I lived in Seattle from 1990 through 2011 and saw the rise of the Seattle coffee scene. To say I was part of it would be a stretch other than I was there. I knew people that worked in the industry and I like a good short, extra hot, half choc, mocha now and then. Until very recently I wasn’t much of a “cup of coffee” guy. I never really needed the caffeine and it never really tasted all that good to me. I saw the rise of Starbucks and I saw the eventual backlash against Starbucks as their machines went push button, their shops started selling “Mountain Music” and the whole place became too corporate for the Seattle crowd that once felt that Starbucks was their own.
But that is all in Seattle. Now that I’ve left Seattle I’ve realized that Seattle is quite conscious of itself. Seattle has an idea of what it is and what it should be and Starbucks, while an icon of Seattle, is no longer “Seattle”. Seattle still loves its coffee but the “real” Seattlites no longer go to Starbucks. They instead go to their favorite corner shop. Places like Revolutions, Freshy’s, Diva,Herkimer, Cafe Vita, Fuel (those are just a few of my favorites) and so many others.
That all changes once you get outside of Seattle and most likely all of the Northwest. The whole experience changes at Starbucks outside of Seattle. It’s as if the people there believe the Starbucks story. They haven’t been corrupted by the same sense of bitterness that the people of Seattle have about Starbucks. The bitterness that comes with not being about to walk around downtown without running into at least thirty Starbucks. The people that work in a Starbucks outside of Seattle believe that they are special. They seem to really believe the Starbucks mission:
To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
They just seem to care more. With that caring comes better coffee. It’s not supposed to better. Starbucks has gone to great effort to make their coffee consistent in each of their 15,000 stores in 50 countries. But it is better.
So why is that the case? Because people make coffee. Even if it comes from a machine. The interaction with the person, with the experience, is what makes something that is good get to great. In this case maybe taking something that is just OK and making it good. Or at least better than it is in Seattle where the people that work there seem to have bought into the idea that Starbucks has outgrown itself. That If something that has 30 locations in 10 square blocks it can’t possibly be special. The product has to be good, but the people make it special. And the people in that work in Starbucks outside Seattle still believe that Starbucks is special.