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.
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.
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.