A Brief Timeline Of Starbucks' Path To World Domination

A Brief Timeline Of Starbucks' Path To World Domination

The weather is finally starting to cool down as the massively overrated sweatfest that is summer comes to a close, and pale grown up indoor kids like myself across the country are rejoicing. Fall approaches, and with it the changing leaves, clothing that flatters a less-than-rock-hard body, and warm, steaming mugs of fall-flavored hot beverages are settling back in. As far as the hot mug-filler of choice, there is perhaps no greater fall juggernaut than the pumpkin spice latte, itself a creation of the larger Starbucks juggernaut, in sort of a coffee Krang situation.

Starbucks at this point is a bonafide cornerstone of American day-to-day life, but it started a long time ago as a small coffee supply shop christened with a much creepier looking mermaid. Let’s take a look at how a Seattle bean shop became a dominant global business.

The First Starbucks


Starbucks' Pike Place location, circa 1977.

Three University of San Francisco students and brewed beverage enthusiasts, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, decided to start a coffee shop. Wanting a name that started with “st” to follow some sort of marketing good juju that Bowker believed in, they brainstormed until settling on Starbuck, taken from a character in Moby Dick.

It might be surprising to you, but in the beginning, Starbucks did not serve coffee. It was just a roastery and coffee supply store. Should you want to turn their beans to brew, you’d have to do it on your own time. As for their roasting chops, the three actually took inspiration from another, older business, one that still exists today, though it’s been roundly leapfrogged by Starbucks: Peet’s Coffee & Tea, started by Alfred Peet. Can’t feel great, basically giving away the equivalent of a hamburger recipe to a clown you would later discover was Ronald McDonald.

Howard Schultz Enters


Schultz in 2007.

Starbucks was doing good, if still primarily bean-driven business, when a man named Howard Schultz caught wind of them. Schultz was a salesman at a Swedish kitchen supply company called Hammarplast, and noticed a little Seattle company placing huge orders for their drip coffee makers. He visited the company to see how they were running through these orders and, after an impressive showing, joined the company as head of marketing in 1982.

One of the first problems Schultz solved is one that might sound strange in regards to today’s Starbucks: customers were intimidated in the store because of how fancy it was. His first move was to make the store friendlier and more accessible, without the sneering, metered condescension that marks a really good coffee shop to this day.


It wasn’t until 1982 that you could leave a Starbucks with coffee already rendered into liquid form. This was when Starbucks opened a location that offered not only beans and equipment, but fresh-brewed coffee made on-site from the above.

Latte Numero Uno


After Schultz made a trip to Milan, as rich people do, he was head-over-heels with the coffee culture there, and came back wanting to bring espresso bars to Seattle. Off this, Starbucks would open another location, one with an espresso bar that would serve their very first latte. This was Starbucks’ first step towards the 1000-calorie coffee desserts that would grace the sleepy grip of commuters everywhere.

Howard Schultz Exits

Despite the latte-heavy espresso location experiencing success, the original Starbucks owners didn’t love the pivot. True to Seattle roots, they preferred being in the coffee and not the frothed milk business. When they put their foot down and refused to expand their espresso offerings further, Schultz left to start his own coffee company, Il Giornale, with blackjack and lattes. Well, just lattes.

Howard Schultz Re-Enters

Two years later, unfortunately for the old-school coffee lovers that had started Starbucks, they had to watch the defector Il Giornale experience huge success, while their own future looked as dark as the brewed coffee they’d anchored their business to. In a final disgrace that would make a cruel medieval king smile, they were forced to sell Starbucks… to Schultz and Il Giornale. He combined the two into the Starbucks Corporation.

A Million Bad Stand-Up Bits Are Born


In 1991, Starbucks releases a plague on comedy clubs across the nation when they change their drink sizes to “tall” “venti” and “grande.” For years to come, we’d have to listen to Lewis Black clones scream-ask what the hell “venti” is supposed to mean. It means 20. It’s 20 ounces. If only Google had been around.

Coffee (Even More) To Go

Three years later, Starbucks would launch a new wrinkle, the success of which would only be matched by the amount of burned crotches it would cause: drive-thru coffee. This was probably the biggest advancement in the commute until podcasts. Now, sit-down customers could enjoy coffee in peace while furious businessmen with decaying marriages could dress down minimum-wage workers from the comfort of their BMW.

Enter The Frappucino


A portmanteau of frappe and cappuccino, one of Starbuck’s most iconic drinks would debut in the year 1995. A combination of caffeine and sugar that was basically designed to turn a toddler into the whole location’s problem, the drink was nevertheless a huge hit. Probably on the basis that it tastes good as s**t. Call it a caffeinated milkshake if you want, but also admit that a caffeinated milkshake sounds, and is, amazing.

The PSL Era Begins

Starbucks chugs along at a steady drip, with no idea what the year 2003 holds for them: the introduction of a drink that would wrap its hand around the throat of chunky-sweatered customers for decades to come. Here is where the famous Pumpkin Spice Latte enters the ring, immediately knocks out all challengers, and kills the referee for good measure. This is just in time for all the bad comedians whose Venti bits are starting to grow stale to pivot to Pumpkin Spice Latte jokes, unfortunately.

Starbucks Reserve


Starbucks Reserve in Vancouver

In a predicament that feels like a flip-flop of Starbucks’ earliest days, when customers felt overwhelmed by their quality, a boom in independent craft coffee roasters starts to edge in on their dynasty. People have started to pass up the green aprons in favor of full-sleeve tattoos and Sunn O))) t-shirt wearers as their coffee providers of choice. In a bid to restore their coffee reputation, Starbucks launches its first “Reserve” location. Basically, they wanted to make a Starbucks for the people who make fun of Starbucks.

Cold Brew Raises Heart Rates

Though they may not make many coffee aficionado’s top ten these days, Starbucks did remain with its flipper accurately on the pulse of the coffee business. They were one of the first major chains to start offering cold brew coffee in 2015. Cold brew is undeniably both a summer and fall staple now, the perfect drink for someone who wants to be both refreshed and on the verge of a  panic attack at the same time.

Starbucks has proven to be a stalwart competitor in the coffee space, and we can expect them to be providing both coffee and a place to take an emergency sh*t for years to come. 

Top Image: Pixabay/Pixabay

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