December 26, 2014 Opportunity

10 Hot Jobs and Cool People at Starbucks

Starbucks has 300,000 partners (employees) around the globe who share this mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. That mission is evident every day in the passionate people who do a variety of jobs at Starbucks. Here are 10 interesting jobs and great people the Starbucks Newsroom featured in 2014:

1. Agronomists

Days start early for Victor Trejos. He rises well before dawn at his home in Costa Rica’s capital city of San José and drives 15 miles into the hillside. By 6:00 a.m., his pickup truck rumbles down a narrow road to a coffee farm, where the day is already in full swing with a team of more than 30 Starbucks partners weeding, replanting, fertilizing, and pruning. 

Trejos is the general manager of Hacienda Alsacia, a coffee farm that Starbucks owns. It rests on the slope of the still-active Poas volcano. “Hacienda Alsacia has been a working coffee farm for generations, managed by a single family since 1970,” Trejos said. “The volcanic soil is rich in nutrients, and over its history has supplied high-quality coffee to Starbucks.”

For over a decade, Carlos Mario Rodriguez has cultivated coffee trees he considers to be “as special as children.” From seeds to sprouts, to selected plants and finally sprawling branches, he has watched over them. “The only thing that competes with my family is the love I have for working with farmers to help improve the productivity and quality of their coffee crops,” said Rodriguez, Starbucks director of global agronomy.

Rodriguez has been with Starbucks since 2004, when the company opened its first farmer support center to provide coffee growers in Latin America with resources and expertise to help lower costs of production, reduce pests and disease, improve coffee quality and increase their yields of premium coffees. 

2. Coffee Cupper

A day after being named one of the best coffee tasters in the world, Amanda Juris was back at work for Starbucks loudly slurping a spoonful of coffee from each of the more than 600 glass mugs lined up on a table.

Slurping, which we’ve all been told is poor etiquette, is essential for a coffee taster – or cupper as they’re called in the industry. A quick slurp spreads coffee to taste receptors in all parts of the mouth and helps an expert identify specific aspects of a coffee’s texture, flavor, acidity and sweetness. When containers of coffee beans arrive at domestic ports for shipping to Starbucks roasting plants, a sample is sent to the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Green coffee specialists need to approve the samples before a coffee can be blended or roasted. That involves tasting test batches made from every newly arrived shipment of beans.

Juris has developed a precise palate for cupping coffee that resulted in her winning the U.S. Cup Tasters Championship in April. In May, Juris was a finalist in the 2014 World Cup Tasters Championship in Melbourne, Australia. Liu Pang-yu of Taiwan won the world title by correctly identifying the different coffee in six of the eight sets within three minutes and 48 seconds. Juris had five of the coffees correct with a time of 3:51.

She is also one of only 1,000 “Q Graders” in the world. A licensed Q Grader is a professional cupper, accredited by the Coffee Quality Institute. Juris had to pass a rigorous three-day exam to earn certification. The final exam involved roast identification, coffee cupping, sensory skills and sensory triangulation.

3. Coffee Traceability Expert

Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, Arthur Karuletwa chooses his words carefully as he talks about his homeland. In a soft voice, he shakes his head realizing “an unfortunate sequence of events” doesn’t begin to describe what happened over a period of 100 days in the small African nation.

“Within the blink of an eye the world lost one million people,” said Karuletwa.

He was 17 years old when Hutu extremists orchestrated the massacres of Tutsi and moderate Hutu people in Rwanda. Karuletwa was in neighboring Uganda at the time. When he returned to his home, the devastation he witnessed was “grotesque.”

“I vowed to go back and play a role in whatever recovery or reconciliation that needed to happen,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that all the family and friends that I lost was not in vain.”

Today Karuletwa works on Starbucks Global Coffee team which is responsible for coffee innovation, education and engagement with coffee farmers. As Starbucks director of traceability, he developed a program to trace coffee beans from the point of origin – the small farmers – in Rwanda, throughout the supply chain and ultimately to the consumer.

This year he traveled to Rwanda with 40 Starbucks partners from 16 countries for the Starbucks Origin Experience, where partners gain an understanding and appreciation for the passion that goes into each pound of coffee Starbucks sells. In its fourth year, the Origin program has about 760 alumni.

4. Teaologist

Among Oprah Winfrey’s many contributions to entertainment and pop culture is the annual gift-giving guide known as her “favorite things.” When creating her Teavana® Oprah Chai Tea, it took an extra punch of her “favorite spices” to create the perfect balance of flavors.

“Oprah was very hands on in creating her tea. We laid out all the ingredients and Ms. Winfrey personally smelled, tasted and asked about each one,” said Naoko Tsunoda, Teavana’s tea authority and director of tea development.

After months of research and a final three hours of blending and tasting at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, the winning flavor profile didn't emerge until Oprah asked the teaologists to “spice up” the tea with more pepper and ginger.

“When she said it was perfect there were smiles all around and everyone was so happy,” recalled Tsunoda. “We had ‘an aha moment.’ It was magic. We all rejoiced.”

Just as tea has been a part of Winfrey’s life for many years, tea has also been a part of Starbucks heritage for more than four decades. When the company was founded in 1971 it was called Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spices.

“I think the Oprah Chai Tea is fabulous,” said Tsunoda, “and it’s also fabulous that so many people in the U.S. have a new curiosity and interest in tea.”

5. Store Designers

If you judge someone by the company they keep, Anthony Perez is doing well. Starbucks director of concept design is among executives from Google and Amazon on Fast Company’s 2014 list of “The 100 Most Creative People in Business.”

“It feels good to make the list,” Perez says with a half a laugh and a smile as he diverts attention away from himself. “The recognition is really about the brand and what Starbucks has enabled our concepts team to work on.” Perez and his team members are acknowledged for “constantly rethinking what a coffee shop can be” and “working to imbue each Starbucks with a uniquely local and sustainable flair.”

For Starbucks senior designer David Daniels, creation begins with a blank piece of white paper. When he’s challenged with creating a new store, he starts sketching chairs or a table setting and thinks about all the meaningful moments that will happen in the space.

“My imagination runs wild, and as I draw I think about how somebody might meet the girl of their dreams there. All sorts of things could happen there, if only the walls could speak,” said Daniels, as he looked at the original drawings for Starbucks store in Downtown Disney West Side near Orlando, Florida.

Daniels, the lead designer of the Orlando store, says the location is the result of the “magic” that can happen when two storytelling companies work together to design distinctive, memorable experiences for customers. For Daniels, his favorite part of designing a Starbucks is when partners arrive to stock the store. “They have this great energy and they’re like the actors on the stage, if you will. They’re so important in creating a space that people want to be in,” he said. “That’s what this is all about for me.”

No detail inside the new Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle escapes Liz Muller’s attention. From the stitching on leather handrail covers and hand-stained wood finishes throughout the 15,000 square-foot building to the precise location of two industrial roasting machines capable of handling over a half ton of coffee per hour, every component of the first-of-its-kind retail space has the discerning touch of Muller, Starbucks vice president of Creative and Global Design.

Just as each cup of coffee Starbucks served in its 43-year history has led the company to create an unprecedented coffee theater for its customers, all that Muller has learned since childhood prepared her to lead the team tasked with bringing Howard Schultz’s vision to life.

As a little girl in Amsterdam, Muller discovered the value of precision craftsmanship from her parents. Her father was a fine cabinet maker and architect; her mother ran her own design and sewing school. “Perfection,” Muller said with a satisfied smile. “I understood perfection from an early age and I’m still driven by it.”

6. Beverage Creators

Starbucks introduced its first new holiday beverage in five years – Starbucks® Chestnut Praline Latte. The handcrafted beverage is a blend of fresh espresso and flavors of caramelized chestnuts, with freshly steamed milk, topped with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs.

In the fall of 2012, Starbucks Global Beverage Innovation team began to explore new flavors for holiday beverages. Amy Dilger, a research and development manager who has developed new Starbucks foods and beverages for more than 15 years, shares how Chestnut Praline Latte came to life. “I am a pastry chef by training, and I was inspired by my time working at restaurants and hotels in Europe and experiencing what European Christmas markets had to offer," Dilger said.

Early in 2003, a small group gathered in the “Liquid Lab,” a secure research and development space on the 7th floor of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. The lab was a cross between a chef’s kitchen and a scientist’s playground – with industrial refrigerators, espresso equipment, and an eclectic mix of potential ingredients and flavors.

Peter Dukes, director of espresso Americas for Starbucks, was the product manager who led the development of Pumpkin Spice Latte. “Nobody knew back then what it would grow to be,” Dukes said. "It’s taken on a life of its own.”

7. Roasters

Starbucks master roaster Brian Hayes, who began his career with the company 22 years ago, monitors computer screens and dials while green coffee beans are heated in large, rotating drum. The constant tumbling motion keeps the beans from burning.

“A coffee’s full flavor is achieved through roasting,” Hayes said. “Coffee roasting is part art and skill, and part science and technique.” For a master roaster, timing is everything. The beans slowly shift colors as the roast progresses - from green to yellow to beige, Hayes explained. Around 370 F, popping sounds can be heard as water inside the beans flashes and the size of the bean almost doubles. From there, the beans develop richer shades of brown. Ultimately, Hayes decides the coffee has reached its potential and ends the roast.

Sometimes a simple holiday gift can change a life in unexpected ways. One Christmas morning, a dozen years ago, Mikey Graham gave his dad a small at-home coffee roaster. Although his father only tried it once or twice, he and his brother kept bringing it out – tasting and tinkering. He began to learn how to balance time, heat and temperature to unlock the potential of each coffee. He was hooked.  Today, Graham is one of the first roasters at the new Starbucks® Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room. For the first time, customers can see the artisan roasters at work behind premium Starbucks Reserve® coffees just blocks from Starbucks original location at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

“I’m excited to be able to share my passion for roasting with customers,” Graham said. “They can finally experience the alchemy of coffee roasting first-hand – seeing the coffee spiral in, hearing the crackle of the coffee roasting, and taking in the aroma of fresh beans as they come down into the cooling tray.”

8. Partner Social Media Team

Every office has the smart, witty person who knows what’s going on and can always make co-workers laugh. That’s the role a small group of social media strategists has taken on for Starbucks partners who communicate with each other through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

It’s rare for a company to encourage employees to publically connect through social media. Starbucks does.  Even more unusual, Starbucks wanted to be a part of the conversation, not acting as the watchful company but more like a friend at work.

“We knew early on if we were going to be in the social space with our store partners, we needed to connect in a relevant way,” said Amy Alcala, vice president of Starbucks Partner Communications & Engagement. “We needed to have authentic conversation with partners, we wanted to recognize our partner contributions, laugh with them and give them a platform to tell their story.”

9. Evolution Fresh Juice Chef

For nearly ten years, chef Mark Satterfield has been working with Evolution Fresh founder Jimmy Rosenberg to craft new cold-pressed juices that are delicious and provide options for every step of the health and wellness journey. Chef Mark visits farms in search of the best leafy greens and complementary fruits to develop a spectrum of Evolution Fresh green juices that provide approachable green juice options for the new customer and more varieties for the seasoned drinker.

“I’m constantly thinking about our next cold-pressed juice variety,” Satterfield said. “In addition to exploring the local farms in communities near and far for the highest quality produce, I take every opportunity I can to taste the different juices available to stay ahead of our customers’ needs and inspire my next juice.

10. Starbucks Customers

Though Starbucks seeks to inspire and nurture its customers, our customers also inspire us. On a normal Monday morning in July, something unusual and uplifting happened in Starbucks stores in south China. A customer ordered a cup of coffee to start his work day and was surprised when his Starbucks barista said the beverage was free. If he wanted, she said, instead of paying for his own drink he could purchase coffee for the person behind him in line. One after another, customers began buying coffee for others. Starbucks intended to purchase the first 50 beverages in each south China store.

“Generosity ruled the day and a majority of stores used fewer than 50 free beverages to keep the chains going,” said Jeff Miller, vice president of operations for Starbucks China.  “In the end we saw 19,170 people forward beverages from one customer to the next with the longest chains being 30 customers in a row.”

Another special customer we met in 2014 was Brita Lynn Thompson, the winner of Starbucks first White Cup Contest. Today, the 20-year-old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania college student is getting custom orders for her art work from around the world. “I love being able to make strangers’ ideas come to life,” she said. “Through their requests and my creativity we’re able to develop something beautiful. It’s a breathtaking experience.”

A company-sponsored design competition earlier this year encouraged customers in the U.S. and Canada to decorate a reusable Starbucks cup with customized art, take a photo of it, and submit the design through social media using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. Starbucks received almost 4,000 entries in just three weeks. Thompson said she was “speechless” when Starbucks chose her design. 

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom