Starbucks Takes a 3-Hour Coffee Break
At Starbucks stores across the country on Tuesday night, it was time for the corporate version of re-education camp.
In its campaign to revive the intimate, friendly feel of a neighborhood coffee shop, Starbucks orchestrated the closing of 7,100 of its American stores at precisely 5:30 p.m. for a three-hour retraining session for employees.
It was an exacting enterprise. At a store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the drink-making employees, known as baristas, were told to dispense espresso into shot glasses instead of cups. They were urged to check the color of each shot. They were urged to pay more attention to the particularities of steaming milk.
A handout labeled “Espresso Excellence” informed them that “without aeration, the milk screams and lacks sweetness.” And: “The perfect milk requires surfing the tip of the steam wand until the sound is SSHHHH.”
aerated bread 無酵母パン.
aerated water 〔英〕 炭酸水.
aer・a・tion ━━ n. 通気; 炭酸ガスを入れること.
aer・a・tor ━━ n. 通風装置（など）.
Lest anyone doubt that Starbucks is serious, employees were reminded that the chain intended to get rid of odoriferous breakfast sandwiches, just so customers can smell the coffee again.
Howard D. Schultz, the company’s recently reappointed chief executive, has spoken of regaining the “soul of the past” and improving the experience of Starbucks customers. Tuesday night’s sessions were the latest indication of his focus on that task. Indeed, the sessions took place at a time when Starbucks is pining for better days.
The company is closing 100 American stores because of sluggish sales, and expansion plans have been scaled back. Starbucks, once a magic name on Wall Street, is increasingly seen there as just another big food chain.
Time for a makeover.
“It’s really inspiring to talk about the quality of our espresso when we’re here all in the same room,” Justin A. Chapple, manager of the Starbucks on 85th Street and Lexington Avenue, told his employees as members of the press viewed what was billed as a typical training session. “We want to be aware of how we are presenting our drinks to our customers.”
The group, many of them earnest young employees who seemed dedicated to learning their lessons, watched a videotaped message from Mr. Schultz. The head and shoulders of the barista in chief filled the screen.
“This is not about training,” he said to his employees, looking somewhat somber. “This is about the love and compassion and commitment that we all need to have for the customer.”
The store’s employees — dressed alike in black tops, green aprons and Starbucks caps — watched the screen carefully, some nodding in agreement. Mr. Schultz reiterated points from a well-publicized memorandum he wrote in February 2007. In it, Mr. Schultz bemoaned the “watering down” of the Starbucks experience, blaming the expediencies of rapid growth for removing “much of the romance and theater” from the ubiquitous stores.
At the time, Mr. Schultz lamented, “We achieved fresh-roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost?” (To be precise, a one-pound bag of Starbucks Caffe Verona beans sells for $9.95.)
Then employees broke into groups to discuss new techniques to improve the taste and texture of drinks. Would-be customers were turned away at the door. In Manhattan, at least, a few were left in the rain.
In his memo, Mr. Schultz mentioned the automated machines that grind coffee beans and spit out espresso with little human intervention. Those machines, regularly assailed by espresso fanatics, are a continuing sore point for the chain.
“The machine is really a tool,” Ann-Marie Kurtz, the company’s manager for global coffee and tea education, said in an interview. “Ultimately, the barista is still the artist.”
She said that baristas still control the quality of the espresso shot by adjusting the grind and also aerating the milk just so to make it appropriate for lattes and cappuccinos.
Ms. Kurtz said Tuesday night’s training was “not retraining as much as refining skills,” and she likened it to the staff of her favorite Italian restaurant returning to Italy every year to immerse themselves in authentic food.
On busy Lexington Avenue, a barista offered free drinks to the customers who had been refused entrance. Told of the company’s plans for rejuvenating its brand, one Manhattan resident said he was unimpressed.
“Honestly, I just want the coffee fast,” said Cameron Kemal, 16, a student at nearby Regis High School. “The stigma of a big chain doesn’t go away by making coffee slower.”
But a friend of his said the brewing techniques could make a difference. “When you see them pull a carton of something out of the refrigerator, it reminds me I’m paying $5 for a squirt of liquid and milk,” said Hannah Boyd, 16, who lives on the Upper East Side.
She helped herself to three free samples.