Starbucks is a global phenomenon. The company has achieved celebrity status both in the coffee industry and the general public. Famed for their signature coffeehouses always filled with patrons, flavored drinks, and dark roasted coffees.
With the large influx of customers they receive each day looking for a caffeine fix, it’s a wonder how they maintain a steady supply. But how does it work? Where do they get that amount of coffee to serve customers worldwide? And are they being responsible for their environmental footprint?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the coffee sourcing practices of the largest coffeehouse chain in the world.
From local market to world domination
Back in 1971, before Starbucks became a household name, they were a small narrow store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market selling coffee, tea, and spices.
Their coffeehouse concept came to life in the 1980s when Howard Schultz (who later became their CEO) was inspired by his experience in the coffee bars of Italy. He wanted to adopt this cafe tradition back in the United States to make coffeehouses act like social hubs and not just another place to eat.
Today, Starbucks has grown to more than 30,000 retail stores globally. Even with the big focus on curating a “cafe experience,” Starbucks has always promoted the superior quality of its coffee products.
Where Does Starbucks buy Coffee Beans?
Due to the massive scale of the company’s operation, Starbucks purchases around 3% of the entire global coffee supply.
Their sources are not limited to a particular region. Instead, they opt to buy coffee beans from all around the world. This ensures a steady supply and a variety of flavors. The three coffee regions they source from are Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Africa.
See the list below of some of the countries per region that grow and produce coffee for Starbucks:
- El Salvador
- Costa Rica
- East Timor
- Papua New Guinea
Starbucks only buys 100% arabica coffee beans and uses them for a range of products such as:
- Cold brew concentrate
- Instant coffee
- Flavored coffee
- Coffee pods
They also set up a traceability system showing which farms the beans come from, who the farmers are, and how much was paid for their coffee.
Starbucks has adopted a vertical integration approach in its supply chain. This means they control all aspects of the business: sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and consumption. This kind of involvement lessens supply issues and assures product consistency.
What is Starbucks Reserve Coffee?
Starbucks prides itself on sourcing only high-quality and ethically-grown coffees. But they have stepped it up a notch by launching the Starbucks Reserve program in 2010.
Many consider this Starbucks’ way to access and compete in the high-end coffee market. The company dubbed it as their premium coffee line, showcasing a selection of the rarest, most exotic coffees Starbucks can offer.
The coffees come in small lots, with limited offerings which vary by season. Often these have names of the specific coffee area, farm, and/or varietal. While most are single-origin, they also come in blends.
This program also includes their upscale Starbucks Reserve roasteries and coffee bars. The company has built six roasteries around the world so far. These are where all Reserve coffee beans are roasted and packed.
True to their brand, Starbucks offers an immersive coffee experience in each roastery. They call them “theatrical experiential shrines to coffee passion.” By launching this program, they have evolved the coffeehouses into multi-sensory destinations.
Starbucks Coffee, Sustainability & Ethics
Starbucks has been transparent in their journey towards responsible coffee sourcing. And since 2015, their coffee has been verified as 99% ethically sourced.
They have created a verification program called Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Developed to screen coffee suppliers who pass their economic, social, and environmental criteria. This standard is the cornerstone of their ethical sourcing.
Here are other ways Starbucks supports farmers and their communities:
- Farmer Support Centers
- Created to connect coffee farmers with agronomists and other experts.
- Specialists provide technical support even to farmers that are not yet C.A.F.E. Practices-verified.
- Training in sustainable farming practices is given for free.
- Here they are taught how to protect their coffee trees from diseases, soil management techniques, wastewater handling, coffee yield increase, and renovation, among others.
- Coffee Tree Donations
- Donated nearly 50 million coffee trees after the coffee leaf rust spread in the coffee farms of Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador in 2012.
- Gave farmers more disease-resistant trees that are products of their coffee research and development initiative.
- Part of the company’s goal is to provide 100 million trees to farmers by 2025.
- Equitable Buying Practices
- Adopts pricing structures that pay premiums above commercial market price.
- Suppliers who improve their C.A.F.E. Practices scores are given additional premiums as a reward.
- Finalizing coffee purchasing contracts years in advance is practiced. This strengthens relationships with the farmers and lessens the impact of market volatility.
- Emergency Relief Funding
- A $20 million Emergency Farmer Relief Fund was set up for farmers in Central America back in 2018 when coffee prices plummeted.
- Farmers that grow Starbucks Coffee were given a second payment after harvest. This helped them cover their expenses and sell their coffees at higher prices.
- Global Farmer Fund
- Starbucks has collaborated with leading lending organizations to give farmers access to loans.
- Provides farmers with financial assistance for short or long-term investments.
- Funds help farmers improve infrastructure, renovate coffee trees, and strengthen their farms overall.
- Farmers receive training in business planning and price risk management.
- Origin Grants
- Awarded by the Starbucks Foundation to nonprofit organizations in coffee and tea-growing communities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
- Recipients of these grants receive funding for their programs that benefit the local community.
- In recent years, Starbucks Foundation announced that they aim to empower 250,000 women and girls in origin communities by 2025.
- Began investing in organizations that promote girls’ education and provide women with leadership and economic opportunities.
Starbucks is an industry giant that has taught and encouraged different generations to drink coffee.
Consequently, they learned how to supply a global market with a steady stream of caffeine. And they’ve managed to do it sustainably.
Starbucks is still working alongside other industry leaders to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.
Top Featured Image: Ron Cogswell | Flickr CC 2.0
They source from three regions across the coffee belt: Asia-Pacific, Latin America, And Africa.
Starbucks uses their own name on all their coffee products. They have created sub-brands such as Starbucks VIA (instant coffee) and Starbucks Reserve (premium coffee). Their trademarked blends also carry the Starbucks brand (i.e. Pike Place, Veranda Blend).
Starbucks sources their coffee from all over the world, including China. They have also released products featuring high-quality arabica coffees from Yunnan, China: Starbucks Single Origin Yunnan Coffee and Starbucks South of the Clouds Blend. Their premium coffee line—Starbucks Reserve—also features a small-lot coffee from China named Starbucks Reserve Yunnan Yellow Honey Coffee.
Starbucks coffees are of good quality, although these are nowhere near the caliber of specialty-grade coffees. In companies of this size, product consistency is more crucial than distinctiveness (which is a trait often associated with high quality).