For most people, going into a Starbucks store and getting a cup of coffee is a pretty simple task, unless you customize it with espresso jargon like "double shot, non-fat, no whip, Venti latte." Many people don't think about what went into the hot cup of coffee in their hands, and getting it to them is more complicated than most realize. The production, preparation and delivery of coffee is, by its nature, an international process, as no coffee is grown in the continental United States, and Starbucks has had to develop procedures to not only protect our partners (the Starbucks name for its employees), but also the customers who visit our stores. These procedures cover everything from getting the green coffee to the shipping port to unloading the containers at their destination, from roasting and packaging the coffee to brewing and serving it to millions of customers.
Like most agricultural products, coffee must be grown on a farm. The world's second most traded commodity after oil, coffee grows best in an equatorial belt around the world between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, with the superior coffee that Starbucks buys growing best between 3,000 and 6,000 feet in altitude. Coffee comes in two varieties, Robusta and Arabica, with Arabica comprising about 60% of the world's coffee. Starbucks buys only Arabica beans, but despite its size, the company buys only two percent of the world's coffee.
Coffee beans are actually the pit of a small red cherry; and inside each cherry there are generally two coffee beans. Once the cherries are harvested in a painstaking hand selection process, the pulp is removed in one of two ways, depending on the region where they are grown: either by drying the cherries and putting them through a de-pulping grinder, or by washing the cherries and fermenting them for about a day. The de-pulped beans are then dried in mechanical dryers or on sun patios. From there, the green coffee is sewn into 150-pound burlap sacks, and the bagged coffee is placed in 20- or 40-foot cargo containers for shipping.
While it doesn't affect our partners or customers directly, having containers hijacked and stolen is a possibility and definitely affects our risk assessment, depending on the origin country of the coffee. In one instance, Starbucks received shipping containers at our roasting plant with the customs seals in place, yet when we opened the containers, we found that they were full of sand and cinder blocks to approximate the weight of full containers. Not only was our green coffee stolen in that instance, but Starbucks was required to have the substituted material tested for contamination before it was disposed of.