10 Things You Don't Know About Starbucks (But Should!)

Getty Images
Getty Images

Starbucks is the coffee icon people either love or love to hate. The Seattle company opened its first shop in 1971, and all these years later, the coffee giant is still brewing up addictive drinks and venti-sized controversy across the globe. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Starbucks.

1. It Could Have Been "˜Pequods'

Nothing says marketing genius like an extremely vague literary reference. At least that was the logic of Starbucks' original founders — two teachers and a writer — who chose to name their fledgling coffee bean business after a minor character in Moby-Dick.

When the first Starbucks opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market in 1971, it didn't sell coffee drinks, just beans. The founders wanted to name the place after Captain Ahab's first mate Starbuck. Right"¦ that guy. Before that, they considered naming it after Ahab's boat, the Pequod, but changed their mind — according to a Starbucks spokesperson — when a friend tried out the tagline "Have a cup of Pequod."

2. About That Logo...

At close inspection, the Starbucks logo makes no sense. At closer inspection, it makes even less sense, plus you risk dipping your nose in frap foam.

There's some lady with long hair wearing a crown and holding what appears to be two"¦ giant salmon? Decapitated palm trees? Miniature sand worms from Beetlejuice?

Conspiracy theorists have had a field day with the cryptic image. Anti-Semitic groups have claimed that the crowned maiden is the biblical Queen Esther, proving that Starbucks is behind various Zionist plots. Others see parallels to Illuminati imagery. The real story is less about evil conspiracies than prudish graphic design.

Since Starbucks was named after a nautical character, the original Starbucks logo was designed to reflect the seductive imagery of the sea. An early creative partner dug through old marine archives until he found an image of a siren from a 16th century Nordic woodcut. She was bare-breasted, twin-tailed and simply screamed, "Buy coffee!"

In the ensuing years, Starbucks marketing types decided to tastefully cover up the mer-boobs with long hair, drop the suggestive spread-eagle tail and give the 500-year-old sea witch a youthful facelift. The result? Queen Esther at Sea World.

3. "˜Want a Kidney With That?'

For three years, Annamarie Ausnes was just another Sharpie-scrawled name on a paper cup. She would stop by the same Tacoma, Washington, Starbucks a few times a week for a morning lift and make small talk with barista Sandie Andersen. No one would have called them friends. And no one could have guessed what would happen next.

For 20 years, Ausnes had suffered from polycystic kidney disease, a rare condition that invariably ends in kidney failure. In the fall of 2007, the 55-year-old started feeling weak and her doctor confirmed that her kidneys were only operating at 15%. Any lower and she'd have to go on dialysis. Much like a barroom regular spilling his soul to the bartender, Ausnes shared her sad tale with the friendly barista Andersen, who went above and beyond the call of customer service. Andersen immediately got a blood test, and when she found out she was a match, told Ausnes that she wanted to donate her kidney. A few months later, the two women -- barista and casual professional acquaintance -- entered the Virginia Mason Medical Center to swap internal organs. The transplant was a success, leaving the only remaining question: how much of a tip do you leave for a kidney?

4. A Starbucks on Every Corner

There are over 16,700 Starbucks locations in more than 50 countries, including Wales, which we're pretty sure isn't a country (update: it is a country). During a particularly heady period in the late 1990s and early aughts, Starbucks was opening a new store every workday.

In 2008 and 2009, as millions of Starbucks customers lost their latte money — and their homes, cars and first born children — to the recession, the coffee giant was forced to shrink just a tad. It closed 771 stores worldwide and has plans to close a couple hundred more. Australia was particularly hard-hit, losing 61 of its 84 Starbucks in July 2008. At least they still have giant beer and koalas.

But before you start feeling sorry for the Seattle-based mega-company, consider this statistic gathered by Harper's magazine in 2002, confirming the nagging suspicion that Starbucks is stalking you: 68 of Manhattan's 124 Starbucks are located within two blocks (!) of another Starbucks. [Image credit: Starbucks Everywhere]

5. Hand in the Tip Jar

Back in 2008, a San Diego judge ordered Starbucks to pay back $86 million in tips (plus interest) to over 100,000 of its California baristas. For years, Starbucks had a policy of spreading the tip jar love among all employees, even shift supervisors. The cash and coins (and occasional Skittles) were pooled weekly and divvied out according to how many hours the employee had clocked, adding up to an extra $1.71 an hour.

An ex-barista filed a class-action suit in 2006 citing that supervisors aren't entitled to tips under California law. The Super Court judge agreed, and dropped the $105 million bomb on Starbucks in a curt four-paragraph ruling. Starbucks called the suit "fundamentally unfair and beyond all common sense and reason," citing the fact that supervisors also make coffee and serve customers.

In a rare win for corporate American (ahem), the judge's ruling was reversed a year later by the Court of Appeals, who agreed that supervisors "essentially perform the same job as baristas." Just don't tell that to their girlfriends.

6. Who's "˜So Vain' Now?

Carly Simon is famous for her transparently personal "you-done-me-wrong" ballads in which unnamed exes like Cat Stevens and James Taylor drag her heart through the dirt. But few people expected the 64-year-old crooner to lavish the same overwrought emotion on Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.

In 2009, Simon filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming the coffee chain had failed to adequately promote her album This Kind of Love, produced and distributed by Starbucks' house label, Hear Music. But before she called her lawyer, Simon sent a series of handwritten notes to CEO Schultz, including the following quasi-Haiku quoted in the New York Times: "Howard, Fraud is the creation of Faith/ And then the betrayal. Carly."

For its part, Starbucks said it stocked Simon's CD at over 7,000 stores, put it on heavy rotation in the droning Starbucks soundtrack and even kept the slow-selling album on the shelves way past its expiration date just to be "nice." In the end, it was Starbucks' vice president of brand content Chris Bruzzo who ended up sounding like a Carly Simon song:

"We're very disappointed that Carly has decided to file this suit because we worked very hard and put a lot of time, and energy, and effort from the music team and thousands of stores behind giving this album its best shot in finding its audience," Bruzzo said. Put a samba beat to that and he's got something.

7. "˜Forbidden' Latte

When a Starbucks affiliate opened a 200-square-foot coffee stand inside the walls of China's Forbidden City in 2000, the proud nation of 1.3 billion reacted as if someone had spilled a Venti Caramel Macchiato on its collective crotch.

A nationwide survey found that 70% of Chinese thought that a coffee shop had no business in the 600-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site. A news anchor on China's state-run television even led an online protest to the caffeinated intruder, saying that Starbucks "undermined the Forbidden City's solemnity and trampled over Chinese culture."

Turns out that Starbucks only opened the mini-outpost at the invitation of Forbidden City Museum officials who were "testing the waters" for more commercial interests in the 178-acre site. The test concluded that the waters were teeming with coffee-hating Chinese sharks. In 2007, the Forbidden City Starbucks (OK, that does sound a little funny) closed its tiny bamboo doors.

8. Undercover Bux

The owner of Victrola Coffee Roasters in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle knew something was brewing when a team of known Starbucks employees started hanging out at his shop and scribbling notes into a conspicuous folder labeled "OBSERVATIONS."

A few months later, the Starbucks outlet down the street closed up for renovations. The "slutty mermaid" sign came down and a new one went up: 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. Did someone actually buy out a Starbucks in Seattle? Was this a rare victory for little coffee? What do you think?

This was Starbucks being Starbucks without being Starbucks. The hope is that brand-averse hipsters will ignore the obvious Starbuckiness of the new store and concentrate on the new wine and beer selection (inspired by Victrola). Plans are in the works for additional stealth Starbucks in Seattle.

9. Reading Material

Back in the '90s, Starbucks tried to sell a paper version of Microsoft's online magazine Slate, which nobody read. In 1997, it started stocking selections from Oprah's Book Club, which nobody bought. And in 1999, it tried to publish its very own literary magazine called Joe, a convincingly high-brow, well-written, stylish rag that only lasted three issues.

10. The Starbucks-Peet's Connection

Remember the first time you saw The Empire Strikes Back? Luke's right hand goes hurdling down that bottomless vent thingy, he's holding on for his life, and Vader is going on about the power of the Dark Side. Then he drops the shocker-to-end-all-shockers: "I am your father." NOOOOOOOOOOO!

All you Peet's Coffee & Tea fans are about to have your own one-hand Luke moment. Back in 1970, Starbucks co-founder Jerry Baldwin worked at the original Berkeley location of Peet's, the creator of the American specialty coffee concept. When Baldwin and his buddies Zev Siegel and Gordon Bowker decided to open their own coffee shop in Seattle in 1971, they bought all their raw beans from Alfred Peet.

But here's the kicker. Baldwin actually bought Peet's in 1984, then he sold Starbucks in 1987. He was the chairman of Peet's until 2001 when the store went public and he became the director. In other words, "Peet's, I am your father!"

So if you're one of those people who hates Starbucks and loves Peet's Coffee & Tea or one of those people who hates Peet's and loves the bux, it turns out you're only hating yourself.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER