Starbucks Baristas Relearn Art of Coffee-Making

Starbucks closed all its U.S. stores for three and a half hours Tuesday to give employees a refresher course in the art of making coffee.

STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

The price of coffee may not deter many people from their daily caffeine fix, but there may have been some serious withdrawal last night when Starbucks closed its 7,000 branches for several hours. It was a training experiment. The coffee giant shut its doors so baristas - those are the people behind the counter - could relearn how to make a perfect cup.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman has more.

WENDY KAUFMAN: Customers at the Starbucks store in Bellevue, Washington were settling in when they were told politely the store was about to close.

(Soundbite of Starbucks store)

KAUFMAN: The idea for a refresher course came from company founder and CEO Howard Schultz, who's seen his company's stock fall by more than 40 percent in the past year. Schultz turned Starbucks into a household name, but he has voiced concern that Starbucks has become a mere commodity. So last night 135,000 in-store employees went back to basics.

Mr. SCOTT McMARTIN (Starbucks): First thing we'll be tasting. So they're going to taste perfect shots of espresso.

KAUFMAN: Scott McMartin, the company's director of coffee education, offered a preview of the evening's sessions.

Mr. McMARTIN: I want them to taste what the imperfections are. Taste the shot that's too long, the shot that's too short, and milk that isn't steamed correctly.

(Soundbite of milk steamer)

Mr. McMARTIN: That's a sound we never want to hear in our stores.

KAUFMAN: Rather, he said, it should sound like this.

(Soundbite of milk steamer)

Mr. McMARTIN: But do you hear how - what a soft whisper that is?

KAUFMAN: But will training in making a better latte pay off? Customers who were turned away weren't sure.

Mr. ALEX DECONSON(ph) (Customer): I think it's already OK coffee.

KAUFMAN: Alex Deconson and his friend Alexander Koburnoff(ph) arrived at the Bellevue store just as it was closing.

Mr. ALEXANDER KOBURNOFF (Customer): No matter what they do I doubt they will make it as good as local coffee shops. Starbucks coffee is still like fast food. So - it's convenient.

KAUFMAN: And in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, customer and Starbucks shareholder Jerri Sumi(ph) wondered if Starbucks had indeed lost its charm.

Ms. JERRI SUMI (Customer, Shareholder): I think maybe they just tried to expand too fast, but I still like the lattes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAUFMAN: Some local coffee houses responded by offering discounts, even free beverages while Starbucks was closed. And at Dunkin Donuts specialty drinks were ninety-nine cents.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.