How Did Starbucks Coffee Get Its Name?
mobi-logo

Posted on 18 Jun 2015 03:09

The name Starbucks for a coffee shop is not exactly one you'd pull out of thin air. Maybe whoever started it was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica? No, more likely, whoever created the Starbuck character for Battlestar was a fan of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This was exactly where Starbucks Coffee got its name, as well.

Starbuck was the name of the first-mate of the whale-ship Pequod, the ship in Moby Dick. The background of the Starbucks Coffee founders would seem enough to suggest a connection to this literary classic. The company was started by three Seattle men, Gordon Bowker, Jerry Baldwin, and Zev Siegl. Bowker was a writer, Baldwin was an English teacher, and Siegl was a history teacher. They opened the first store in 1971, and called it Starbucks Coffee, Tea, and Spices.

This early store was a retail location that sold premium coffee beans, coffee equipment, and a drip coffee maker made by the Swedish company Hammarplast. They got their beans from Peet's, a coffee retail store founded in in Berkley California in 1966 by Alfred Peet. In fact, this first Starbucks store was simply an imitation of Peet's, with which the trio had been impressed. They ended up buying Peet's in 1984, and then decided to focus on the Peet's brand, selling Starbucks to Howard Schultz.

Schultz had been Starbucks's director of marketing in 1982. He thought that Starbucks should sell not only coffee beans but also espresso. The owners weren't interested, so Schultz left in 1985 to start his own coffee bar chain. Once he acquired Starbucks in 1987, he converted it into a coffee bar, and began rapidly expanding, turning the company into the huge force it is today.

Story of the Starbucks Name

It was Bowker, the writer, who came up with the name Starbucks. Bowker, looking at an old mining map of the Cascades and Mount Rainer area, saw a town called Starbo. It reminded him of the first-mate in Moby Dick. He liked the way the name sounded, even though it had nothing whatsoever to do with coffee. The three founders approved the name and added an "s" to make it sound better.

In their early advertising material, Starbucks referred to "the coffee-loving first mate named Starbuck. The Herman Melville Society took umbrage to this and contacted the company, telling them that Starbuck does not drink coffee anywhere in Moby Dick. Before you read all the way through Moby Dick again, trying to catch Starbuck enjoying a cuppa joe, it's true: He never drinks coffee in the book.

© 2016 by Eric Troy and CulinaryLore. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.