June 2010

Zen and the Art of the Musical Mix

There’s nothing like the gift of a personal music mix. I’ve made mixes since I was in short pants and some odd three decades later, I’m still making them, personal ones and some as part of my job.

When making a personal mix, it helps to know your audience. Even if you don’t know someone’s exact taste in music, it helps to have a gist. A mix tape for your own listening pleasure is much different than the one you’re making for someone you’re just getting to know romantically or the one you intend for Mahatma Gandhi. For example, you shouldn’t automatically assume that Gandhi’s gonna be down with the generally leftist political bent of Rage Against The Machine. Though he might’ve agreed with their emphasis on social justice and equality, he still might have had a problem with the content of their song “Killing in the Name.”

In the same way, you might not want to put an AC/DC song on that Mother’s Day mix for your mom. Now, she may indeed be hip enough and have the same taste as a 13-year- old boy, but try a little harder to challenge the woman who birthed you in her listening endeavors (and failing that, simply have the Iron Man 2 soundtrack handy as a backup plan).

Making compilations for Starbucks also requires that one have the gist of what you all might be interested in, even if we take chances sometimes. Our Peggy Lee Come Rain or Come Shine opus collection was a big hit and our World Is India compilation was a modest hit. Potentially quite different audiences, both however featured a nice mixture of songs that we thought our customer might particularly enjoy and might not have heard before.

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Kenya and the Mug of Authority

Kenya was the first Starbucks coffee I fell in love with – and it’s returned that love back to me. Because if it weren’t for Kenya, I might not have the job at Starbucks that I have right now.

The story begins in 1990. I’ve just graduated from college, and I need a job to support my very broke self while taking an internship at an advertising agency in Seattle. So I call on this small-but-growing (almost 100 stores!) coffeeshop called Starbucks.

As a newly-aproned barista, I learn that I don’t know squat about coffee. You mean coffee comes from different countries and has different flavors based on where it’s grown? Wow, who knew? But I’m eager to learn, so I try all our coffees to see what I taste.

And Kenya is the first coffee that makes me think Wow, I get it! Because it has this really pronounced jammy, grapefruity taste and wine-like body that totally stands out from other coffees. I’m able to nail it in a blind tasting, which impresses my manager, and so I become our store’s unofficial whole bean expert. I learn more and my love of coffee grows.

I’m at Starbucks for 15 months. I really like the place, but I’ve got an advertising career to get underway. So after my internship turns into a real job, I hang up my apron. But before I go, I buy a mug with our Kenya coffee stamp on it to remind me of my first love – and because it’s on clearance for 99 cents! (Hey, I’m still paying college loans!)

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Great Decaf is Worth the Bother

I’ve sometimes heard decaffeinated coffee referred to as the “why bother?” coffee. I’ve never understood this comment.

Decaf coffees can lose their flavor during the decaffeination process. But a good decaf coffee should offer all the flavors and aromas one would expect from a regular cup of coffee. It takes the right bean to withstand the process to ensure the flavor and nuances of the coffee stays intact.

Our Decaf Sumatra goes through an innovative natural decaffeination process. Using carbon dioxide and ultra-pure water, we’re able to remove the caffeine in the shortest amount of time – leaving all the flavor and aroma intact. And the beans we use are perfect for maintaining the herbal, spicy, full-bodied flavor one would expect from a Sumatran coffee.

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Heatin’ Up with the Sounds of Summer

Summertime is the Beach Boys, the Ramones, reggae and R&B, whether it’s classic or contemporary. It isn’t northern Scandinavia joik, neo-classical chamber jazz or Tuvan throat singing. “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Rockaway Beach”? Yes! Penderecki’s “Anaklasis for Strings & Percussion”? Not so much.

Granted, it’s not an exact science, but there’s something about tone and tempo that makes a particular song appropriate for hot days as ice tea and open windows.

Which brings us to our annual summertime CD. Known internally as the “BBQ Beat” project, it’s the ever-popular counterpart to our other solstice standby, the holiday compilation. (One of the oddities of these two discs is that, due to the length of time it takes to assemble the completed packages, the summertime set is completed when the weather is cool while the Christmas mix drags into the dog days.)

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Twilight Saga: Eclipse – The Vampires Are Alright

So, when it comes to discussing the Twilight Saga’s supernatural denizens, it often breaks into different camps. Edward or Jacob? I’m an Edward Cullen man myself. I mean, it’s great to be voted “Wolfboy with Best Biceps” in your high school yearbook and all, but can you sparkle like a diamond in the sunlight? Didn’t think so. I realize Twilight’s author Stephenie Meyer has created her own newfangled vampire lore, but frankly when it comes to vampires versus werewolves, it’s no contest.

One thing about this modern generation of cinematic undead, or lycanthropes for that matter, they love them some indie rock. Organ music just doesn’t cut it any more. That was Grandpa Nosferatu’s silent-era music. And the Count Dracula of the 1931 film, Dracula, may have been state of the art with the Western Electric Sound System, but it was still in mono, despite the valiant effort of uncredited composer Heinz Roemheld.

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Have You Ever Wondered?

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes with your food? I love TV cooking shows that take you behind the velvet ropes and show how your favorite foods are made.

Here at Starbucks our partners behind the scenes work hard every day to bring you the tastiest food possible. Last summer, we removed artificial dyes, artificial flavors, artificial trans fat and high fructose corn syrup from our foods to deliver tastier items with simple recipes just like you can make at home.

Our Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe was improved to remove all that unnecessary stuff, but you let us know through customer comments and My Starbucks Idea that the new recipe wasn’t as delicious.

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Starbucks VIA® Iced Coffee is Coming Soon!

Hi everyone! I’m excited to tell you about our new Starbucks VIA® Iced Coffee! Starting on June 29 – just in time for the hottest days of summer – you’ll be able to pick up 5-packs at participating U.S. stores.

Starbucks VIA® Iced Coffee is specially designed for mixing with cold water – just add it to a tall glass of water or water bottle, stir or shake, and you’ll instantly have a delicious and refreshing cup. Lightly sweetened with natural cane sugar, it’s the perfect summer companion. Each packet makes a 16 fl. oz. beverage so you can stay cool wherever the summer takes you.

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Sarah McLachlan: Fumbling Towards Acceptance

I first encountered Sarah McLachlan’s voice on the Nettwerk Sampler, Vol. 3 way back in 1991. (Good heavens! Was it really?) The ethereal song was entitled “What Lies Beyond,” which remains an obscurity in her body of work and was originally intended for her debut album, Touch.

She was still a teenager at the time of this recording, but I remember obsessing over it and wondering from whence this singer with the haunting, Kate Bush-esque voice came (Halifax, Nova Scotia, actually). It’s a song that 20 years on seems like it a good fit for where she’s at these days. Full of heartache (of which I had plenty back then), but also filled with the promise of something new, the song seemed and seems a perfect summation of her new record, Laws of Illusion.

It’s nice to rediscover the Sublime Ms. M. It’s been seven years since her last studio effort, Afterglow, and Saturn has indeed turned The latest outing reflects the trials and tribulations that make dwelling in the realm of love difficult. From the joy of marriage to its eventual dissolution, this bittersweet offering features a range of emotions with uptempo songs like “Loving You is Easy,” to the vintage McLachlan sounds of “Out of Tune” and “U Want Me 2” (complete with a Tears For Fears “Mad World” intro).

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Espresso Roast, Crafted for Excellence

In my time at Starbucks I have lead dozens, and possibly hundreds, of coffee tastings. There have been quite a few celebrities that have come through here, and in most ways I eased into these cuppings with the instantly recognizable personalities.

My first tasting here at Starbucks corporate headquarters was one of the most stressful. I was a barista at the time and was asked to come in and lead a Roaster Event for Espresso Roast. That was pretty exciting and fairly easy. As a partner who had four years’ experience in our stores at the time, there was no coffee I knew better than Espresso Roast. I couldn’t be more prepared.

Two days before the event I got a call from Jason of the Coffee Engagement team asking if I was ready to lead the cupping. I answered easily “absolutely.” Then I was told that the other guests would bea famous Seattle restaurateur and the original creator of the blend, Dave Olsen. About 700 people showed up for the event!

I tossed out my original idea to talk about how much Espresso Roast means to the company with metaphors about heart, body and crema. Those are things every store partner knows, so in the end I just talked about the flavors we love – great caramelly, roasty sweetness.

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