TODAY is my last day at Starbucks. Nearly 20 years ago as a lowly barista-in-training, I didn't know a Sumatran roast from an Italian, or how the intense punch of a ristretto could make you weak in the knees. I was taught to be concerned about crema, mindful of macchiatos, and snobbish about steamed milk.
Since then, I’ve risen through the ranks to Regional Manager, supervising more than 100 bustling stores. I understand Starbucks’ essential place in today’s culture, but that influence is eroding along with the taste of our coffee.
Starbucks was once about bringing the spirit of a European café to America. I remember grinding organic beans while gossiping with neighborhood regulars. Now it’s all about cheap merchandising and gimmicky “Music Pick of the Week” cards.
I take pride in the perfect cup. I was voted “Employee of the Year” in 1998 and was the youngest barista to be promoted to Shift Supervisor in company history. These days, we have automated espresso machines and peddle Frappuccinos, one of the more toxic bastardizations of specialty coffee I’ve ever seen.
Now when I walk into a Starbucks, it makes me physically ill to hear green-aproned drones bitch about “drippers” (regular coffee drinkers) and Wi-Fi hoarders. Left to their own devices, these faux-baristas couldn’t make whole beans into a decent latte if their lives depended on it.
My proudest moments in life -- being voted “Most Likely to Jump on the Bandwagon” at West Seattle High, winning the U.S. Barista Championship, Northwest Division in 2001, running my first 10k at the age of 42 -- have come from my own blood, sweat and tears. I approach my work as I approach my life, and Starbucks is no longer the place to win, or even get a decent espresso.
No one seems to understand that eventually our customers will turn to something better than our bitter swill. My only hope is that my resignation will be a caffeinated jolt to the upper echelons: Remember your roots, or people may actually learn to make their own coffee drinks, cutting to the very heart of what makes us Americano.
John Valdess is resigning today as a Starbucks Regoinal Manager and head of the company’s United States coffee purification business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.