Commentary: Starbucks Then and Now.

Once in a while, I’ll hear people say that they want a simpler Starbucks experience. I think back to what I remember of Starbucks in the 1990s. Was that really such a halcyon era? Or does nostalgia just trip us up now and then?

There are times that I feel nostalgic towards the 1990s. Starbucks was a small company and there were only two stores anywhere near me: Oaktree and Northgate Way. And in fact, for years it was only the Oaktree store. Tori Amos was in her heyday. Seinfeld played on t.v. The idea that everyone must have a cell phone didn’t exist yet. Forrest Gump and Titanic were smash hit movies of the 1990s. I always thought that the Truman Show was a brilliant movie. I admit, I still like the album Spiceworld by the Spice Girls and I saw the Spice Girls movie in theaters. (I may have to blast Stop right now just to write this article.) I don’t know about other cities, but Seattle seemed like it was a lot more affordable back then. The expense of rent (and a mortgage) has really gone up.

But what would happen if we returned to the Starbucks of the 1990s? What would that look like? I think the modern day customer of 2014 would turn and run the other direction. Hello competitors! Let’s plunk a 2014 Starbucks customer inside a 1993 – 1999 era Starbucks:

Customer: I’d like a Tall 2% Mocha. Barista: I’m sorry we only offer one milk. The only option is whole milk.

Customer: I’d like a Tall Cinnamon Dolce Latte. Barista: We have only like three syrups. Would you like Almond, Vanilla, or Toffeenut Syrup?

Customer: Shakes phone, and says “I’m ready to pay.” Barista: Nice calculator!

Customer: I’d like a Venti Brewed Coffee of the Day. Barista: I’m sorry but Venti hasn’t been invented yet. Would you like a short, tall, or grande brewed coffee? (Venti was added to the menu in the late 1990s.)

Customer: I’d like to buy your coffee beans in grocery stores. Barista: We don’t sell whole bean coffee in grocery stores.

Customer: I’d like to pay with a Starbucks card and earn rewards. Barista: I’m sorry we have no rewards. The Starbucks card will be invented in 2001.

Customer: Wow the merchandise is incredible. You have such an array of merchandise everywhere! Limoge boxes, bearista bears, stationary, gold reusable coffee filters, every size of French press that you can imagine, books, games, CDs. Wow. Look at the Christmas pottery! Planners, toys, tumblers, mugs – I love the mugs with the coffee stamp images on them – and look at this snowglobe! Barista: Yes we have tons and tons of merchandise!! We may have just 3 syrups but meanwhile we’re drowning in merchandise.

Customer: I’d like a breakfast sandwich with my Tall Coffee. Barista: We’re sorry but we have no warmed food and no breakfast sandwiches.

Customer: Can I get a domed lid on this Frappuccino? (The Frappuccino was added in 1994 – 1995 depending where you were). Barista: We’re sorry, the domed lid hasn’t been invented yet.

Customer: Can I get a Frappuccino without coffee in it? Barista: I have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s no such thing. (Starbucks introduced the crème based Frappuccino in 2002).

Customer: I’m so confused. Which line should I stand in? Barista: We have a separate line if you’re just buying whole bean coffee over there at the far end of the store.

Customer: I’m in a hurry. Why in the world is it taking five to ten minutes for my beverage and the store is empty. Barista: I’m sorry we constantly have to time our espresso shots. Our espresso shots are hand pulled. Your beverage is always slow.

Customer: Can I get that Kenya Clover brewed? Barista: I’m sorry but Starbucks doesn’t buy the company that makes the Clover until 2008. The Clover doesn’t get invented until about 2007.


People have changed. Times have changed. It sounds dreamy to go back to a simpler time but I don’t think it would work for any business now. The one thing for sure, the Starbucks of the 1990s had a lot more decaf coffee and there was a whole bean coffee menuboard hanging in every store. I kind of miss the old coffee menu boards. I have moments of nostalgia too but I think nostalgia is this weird phenomenon that always makes us revere the past as the best era ever. Maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe we’re having the time of lives right now.