If you are a regular at Starbucks you may have noticed that the baristas across all Starbucks outlets usually wear green aprons. This would make sense considering the brand color is green. But if you have a keen eye and are not rushing about your day after getting your daily dose of caffeine, you may have noticed that sometimes the baristas are wearing black aprons. You may have not thought much of it and assumed it was just a personal choice of that particular employee. Or you may have been bothered that the uniformity that the green apron provided to Starbucks stores was messed up.
Worry not, turns out corporate chains don’t leave much to chance and everything that goes on has a special meaning. There are actually more than just the green apron with the Starbucks logo on it. There are several colors and each one has a special meaning. The aprons serve as more than just a practical way to keep the baristas’ clothes clean. When Starbucks first opened in 1971, the employees behind the counter wore brown aprons since they worked with whole-bean coffee every day. Besides the Starbucks logo was also brown at the time.
“When I started, we had just four stores and were wearing cutoffs and flip-flops,” William Stiles who was a part-time clerk in Starbucks Capitol Hill store in 1982 said, according to the Starbucks website. “I remember the first time I ground a bag of beans, the sensory overload of the aroma of the coffee was intoxicating. I just loved it. It was the coolest thing I had ever done.” Howard Schultz then joined the company as executive chairman. A few years later, by 1987, Starbucks was at 17 different locations and had changed the way the stores presented themselves. They started serving handcrafted coffee and espresso beverages inspired by Italian coffeehouses.
This was the first time the green apron came to be. They were paired with crisp white shirts and black bow ties in a very Italian style. The stores even had classical music and instrumental jazz playing. Michelle Dougherty, from Starbucks retail operations and was a barista in San Jose, California, in the 1990s, said, “We wore our green apron with white, black and khaki. I remember that your top layers always had to be the same color, you couldn’t wear a black polo shirt with a white one underneath. We were excited on the 25th anniversary when we got to wear jeans and tie-dye shirts.” She recalled the simplicity of the dress code in the past.
It was also in the 90s that Starbucks introduced black aprons to signify special designation for partners certified in coffee knowledge. This later went on to be known as the Coffee Master program for partners. The Coffee Master program acknowledges a partner’s knowledge and skill with the special designation of the black apron after they pass written and taste tests. So now you know that you can put all your faith in the person with a black apron when it comes to serving your daily dose of caffeine. Not only that, but you should also keep an eye out for other apron colors.
The rare purple apron is reserved for barista champions and the pale blue aprons were introduced for the launch of Frappuccino Happy Hour. Different countries have different traditions. In the US the holiday season would mean red aprons and of course the signature Starbucks red holiday cups. In the Netherlands, special orange aprons are worn to celebrate King’s Day. Dougherty added that “We have really embraced diversity while staying true to who we are,” about the dress code evolution that includes more freedom of expression and a wider range of colors and patterns.