Little Beans of Wisdom


Little Beans of Wisdom

A Whale of a Bean



I’ve always adored small, independent coffee shops for their intimacy. They tend to feel like a neighbor’s kitchen and that gives me a sense of safety, however false a sensation that may be.

So with this in mind, I’ve been a little less inclined to visit Starbucks.

When I hear the name, I think corporate first, and, then, political. They seem to be transitioning into an empire all their own. Not just in terms of financial wealth and the power that money gifts a person or business; no, this is more global. A force akin to Facebook or Amazon. The CEO and cadre appear to have a vision way beyond frothy coffee-hearts and stock market mergers. A muscle of sociopolitical grandeur pumps aloft in the media comments from Howard Schultz. Listening to him build his body of followers makes me queasy.

All of this desire to control countries instead of tending the local percolator has me quietly quivering with some inner questions. Are they a coffee shop or a cult?

But a couple of things that I’ve recently learned have endeared me to the Starbucks Corporation.

The company was founded by three gentlemen and scholars: Gordon Bowker (a writer), Zev Siegl (a history teacher), and Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher). These dreamy-eyed, creative academics simply wanted to bring the best coffee to Seattle back in 1971, where they opened the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market.

The store was so pure at first that it sold only beans. It pretty much had its eye on the post-hippie culture: Those looking to nurture a homegrown lifestyle in an urban setting.

And it succeeded at this for about twelve years, when Howard Shultz stepped inside the trio as director of retail operations and hugged the Italian coffee bar concept.

But back to origins, I love the three tenors of tan beans who themed their business after Moby Dick. So literary and so quintessentially American, they leaned on academia to mold a business image. And they did so with esoteric references from this onetime “Great American Novel.” This story that is a metaphor for identity, a Platonic ideal that writers aim to mirror in their work. white whale tail in water

Well, these fine fellows wrote a tale with coffee beans that likely had some aim toward identity.

Originally the company was to be named Pequod’s, after the name of Captain Ahab’s boat. But, as the legend goes, once they heard the tagline, “Have a cup of Pequod,” spoken aloud to them, the triune founders decided to change the name to Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate. Yes, the very one who warned Ahab to stop chasing the white whale.

Extending the nautical theme a bit farther, the mermaid logo comes from their desire to keep alive the “seafaring history of coffee.”  Mermaid - Illustration

So, their simple notion may have been corrupted over time, but, that’s almost predicable in life, isn’t it?

What I’m left loving, though, is the foundational connection of coffee with writing, reading, creating, musing-in-the-moment .  .  . a full chorus of caffeinated ideas being contemplated.

And I’m betting that these core values are still in the brew, somewhere at the base of the grounds beneath the froth and Frappuccino.

6 responses »

  1. So glad to hear you’re giving Starbucks a second look and a second chance. I, too, am smitten by “the foundational connection of coffee with writing, reading, creating, musing-in-the-moment . . .” as part of the original vision of 3 men who started SB’s. As readers of the news we can skew what we read any direction we choose. Rarely does the news paint the full picture. What I see in Starbucks is a responsible corporation who recognized they could spread abundance and wealth across the globe to create positive change. We need corporations who do that more than ever. Even when it’s imperfect, their mission is clear: “We have always believed Starbucks can – and should — have a positive impact on the communities we serve. One person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Debra, for your thoughtful comment and the reminder of Starbucks’ mission statement. Whether they achieve it or not, I agree that we need responsible corporations, as well as responsible individuals. I think it all begins and ends with each single person, and, consequently, with each single cup of coffee, each act of creativity, each gesture of genuine love. (Jeez, I sound like a relic from the 60s . . . !!)


  2. This post is so interesting, Jayni! I’ve always wondered about the name “Starbuck’s” but have never researched it. Sadly, I hardly ever go to the Starbucks near my house to write because it’s always so crowded and noisy. But when my kids were in elementary school, I helped run the school auction a couple of times, and when we’d ask Starbucks for a donation, they’d always send a barista and a big pot of coffee at the end of the evening. It was such a generous thing to do, and they provided it as a community service. It was nice seeing them putting their mission into play.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it amazing, Mary, how we travel through life and fail to unearth the sources, the meanings, the symbolism of the most common and mundane icons around us?!? I’ve long been intrigued by this phenomenon. So, I finally decided to do something about my sense of wonder of the name, “Starbucks.” I found it fascinating and rewarding. It may inspire me to research a bit more, depending upon time. I’m heartened to learn that Starbucks so generously made a donation to your cause. Further proof that they live by their motto. Thanks for reading and adding valuable commentary!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So true about meanings and sources of the names that surround us, Jayni! I think most of us are so attuned to our own issues and schedules that we don’t take time to investigate, even though we may wonder. I’m glad you took the time with Starbucks. I’ll bet very few people who go there on a daily basis have any idea that its name has a literary basis. I sort of wish Starbuck’s would make an effort to educate people more about that. Who knows? It might get people reading Melville again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Or, maybe they want to challenge us – make us do our homework. They sort of seem like that type of company. Then, once we’ve made our own effort, they reward us with the option to read, or not read, Melville again (or for the first time). Either way, they’re clever marketers and social-consciousness-raisers!

      Liked by 1 person

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