Tuesday, March 04, 2008


A few years ago, I bought a CD featuring Rosa Passos, an artist from Brazil whom I never heard of. It has turned out to be one of my favorites, I never get tired of listening to it. If you like soft latin jazz, you'll like Amorosa. Most of these songs you've probably heard before, they are classics like Wave, written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It is Passos' tribute to the great Joao Gilberto, the Brazilian "Father of the Bossa Nova", most famous for The Girl From Ipanema, sung by his wife, Astrud Gilberto.

Rosa Passos' CD brings me to a relaxed state of mind. Except for Gershwin's S'Wonderful, I don't understand a single word of Portuegese, and hardly any of the French either (as in Que Reste-I-Il De Nos Amours with Henri Salvador, 87 year old French chanson singer). I doubt I would have been this adventurous with music if it wasn't for the fact I was introduced to Bossa Nova music through the Hear music label, music featured in Starbucks since I started working there 8 years ago. In fact, it was through the music played at Starbucks I started to like even opera.

Which brings me to another topic. Starbucks has always been about more than making a latte. The reason I think I've stuck with being a barista this long is because it has made a difference in my life. As I look back over the last eight years, and I think about what has changed about me and it comes down to one thing. It's about getting to know and relate to different kinds of people, both as partners and customers. And an awareness of the people and the cultures that grow the coffee, feeling the bond between the beans I sell and their backbreaking work to create the high quality coffee that we have available on our shelves. If you want, you can read about Black Apron exclusives. We sell those out in a matter of weeks in our store. Not only do the producers grow a definative coffee with a unique flavor profile, they maintain their coffee plantations with good environmental practices and make life better for the manual laborers. The winner of a priviledge to have a coffee sold as a Black Apron exclusive also wins a grant for $15,000 to be used as needed in providing educational programs, community health programs or for infrastructure that would contribute to a better standard of living.

Oh yeah, about the coffee part...Starbucks has been and will always remain the pace setter in coffee business. If it wasn't for Starbucks, places like our local Beaners (now called Bigby for obvious reasons), the other larger coffeehouses like Caribou Coffee and independent smaller coffeehouses would not have been on the typical American consciousness. Good coffee and espresso would not have become anything beyond what you might have tried in college or on vacation in Europe. You would still be wondering what it was--it started with an "L" you think and was really milky and sweet without a sweetner and had just a touch of froth on top, but with a nice roasted espresso kick. "Hmmm, what was that again?" you would be thinking to yourself.

Who would have succeeded to build a retail chain based on just selling coffee before Starbucks? Yes there were others, but they could not break out of being just an occasional presence in the malls or downtown. When's the last time you saw a Gloria Jean's?

And how many of these other companies do you hear about do as much as possible to contribute to the needs of coffee growers and their communities as well as their environments? I met a young woman--an international student at MSU from Thailand-- who told me about a coffee company clear cutting the trees around her home village to plant coffee trees. Starbucks makes it a policy not to do business like that, and is the leading buyer of Fair Trade coffee in the world.

It helps to think about these things, to get through my day some days. Especially when I serve a freshly brewed medium coffee to a rare but memorable customer who goes into a major snit about it being too "burnt" tasting, because she is used to drinking the watered down version of coffee at McDonalds. And especially as I hear how my young partners endure inexplicable verbal abuse from a few older people who really should be ashamed of being as rude as they are. What I'm really proud of is how my partners don't lose their poise, their humanity and their cool under conditions that would rattle most of our customers if they had to do what we do. I'm sorry, burnt coffee lady, you would have a nervous breakdown within ten minutes in my shoes.

It's just coffee, yes.

But it's really about something more.

More than a job.

Like listening to a Bossa Nova, it's about living a broader, deeper, richer and stronger life. "In Brazil, to do something with "Bossa" is to do it with particular charm and natural flair" (Wikipedia)

If I'm a barista forever, it would not be a loss to me. I'd be glad to make you the best cappuccino you've ever had, with microfoam, tomorrow or the next day or the next day...and I even would do it with "Bossa". As well as all my partners I'm so glad to work with in my store.

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