You might love drinking a Starbucks coffee every morning to start your day with a burst of caffeine, but have you ever wondered how it came about?

What’s the history of Starbucks, and how did it get started and become so hugely popular over the years?

Quick Answer: How did Starbucks start?

Starbucks started in the 70s when the first stores started to appear in Seattle. From there, more stores opened across the U.S. By offering delicious coffee, beans, spices, and equipment, the company expanded to owning thousands of stores worldwide.

History of Starbucks: How Did They Get Started (+ Timeline)

In this article, I’ll explore what you need to know about the history of Starbucks, when and how the first Starbucks store opened, and how it grew to become the largest coffee chain in the whole world.

I’ll also feature some important milestones that the company has achieved regarding its sustainable initiatives and creative coffee beverages.

When did the first Starbucks open? 

The first Starbucks store opened its doors in Seattle’s Pike Place Market back in 1971. When it opened its doors, it offered customers fresh-roasted coffee beans, tea, and spices from all over the world, as Starbucks reports.

This store differed greatly from the Starbucks stores we are accustomed to visiting today because it sold bulk tea, coffee beans, and spices.

Dark roasted coffee beans.

It was sort of like a supply shop for customers to make their own delicious beverages.

If you had gone to this store, you would have had to step into a line to purchase coffee beans. There was no place to sit and enjoy a freshly brewed cup of delicious coffee.

Starbucks was founded by Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin, and Zev Siegl, who decided on the name for their store after seeing a character called Starbuck in the classic novel Moby Dick, as Britannica reports.

Interestingly, Starbucks considered other names (Pequod or Cargo House) based on another famous character’s (Captain Ahab) ship in Moby Dick.

But then, the company’s brand consultant produced an old 1800s map that displayed the name of a mining town called Starbos.

The brand consultant thought of the first mate on the Pequod, who was called Starbuck, as The Economic Times reports. This, then, proved the inspiration for the Starbucks name to be chosen.

The inspiration behind the launch of Starbucks

Starbucks came about because its founders were motivated by the Dutch immigrant Alfred Peet, a coffee importer and business owner.

He’d started importing Arabica coffees to the U.S. during the 1950s. A decade later, he had set up his own store in California that imported high-quality teas and coffees.

It was his success that inspired the Starbucks founders to focus on two important things that they wanted to bring to customers:

  • High-quality coffee beans
  • Equipment to make delicious coffee

It was also Peet who supplied green coffee beans to Starbucks for the first time, so we have him to partially thank for the delicious coffees we enjoy at Starbucks today.

By the early 1980s, Starbucks had opened four stores, all located in Seattle. They offered what no other competitor was offering to customers—fresh-roasted coffee!

This has led to the Starbucks Roast Spectrum, which includes a range of different coffee roasts and ensures that you can choose from different coffee roasting profiles to find the best coffee intensity and flavor.

Starbucks blonde roast.

Nearly eight years later, Starbucks had opened 29 more stores and established its mail-order system, supplying goods to companies all across the United States.

Clearly, its reputation was growing, and more people were becoming aware of its success.

You can check out this article if you’re interested in learning where Starbucks gets its coffee beans today.

The arrival of an influential director

Inspired and ready to make waves in the coffee industry, a man named Howard Shultz became Starbucks’ marketing director and director of retail operations.

He was supplying restaurants and coffee bars with coffee. During a trip to Italy, he was impressed by the coffee bars in Milan and wanted to bring a similar coffee experience to the U.S.

So, he persuaded the Starbucks founders to offer a caffè latte on their menu.

Homemade Starbucks blonde latte.

As Starbucks Stories and News reports, Shultz decided to step down from Starbucks in the mid-1980s so that he could establish Il Giornale, a coffee shop that provided espresso and brewed coffee that was made from Starbucks coffee beans.

True to his vision, Il Giornale resembled a Milanese coffee shop.

Shultz had to start out on his own because the Starbucks founders weren’t keen on opening coffee shops.

Instead, they wanted to focus on the idea of offering customers quality coffee and equipment that they could use to make delicious coffee.

In 1987, two years after Shultz initially stepped down, Il Giornale took over Starbucks and changed the company name to Starbucks Corporation, with a Chicago store and a Canadian store opening their doors.

A total of 17 Starbucks stores were in operation during this time.

Schulz concentrated on his Starbucks café concept while providing customers with equipment and coffee beans that they could buy.

This is why, within four years, Starbucks started to grow and reached the milestone of owning over 100 stores.

Between the years 1992 and 1996, Starbucks started expanding chains outside of North America, and the company was riding a wave of expansion.

And in 1992, Starbucks had 135 outlets and was earning approximately $72 million in annual revenue!

Roasting plants and bottled drinks

As more Starbucks stores were opening in the U.S., Starbucks fine-tuned its mission in 1990, which was to provide the finest coffee in the world.

To achieve this, Starbucks opened its first roasting plant in Kent, Washington.

This is still in operation today, although Starbucks currently has other roasting plants in the following locations:

  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Gaston, South Carolina
  • York
  • Carson Valley

Starbucks started serving its Frappuccino blended beverages in 1995 to become the leading supplier of delicious coffee.

Starbucks java chip Frappuccino, ready to be enjoyed.
Starbucks java chip Frappuccino

The next year, in 1996, Starbucks started selling Frappuccino coffee drinks via their North American Coffee Partnership.

By 1998, Starbucks was breaking even more ground in the industry. Instead of sticking to coffee shops and stores, Starbucks started to broaden its reach into U.S. grocery stores.

It was also becoming a global sensation, opening more Starbucks stores in other parts of the world. By 2000, Starbucks stores were opened in the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Bahrain
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Hong Kong
  • Qatar

In addition to this, Starbucks purchased Seattle Coffee Company in 1998 for $83 million.

Just two years later, in 2002, other stores opened in:

  • Greece
  • Germany
  • Indonesia
  • Oman
  • Mexico
  • Spain
  • Puerto Rico

Starbucks continued to grow so much that in 2022, there were just under 17,000 stores in the U.S. and approximately 34,000 stores in the world.

The growth of Starbucks coffee

Although Shultz had previously left the company, he returned as Starbucks’ CEO in 2008.

He established some important strategies that enabled the company to experience more streams of income. These included the following:

  • Acquiring a bakery chain
  • Coffee-brewing systems
  • Instant coffee brands
  • Menu changes at Starbucks stores

These strategies were successful and helped the company to grow. Shultz envisioned Starbucks to be a place that allowed the informal and happy gathering of individuals in places other than work and home.

He had written about the importance of having a “place on the corner,” as The Guardian reports, which was meant to be an alternative to watching TV without having to first get into your car to go somewhere.

Sustainable coffee milestones

Starbucks hasn’t just been providing innovative, delicious coffee drinks to its customers but has also been achieving important milestones when it comes to its sustainability initiatives.

Here are some important milestones it has reached in its goal of becoming a greener coffee brand.

  • In 2001, Starbucks started following instructions to produce its coffee ethically. This was developed in partnership with Conservation International, an American nonprofit environmental organization.
  • In 2004, Starbucks opened the first Farmer Support Center, which was located in Costa Rica. This was done at the same time as the brand was launching its C.A.F.E (Coffee and Farmer Equity) Practices verification program. This included working with farmers to help them improve the profitability of their crops.
  • In 2005, Starbucks purchased Ethos Water, which helps communities have access to clean water. Currently, whenever you purchase a bottle of Ethos water, Starbucks donates five cents to support humanitarian programs in communities where coffee is grown to ensure clean water is provided to people who need it, as Starbucks reports.
  • In 2006, Starbucks launched the industry’s first paper coffee cup that contained recycled fiber. This was better for the environment.
  • In 2013, Starbucks strengthened its efforts to source coffee ethically by continuing its coffee-farming research.
  • In 2015, Starbucks achieved the sustainability milestone of having 99% ethically sourced coffee. During this year, the company also established the Sustainable Coffee Challenge to create the world’s first renewably-sourced farming product.
  • In 2016, Starbucks established Food Share, a program that contributes meals to food banks in the U.S.
  • In 2018, Starbucks established environmental goals of phasing out the use of disposable plastic straws and having greener stores.
  • In 2020, Starbucks started using lids that eliminated the use of straws with their cold beverages in stores throughout the United States and Canada.

Other important milestones

  • In 2004, Starbucks expanded to provide more food and snacks to customers. Sandwiches and other lunch items started appearing on the menu in several North American stores. This was also the time when food items, such as egg, cheese, and ham on a muffin, were being tested.
  • In 2007, Starbucks removed the use of artificial trans fat from beverages and began using 2% milk as the new regular milk for espresso.
  • In 2008, Starbucks launched its social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook.
  • In 2009, Starbucks launched VIA Instant, a 100% natural roasted Arabica coffee in instant form.
  • In 2011, Starbucks opened its first Community Stores in neighborhoods in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, and Harlem, New York.
  • In 2013, Starbucks opened military family stores near military bases in Washington and Texas.
  • In 2017, the first Princi Bakeries opened in special locations where Starbucks beans are roasted. These offered artisan bread and Italian pastries but sadly closed down in 2021.

Creativity in every cup

What’s Starbucks without its innovative, creative beverages? Here are some of the milestones reached by the company over the years when it comes to bringing unique and delicious beverages to customers.

When Starbucks first started offering Frappuccinos in 1995, the only flavors you could get were mocha and coffee, and the Frappuccino was made from ice double-strength brewed Italian Roast beans.

Starbucks matcha Frappuccino, ready to drink.
Starbucks matcha Frappuccino

It’s amazing to think that currently, Starbucks offers over 36,000 combinations of the Frappuccino blended beverage!

Tip: Check out this in-depth article to learn about Starbucks’ Frappuccino and what goes into it.

The next year, in 1996, Starbucks started selling its bottled Frappuccino, which was available for purchase in grocery stores.

In 2008, Starbucks acquired the Coffee Equipment Company that manufactured the Clover Brewing System.

Clover coffee machines at Starbucks.

This system is known for providing innovative machines that create coffee with many layers of flavor, aroma, and body. In the same year, Starbucks tested its “fresh-pressed” coffee system at various stores.

By 2012, Starbucks’ Blonde Roast was introduced. This was an interesting milestone as the company had previously been known for its darker roast. It served to appeal to more customers.

Around this time, Starbucks started paying more attention to its digital sales, which were becoming significant. In 2013, over 10% of in-store Starbucks purchases were completed through customers’ devices via the Starbucks app, as Zippia reports.

A few years later, in 2015, Starbucks launched its Cold Brew iced coffee. Starbucks Stories reports that this was a smooth, rich beverage with refreshing citrus and chocolate notes.

In the same year, its Evolution Fresh handcrafted smoothies hit the scene. These are smoothies that contain cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices, Greek nonfat yogurt, nutmeg, and ice.

If you’ve ever wondered how the green mermaid logo of Starbucks originated, it has strong ties with the first Starbucks store that opened in Seattle.

This city has a maritime history that inspired Starbucks’ founders when they were thinking of a suitable logo for their brand.

The first Starbucks logo was launched in 1971. It was quite different from the logo we see today, as it was black and white.

Starbucks coffee mug with logo.

It had a two-tailed mermaid on it that was encircled with the words “Starbucks: Coffee, Tea, Spices.” Later, the logo would become brown in color.

This logo was a throwback to the myths of sirens luring sailors with their beautiful singing. The idea behind it was that Starbucks coffee was powerful enough to seduce coffee lovers, as The Design Inspiration reports.

During the 80s, the Starbucks logo was said to be too revealing because of the bare-chested mermaid on it, so it was changed.

It became more modern, and the mermaid’s long hair covered her body. Instead of being brown in color, the logo became a beautiful green. The words on the logo also changed to “Starbucks Coffee.”

Fascinating facts about Starbucks

As the years progressed and Starbucks became a household name, its logo also changed with the times. But so did its offerings.

Here are some important achievements, changes, and interesting facts about the infamous Starbucks chain.

  • In 1992, the Starbucks logo changed to display a close-up of the mermaid’s face. Instead of her navel being on display, which was the case in previous logos, now her tails were visible on the sides.
  • By 2011, a problem arose with the logo. The mermaid’s face was so perfect and symmetrical that it started to look less human. To fix this issue, the mermaid’s face was given subtle asymmetry with a bit of a shadow on the right side of its face, as Fast Company reports.
  • There are more than 87,000 beverage combinations to enjoy from the Starbucks secret menu. This is developed by Starbucks customers, not the company itself, which just shows how passionate people are about Starbucks.
  • Starbucks has a record label! Although you might not think of Starbucks as providing anything other than delicious coffee and food, it actually established Hear Music, a record label, in 2007. It came about as a partnership between the coffee company and Concord Music Group. This label signed famous singers such as Joni Mitchell and Sir Paul McCartney, as Delish reports.
  • Starbucks baristas wear black aprons. This is meant to signify that they have completed the Starbucks educational program and know a lot about coffee. They’re also known as “coffee masters.” If you want to learn how to order beverages so that you always get what you want, read my guide, “How to Order at Starbucks Like a Pro”)

And if you want to learn more about coffee masters at Starbucks and how many there are, you can check out this article!

​What we can expect from Starbucks in the future

Expansion is the name of the game, as Starbucks is set on opening even more stores around the world. By the year 2030, Starbucks is scheduled to have 55,000 stores!

It’s also focused on providing customers with ready-to-drink products.

As The Motley Fool reports, these will be available outside of their stores and are expected to increase their sales and reach more customers.

By reading this article, you can learn more about Starbucks’ market share and how it compares to its competitors.

Final thoughts

Starbucks has a colorful history of providing unique coffee to the masses, as well as achieving sustainable practices.

From humble beginnings, Starbucks has become a giant in the coffee industry that continues to grow and thrive.

If you want to learn more about Starbucks, check out the in-depth articles below!

Learn more about Starbucks

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