The History of Starbucks Logo and a Look at The Company

The History of Starbucks Logo and The Business

For a staggering number of people across the world, each morning begins with a cup of steaming brew from the world’s most popular coffee chain—Starbucks. Since 1971, Starbucks has been serving up dozens of espresso infused drinks to customers everywhere. It’s a level of success that the three college classmates who started the chain could have only dreamed of. Yet in the face of all this success, it’s easy to forget the humble beginnings of Starbucks and the interesting history of their ever-recognizable logo.

The Origins of Starbucks

Few people would guess that a chain as large and as successful as Starbucks, one that brought in over $21.3 billion dollars in 2016, was founded by three men with almost no business experience between them. Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher), Zev Siegel (a history teacher) and Gordon Bowker (a writer) came together to open the first Starbucks store in Seattle, Washington in 1971. Oddly enough, though, the first Starbucks store didn’t sell any brewed coffee. Instead, the original vision of Bowker, Siegel, and Baldwin, three friends who had studies together at the University of San Francisco, was to sell bags of roasted coffee beans. After a man named Alfred Peet taught the three founders of Starbucks his signature style of roasting coffee beans, the three men were inspired to start a company that offered the beans to the general market. Needing a name for their new company, the entrepreneurs turned to history for inspiration. After one of them found an old mining map with a town name “Starbo” on it, the name Starbucks was born.

For almost fifteen years, Starbucks didn’t sell any espresso coffee. In fact, the only coffee that the company offered at all on-location was free samples of what their signature coffee beans tasted like when they were brewed. During these early years, Starbucks sourced green coffee beans from Alfred Peet’s company, Peet’s, roasted them in the style that Alfred Peet had developed, and offered them for sale in the store. In spite of offering only this one product, the chain was a success, and by 1986 Starbucks had opened up six different locations in Seattle. One year later, the original owners sold the company to a former manager named Howard Schultz, and it was Schultz who would go on to rapidly expand Starbucks into the business it is today, turning it from a coffee bean chain to the coffee product chain that we now know.

Starbucks is largely credited with starting the business model known as “second wave coffee”. Before Starbucks, there weren’t hardly any chains that offered coffee as their primary product. Plenty of restaurants sold coffee, but it was merely an addition to the other items on their menu and not the main focus of the company. In most cases, these coffee products were rather simple in their ingredients and had more in common with a pot of coffee that you might brew at home than they did with the wide range of coffees that you’ll find if you visit a Starbucks today. Starbucks, however, saw a need in the market for a chain that focused specifically on coffee and offered a wide range of coffees that customers would have a difficult time brewing on their own from home.

Today, “third wave coffee” has begun to enjoy a large degree of success. “third wave coffee” companies focus more on high-quality, handmade coffees, and most “third wave coffee” shops are locally owned businesses rather than large chains. Starbucks, however, continues to make use of automated machines to produce their coffee for both efficiency and safety reasons. Nevertheless, being the first chain to employ the “second wave coffee” model allowed Starbucks to quickly enjoy a massive amount of success – success that they still enjoy to this day even with the growing popularity of locally owned coffee shops that offer handmade coffees.

Being one of the first coffee-centric chains enabled Starbucks to rapidly grow their business. By 1992 the company had 140 locations. At this point, it’s said that the company was roasting a total of 2,000,000 pounds of coffee beans each year. Starting in 1996 Starbucks began to expand into the international market, opening their first store outside of North America in Tokyo, Japan. Today, Starbucks operates more than 25,000 stores in 70 different countries.

While the quality of the coffee that they offer no doubt played an incredibly large role in Starbuck’s growth and success, the marketing approach that the company took was instrumental in their success as well. Known for their mobile marketing prowess, Starbucks was one of first companies to fully embrace the digital era, selling coffees through their app and even going as far as to sell gift cards through a Twitter hashtag. While this cutting-edge use of technology played a significant role in the company’s expansion, it wasn’t the only successful marketing approach that Starbucks has employed – the reorganizability of the unique Starbucks logo has played a significant role in their success as well, helping the company raise awareness of its brand across the world and creating an image for the brand that customers are able to immediately recognize. And it turns out that the history of the Starbucks logo is every bit as interesting as the history of the company itself.

History of the Starbucks Logo

It wasn’t long after the first Starbucks opened its doors in Seattle that the founders knew they were going to need a good logo. Wanting to capture the seafaring history of coffee as well Seattle’s own close connection to the sea, they scoured through old marine books until finally they came across a 16th century Norse woodcut of a two-tailed siren. It was this image that they would use to design the first rendition of the Starbucks logo. Over the years the logo has evolved along with the company, but its basic elements have stayed the same, with the two-tailed siren always taking center stage.

Interestingly enough, the siren is a choice that has drawn some criticism from some thanks to its unflattering parallels. In Greek mythology, the siren is a creature who lures sailors in with what is described as “an irresistibly sweet” voice, only to viciously devour them once they came close. Some think that Starbucks chose the logo because it symbolizes obsession, addiction, and entrapment and given how hopelessly addicted so many are to their favorite Starbucks brew it’s not so wild a theory. Nevertheless, the Starbucks logo remains an incredibly popular icon and a driving force behind the company’s worldwide success.

Design Elements of the Starbucks Logo

Unlike some logos which remain almost unchanged over the years, the Starbucks logo is one that has undergone a few revisions. Today the design consists of a black and white two-tailed siren wearing a starred crown and framed around a green circle in which the words “Starbucks Coffee” are written.

It’s an incredibly recognizable logo that people are able to immediately identify without even having to really notice the details of the design itself.

Popularity of the Starbucks Logo

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and the small bit of controversy surrounding the meaning of the Starbucks logo has certainly earned it a good deal of popularity and attention. A simple internet search of the history of the Starbucks logo reveals dozens of articles written about its questionable message.

All controversy aside, the Starbucks logo has seen plenty of popularity in other forms as well. For starters, it appears on most every cup of the estimated four million cups of coffee that chain sells each day. Towering signs with the only the logo on them also serve to flag down would-be customers and effectively advertise a shop’s location.


Best of all for the company, the Starbucks logo quickly became a symbol of status. Bryant Simon, author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning About America From Starbucks tells a story of how people would used to sometimes carry around their empty Starbucks cup just to show off their taste and socioeconomic class. Simon says that, “They wanted people to see them with the cup. Through the intervention of users, Starbucks was able to make that cup shorthand for someone who was discerning, sophisticated and had enough money to waste on coffee.”

Fueled from this association with good taste and a healthy spending account, the Starbucks coffee cup and its famous logo soon began to see appearances in film and television. Carrie Bradshaw could be seen drinking from a Starbucks cup in Sex and the City,  and the cup made multiple appearances in The Devil Wears Prada with Andrea brining it in to her wickedly cruel boss each morning.

All of this positive association and appearances in pop culture serve as a testament to the power that a good logo can have, especially when combined with a solid marketing plan. The history of the Starbucks logo is one that is rich with success, serving as a great example for fledgling companies to imitate when choosing a logo of their own.