by Lizzie Norgard
Napkins have appeared on the suggestion board in Prentiss dining hall expressing students’ reactions to Starbucks coffee, which Bon Appetit now serves instead of the Pura Vida brand it has served since 2002.
Bon Appetit made the transition over the summer, and as Whitman students have returned to food service, the coffee change has been given mixed reviews.
“I am very disappointed in this recent decision by Bon Appetit,” said one student who preferred not to be named. “Pura Vida was 100% organic, fair trade coffee. The new Starbucks coffee only promises to purchase a certain amount of fair trade coffee, not 100%.” Expressing disapproval that Whitman would support such a “greedy company,” this student said: “It was my understanding that a few years ago, Whitman students lobbied to get Pura Vida coffee, and now it’s sad to see that their efforts have been turned around.” Other students have also expressed negative sentiments.
Roger Edens, general manager of Bon Appetit on the Whitman campus, explained the reason for the turn-around: “The main reason for the change is that we were having problems with quality and service with Pura Vida. Equipment would break down and the company would be slow to come out and fix it, and we received complaints from baristas, students and catering clients about the quality. We decided it was time for a change.” Edens explained that Bon Appetit did switch from Starbucks to Pura Vida several years ago, due to the efforts of a student group on campus demanding fair trade coffee. He said that they did not request Pura Vida specifically, but that students chose from several fair trade options. Edens said, “At the time Starbucks couldn’t provide fair trade coffee, but now that they do we aren’t compromising anything by going back.” In response to the objection that most of the coffee Starbucks purchases is not fair trade, Edens said, “It depends on how you look at it. The percentage of fair trade coffee may be small, but Starbucks is the biggest coffee purchaser in the world, and they provide more in pounds of fair trade coffee than any other coffee company.” Edens also said that while not all Starbucks coffee is fair trade, 100% of the coffee that Bon Appetit purchases from Starbucks for the Whitman campus is a fair trade blend.
Concern about fair trade is often at the heart of disagreements over whether or not Starbucks is ethically responsible. While some students have criticized Starbucks for purchasing only a small percentage of its coffee from fair trade suppliers (3.6%), others laud Starbucks’ support of small farming communities. Sophomore Chad Brizendine praised Starbucks’ economic assistance to farmers too poor for the fair trade label: “What Starbucks has found is that the best growers are small farming communities that are in foreign countries, and they don’t have a lot of money, so they can’t be fair trade certified.
So what Starbucks does is pay for the fair trade certification for the community, and they also give that money back to the community to build schools or to fund programs there.” He said that “Starbucks specifically is in the best position to provide benefits across the board in terms of industry and coffee shops.” He supports Bon Appetit’s decision to switch to Starbucks.
Besides the fair trade label, other factors such as employee benefits and taste influence students’ opinions about coffee companies. Another anonymous student said in an email that “[Starbucks is] one of the top corporations in the country in terms of employee benefits, so I want people to stop assuming that just because they are a big name that they are bad.” While approving of Starbucks’ corporate policies, this student bemoaned the taste of the Starbucks coffee served at Reid: “My only complaint as an avid Starbucks customer is that the Bon Appetit employees have not been trained as Starbucks baristas, and honestly although the beans are the same I can taste a difference and it’s not good.” Roger Edens responded to this dissatisfaction by assuring that Bon Appetit baristas will undergo training from Starbucks managers.
Although some may object that Starbucks coffee does not taste the same when brewed at the campus center, Reid barista Cheree Williams said that most students have responded positively to the new taste. Explaining that students used to complain about the taste of Pura Vida, and that many have preferred new drinks made from Starbucks coffee, she said, “I feel a lot better about serving it.”