who was a single mom and I knew money wasn’t flowing freely for her, yet, every morning she’d walk into the office carrying a big ole’ cup of Starbucks. For the sake of easy math, I estimate that she spent four dollars per coffee (including possible tip). One cup a day, five days a week, for fifty-two weeks is a total of just over a thousand dollars a year. (And that’s only based on the coffees I actually saw her drink.) I worked with this woman for five years. That’s over five thousand dollars a single, struggling mother spent on coffee and I’m pretty certain she had no IRA, Roth or Traditional, no college fund, and no rainy-day savings account. But every morning she had her Starbucks coffee.

Is it that much of a novelty? Still? I read in Starbucked that the company’s research department tries to anticipate what colors will be popular a year in advance so they can have flavors that will match the “outfits of trendy customers.” Really now.

God help a society comprised of people who will choose a beverage based on the color of their shirt or tie, but I’m frightened this might work. If Starbucks can market themselves so that people who really can’t afford their coffee buy it every day anyway, then who’s to say they can’t get a woman to buy a specific-flavored drink because it goes superbly with her skirt?

But that woman will never be me, and for more reasons than the fact that I don’t wear skirts.

As I write this blog, I am drinking a decaf coffee from McDonalds and it tastes better than Starbucks. And the best part  – it only cost me $1.39 and that was for a venti…Er, I mean a large.

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

*Source for sales figures provided by m.nrn.com