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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

On Coffee and Brand-Building...


As part of their benefits, all Starbucks partners (employees) receive a "mark-out" every week: one free pound of coffee beans.* You can say it's one of the "perks" of the job. #DadJoke


There's a bit of fine print involved, though: your mark-out is a "use it or lose it" proposition, so if you don't collect your free bag in a given week, it's gone forever.


Because this free coffee is very clearly positioned as a part of a partner's compensation, most partners made it a point to collect their mark-out every week and then give it away to a friend or family member if they didn't need it for themselves.


When I worked at Starbucks many years ago, I'd drink so much coffee at work every weekday that my consumption at home only happened on the weekends, and I wouldn't go through a two-pound bag of coffee beans every single weekend. As a result, I'd often end up giving away my weekly mark-outs.


My mother would often be a recipient of my extra coffee supply. She'd always accept it, but she liked the fact that it was free more than she liked the coffee itself: she always believed Starbucks coffee was "too strong" (by which she actually meant "bitter").


Now here's where it gets interesting.


Starbucks partners are taught about the four fundamentals required to make a great cup of coffee. Perhaps the most important fundamental is "proportion": you need to get the proportion of coffee to water just right. The recommended proportion (which is printed on every bag of Starbucks coffee sold) is 10 grams of coffee for every 180 millilitres of water.


But my mother never bothered to measure the coffee, despite my ongoing reminders. She'd simply put an amount into her coffee machine that seemed right to her, and go from there. And when the coffee ended up being "too strong", the next time she made a pot, she would adjust by putting less coffee into the machine.


Except... that was actually the opposite of what she needed to do to solve the problem.


You see, my mother has always been quite frugal, so the amount of coffee that "looked right" to her was always a proportion less than 10 grams per 180mL of water. And when you hav