Co.Design, Fast Company magazine's online business & design outfit, just posted an article about their visit to the Starbucks cupping lab entitled How 7 People Test 400 Million Pounds Of Starbucks Coffee A Year. The article is focused on how the cupping approach to evaluation–“keep your mouth shut, and simply move a glass just two inches left or right”–can be applicable to the boardroom, but there are also some fascinating nuggets of information about the inner workings of the Starbucks green coffee engine.
As you may have surmised from the title, Starbucks employs seven cuppers in Seattle. Refreshingly, they are “a diverse group of men and women ranging from their 20s to 50s,” who evaluate “75% of the 500 million-plus pounds of beans that the company will buy and roast each year.” The cupping lab they have set up sounds about as classic as it gets: “The space is dominated by four long stainless steel tables. Around the periphery, you can spot restaurant-grade burners for boiling massive tea kettles you need two gloved hands to carry.” Apparently these cuppers form the “last line of defense”–the samples they are cupping have already been pre-evaluated by a team in Switzerland. According to Co.Design, these cuppers are “tasting with clear parameters for outliers–is something exceptionally good or bad? Should a bean be pulled from rotation or elevated to a reserve status? Might a particular shipment improve by being aged not three but five years?”
Overall Co.Design does a great job of giving outsiders a look into this highly technical world, and the conclusions they draw on groupthink and corporate culture are worth a read. This is not the first time Co.Design has written about Starbucks either: their coverage of Starbucks eye-popping $35 million “Leadership Lab” with 5,000 live coffee trees is well worth checking out.
This won't be the last you hear about Starbucks. Starbucks is the Official Host Sponsor of the 2014 SCAA Event. If you want to find out more about the event, Starbucks is hosting a SCAA “membership mixer” at their Roy Street Coffee And Tea location on February 10th. Facebook has the details.