Starbucks was the brainchild of three Seattle academic types: Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker. Their idea was to sell gourmet coffee beans to the masses. The company was founded in 1971 and for 11 years that's just what they did, establishing a profitable niche business with a half dozen outlets in the Seattle area.

Everything changed though with the 1982 hiring of Howard Schultz as Starbucks head of Marketing. That same year he was sent as Starbucks representative to a trade show in Milan, Italy and there he had what he has called an epiphany. Witnessing for the first time the active cafe culture of Italy he got the idea of turning Starbucks into a European style "community" coffee house that focused on selling coffee drinks that could be consumed on site. His idea was rejected however by Jerry Baldwin who believed it tantamount to turning his back on the company's founding principles: they sold coffee beans dammit, not mocha latte double half caf frappuccino whatevers.

Frustrated by Baldwin's continued resistance Schultz set out on his own in 1986 and established the Il Giornale coffee house in Seattle, which became an immediate success. Nearly half the seed money for his new venture came from Starbucks itself. Baldwin and Bowduck (Zev Siegl had left the company in 1980) liked his idea, they just didn't like it as a direction for their company. With the success of Il Giornale Shultz was able in 1987 to raise $3.8 million from local investors and bought Starbucks outright. He re-branded his Il Giornale cafes with the Starbucks name and converted the existing Starbucks roasting shops into cafes. But he wasn't content to stop there. A major part of his pitch to investors had been his vision of taking Starbucks big and he quickly set out to do just that. By the end of the 80s there were 46 Starbucks in a growing number of cities and the quest to become the world's coffee house was well under way.

Today there are nearly 17,000 Starbucks in 55 countries across the globe and while the company went through a rough period that coincided with the global financial crisis things seem to have stabilized for them as of this writing.

(then) The original Starbucks in Seattle and (now) Starbucks in the Forbidden City, China