Starbucks Coffee Journey: The First 10 Feet, The Last 10 Feet

Beth plants a coffee tree on a hillside in Costa Rica. In a U.S. store more than 3,400 miles away, Payden hands a vanilla latte to a customer.

Both women are Starbucks partners (employees). One is at the beginning of the Starbucks journey, learning how the farming community grows and processes coffee while building long-term relationships with farmers and their families in coffee-growing regions. The other is part of the daily routine of Starbucks baristas around the world, handcrafting beverages and connecting with customers.

Though there are many steps in between, the personal attention paid to the first 10 feet of producing a quality cup of coffee are as hands on as the last 10 feet where beverages are made for customers in stores.

Beth Shelton, a Starbucks store manager in Ohio, was among partners from stores and teams across North and South America who traveled to Costa Rica earlier this year. She participated in what Starbucks calls the Origin Experience.

The program, launched in 2010, helps partners understand each part of the coffee journey from bean to cup. They meet some of the people involved with every step of the hands-on process of growing, harvesting, washing and drying a coffee crop. As part of their experience, partners work side-by-side with the farmers who pick every coffee cherry by hand.

With a basket strapped to her waist, Shelton watches as a farmer demonstrates the proper way to pick a coffee cherry – the small fruit which contains two coffee seeds, referred to as beans. Brushing aside branches, she looks past the orange and yellow cherries to pluck the ripe red fruit that will be washed and dried to expose the beans inside.

“I never really grasped all the details and care that go into the work the farmers do until now,” Shelton said. “They work at a quick pace. They pick only the pure red cherries. They don’t drop or waste anything. After about a half hour, they had full baskets of perfect fruit while I had only a few cups to show for my effort.”

Shelton later watched rows upon rows of cherries dry on a patio and felt a deep connection with the coffee served every day in her Starbucks® store. She saw how farmers in Costa Rica run their business like she manages her store in Ohio with “repeatable routines and expectations of quality.”

“Starbucks creates a true model of humanity by taking care of coffee farmers,” she said. “For so long I used my imagination to try and visualize what the first 10 feet was. After experiencing this, I came back to my store with a mission to honor the farmers and savor the beans in the last 10 feet.”

In a Starbucks store in Lynnwood, Washington, Payden Nissen pulls an espresso shot and steamed milk into thick, velvety foam. She pours espresso through the foam and added a drizzle of caramel to top off a Starbucks® Caramel Macchiato. Her customer takes a sip.

“Perfect as always,” he said. “Thank you Payden.”

Nissen responded, “Good luck with your meeting today. Let me know how it goes.” Next, she prepares a drink for a customer in line who hadn’t ordered yet.

“He’ll want a venti Black and White Mocha,” Nissen said with a knowing smile, skillfully blending white chocolate and mocha. “I see familiar faces every day and it’s like getting a visit from a friend.”

The 70 million customers who visit more than 20,000 Starbucks® stores around the world every day might not think about all that goes into creating their favorite beverages in familiar white cups. But partners have studied – and in some cases experienced – how coffee is grown, processed and eventually brought to market.

“Thousands of people all over the world are behind that one latte a customer orders,” said Stephanie Weitmann, a Starbucks store manager in Seattle. “It’s our responsibility to understand and respect all of the work that has gone into producing exceptional coffee.

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