Brew on Demand: The prequel (1980s to April 3, 2008)
An episode from Starbucks history: brewed coffee at Starbucks: At some point I will write a blog entry about the “experience” of “Brew on Demand” and what it means for Starbucks customers. Rather than write one long book-length post on “brew on demand,” I am going to break up the essay into several short chunks. This is the first piece of it, and aptly, it is the background story.
Once upon a time, Starbucks sold whole bean coffee scooped from bins. As beans reached close to their expiration, store partners might use the beans to brew for a coffee of the day, or sample coffee via a French press. The drip coffee choice on the brew and ready-to-go varied greatly since each store had great control to manage their inventory by brewing through coffee that might be close to its expiration rather than having to toss out expired product. To this day, I actually don’t really understand why this model isn’t adopted in the stores to some degree. I have walked in stores once in a while, and picked up a pound of coffee from the shelf, close to expiration, and wondered why it can’t be brewed as a drip coffee offering. It at least sounds like an efficient idea to me.
Coffee beans get delivered to Starbucks stores in large 5 pound bullets, in flavor-lock packaging. The plastic flavor-lock packaging has a special one-way valve so the any carbon dioxide gas emitted from the bean is released, but no moisture gets in. Later, stores went to a variety of coffee offerings that were “coffee of the week” options. Again, store managers had great control over what to order and offer as their stores coffee option. One store might be featuring Viennese Blend (long since discontinued Starbucks Blend) and another might have Sulawesi (discontinued coffee, though it makes limited offering appearances) on the brew.
Eventually, coffee of the week became more standardized from store to store. In all honesty, I don’t even know how that happened. However by the late 1990s, early 2000s, each store would usually have the same coffee of the week available, though still not with perfect consistency.
From the late 1980s until Pike Place Roast, the hold time for Starbucks coffees in the stores was one hour. To illustrate that this was the standard, I found this passage in Pour Your Heart Into It (Chapter 19), about Starbucks entering into partnerships with other corporations, and the importance of maintaining quality:
“Vincent Eades, who joined us from Hallmark Cards, has a quick way of weeding out inappropriate partners. He simply asks them,’If a pot of coffee had been sitting on a burner for one hour and customer came in, would you serve them a cup right away?’ If the answer is yes, we show them the door. If they’re not willing to throw away half a pot and brew a fresh pot, they don’t understand Starbucks’ commitment to quality.”
So, the picture I leave you with is that for at least two decades Starbucks brewed a variety of coffees in their stores, and the hold times were one hour. As I recall, one would be able to walk into a Starbucks and find decaf all day, coffee of the week all day, and a lighter coffee like House Blend, as the morning brew.
Many people think that the lighter roasted coffees like House or some other Latin American coffees would be enjoyable as afternoon coffees. Traditionally though, very light roast coffees have a greater caffeine content than a very dark roast. Some of the caffeine in the beans is lost during the roasting process, and as the caramelization of the bean occurs. Thus, the “mild” light roast Latin American coffees are usually the strongest pick-me-up coffees in terms of caffeine content.
That concludes the background story to “brew on demand”: Historically you had a variety of coffees at Starbucks, and one hour hold times.