Semi Shop Hop, Potential Collaboration

I recently met with the communications director, Mia at Think Coffee (November 20, 2017). I had reached out to earlier about a project I’m starting (Cup Switch). She was super receptive to the idea. We set up a meeting at the 8th Avenue store. Here’s a little excerpt of my experience

A few minutes after noon. I walk into a lively, large store (the cover picture is deceptive!) and approach the barista asking if Mia is in. The barista tells me she doesn’t think so. I tell her I have a meeting at 12:30 and had received a message Mia was there. A senior barista steps in, offers to go downstairs and check.

I move off to the side, wait a few minutes. I take a double look at someone standing in line. It’s a friend I had texted earlier. I call out his name as I walk over to meet him. We hug. He offers to get me something. I tell him I’m fine with my water, but touched by his gesture.

“She’s not here” I hear the senior barista tell me. I’m guessing Mia will come in at 12:30 when we originally had planned to meet.

My friend and I decide we’ll catch up in the meantime. I spot a free bar table near the back and we head there. He just got married. I started Cup Switch. We have a lot to catch up on.

Midway through conversation, a woman with short bleached hair, contrasted with dark roots, and those trendy clear glasses walks up and asks me if I’m there for the meeting. We introduce ourselves and I give her a few minutes to go and get ready.

Ten to fifteen minutes later, Mia returns. Though not physically tall, she has a certain presence that makes you forget that fact. “I’m ready when you are” she announces, sitting down at the bar table behind me. My friend says he’ll do some work and that we can talk later, so I swing around and begin conversation with Mia.

Oddly, I feel more like I’m meeting with a friend, catching up on things. We start off talking about her recent trip with her sister to Connecticut, talking about the travel time. I eventually get around to telling her my background and interest in helping to support NYC meet its 2030 zero waste goal.

I notice Mia has a small little turquoise for-here cup with black coffee. “Good job!” I point to her drink. She smiles. “We’re going to get a long” I think.

Talking more with Mia reinforces this thought. She’s aware of all the waste with cups – even though they use compostable cups, people still throw them out. In the store, most people are sitting with disposable cups I notice, not unlike my observation from the other time I visited the Broadway store. I mention the cost of this, the waste generated and the amount of inventory this takes – she knows.

We start talking about ways Think could improve their operations. Though my intention for this meeting was to see if Think wanted to be part of this other pilot project I’m working on, participating in a loyalty program for an app being used in a corporation, I start to realize there is an opportunity to do almost what I’ve been doing with blogging, but work with them over a sustained period of time – enough to make a change. This partnership (for lack of a better word) can be documented, content can be shared on social media to show the transformation of Think Coffee and used as a model for other stores wanting to become zero waste.

We are both excited by the prospect of this idea. We talk about the various approaches, like more signage, such as advertising the 25 cent discount for bringing your own cup, and engaging customers on social media by producing content to bring awareness about issues of waste.

Mia tells me she’s from the West Coast. I grew up out there too. We have a moment. We get the eco-mentality. She then comments on her insight about living on the East Coast, at least in NYC. She says it’s almost  like people are proud to be wasteful – continual disposal of things gives a sense of affluence, luxury, like you can afford to waste.

An hour passes. We emerge from our engaging discussion on the potential for change and how we can achieve that. I’m on a high from the excitement. I can tell Mia feels inspired as well.

We plan to meet again after the holidays, when she’s had the opportunity to present the ideas to her boss. I’m looking forward to this partnership and being able to share the progress that is made.


*I went to Greenpoint later that week on the Sunday. I was leaving one of the piers, speaking on the phone with a friend who is helping to document the Cup Switch process. We were talking about possible video content we might make with Think Coffee. Right after I hung up, I passed by a holiday market and decided to go in. As I moved towards the back, I saw a woman with dark-haired roots contrasted with bleach blond tips. I recognized the face. It was Mia! She does a pottery gig on the side – Paperclip Pottery – and was selling her work (which are great Christmas gifts btw ;). Life is funny, isn’t it.

Coffee Shop Hop #12 – Update!

Starbucks, New York (Delancey Street). This Shop Hop wasn’t intentional. I live with a Chinese family – the mother, doesn’t speak English very well and from what I gathered through back and forth translation with her children for almost a half an hour, she either forgot to and/or decided not to pay because her family didn’t use the service that much. Long story short, I needed internet so decided I’d work from the neighborhood Starbucks. Let me disclose something. I used to work at Starbucks. When I was living in Toronto, I had previously lived in Washington state where this  giant coffee company was born. To me, working there helped with the nostalgia of the West Coast.

So here is the hop session and how I switched from work to investigatory mode.

I see a free spot at the wooden high table overlooking the street. I’ll take that, thank you! I make eye contact with a man sporting a full beard, wearing dark frame glasses and a blue shirt. It’s a brief encounter, he then immediately turns back to his laptop and I look in the direction of where I’ll be parking myself for some time. Sometimes I feel I should talk and connect with someone – I felt that but didn’t.

I don’t see a single for-here cup. That’s strange. When I worked as a barista, the first things that would come out of my mouth after taking an order were, “would you like that for-here?” Not everyone would – they’d want to walk around (I worked at a shop in a bookstore), but some people would say yes who otherwise would have accepted a paper cup.

I’ve been here for a while. I feel I should buy something. I walk up to the counter when surprisingly only one other person is there (it’s a heavy traffic store). The baristas are laughing and enjoying themselves. I straight up tell them I’m working and would like to get something because I’m using their space. I ask for a short drip. The barista taking my order grabs a paper cup – I stop him mid grab. “Can I have it in a for-here cup?” The barista says they don’t have them. “You don’t have for-here cups?!” I exclaim in disbelief. I’m aware Starbucks has a whole slew of things about environmental responsibility.

Veering off from the hop here to share a few things I found researching “Starbucks sustainability”.

Starbucks worked with the United States Green Building Council to develop the LEED (Leadership in Environment and Energy and Design) Retail Program, which is essentially an evaluation system of building environmental performance (e.g., assessing things like building sites, energy consumption, and materials and resources). According to their website they have over 1000 LEED certified stores – the first of which included things like tables made from coffee grinds, using at least 10% of materials sourced from 500 miles (reminds me of the 300 mile rule limit Richard has for sourcing at Terremoto), and reducing over 45% lighting power with LED lighting.

This is great, but it’s not specifically about operations related to consumers. Then I came across this article, Greener Cup. It outlines Starbucks’s efforts to reduce waste, including recycling and promoting reusable cups etc., and highlights a challenge they are facing. As they put it,

Despite these efforts, we have learned that widespread behavior change is unlikely to be driven by one company alone. We will continue to explore new ways to reduce our cup waste but ultimately it will be our customers who control whether or not we achieve continued growth in the number of beverages served in reusable cups.

So at the corporate level, they get cups are a major waste contributor, but are expressing the need for cooperation from the consumer – a bottom-up approach is needed. This is where the strategizing seems to stop. I think this is because it’s not clear who it is that needs to step up to the plate and take action (e.g., the people, profit/non-profit organizations, local governments etc.). I agree work needs to be done at this lower level, but like I mentioned in my previous post a proper communication structure between bottom and top levels is also needed. This is something that I’m working on at the moment – Cup Switch (website forthcoming – progress can be followed on Instagram @cupswitch).

Ok. Back to the shop hop.

I tell the barista I’d like to get something because I’m working there, but I can’t accept it in a paper cup (it would be sacrilege). They don’t have anything to serve the coffee in for me. After realizing I wont be having coffee, I tell them I can leave the store if they like. The barista is really nice, and in that “don’t be silly” kind of way tells me it’s totally fine to stay.

Another two hours pass. I’m meeting someone in an hour and need to get my carrier service for my new iPhone before that (yes, I’ve now entered the modern world!). I pack up, and go up to the counter to get the manager’s contact details. He happens to be there. “The guy in the black apron” a barista sweeping the floor tells me. I introduce myself. His name is Dylan. He has an agreeable personality. I confront him about the cup issue, asking why they don’t have for-here cups. He tells me he has been trying to get some special mettle stand for the espresso bar to place cups on that meets Starbucks’s standards – they want them on the bar so customers can see them. I query further, asking why can’t they be ordered and stored somewhere else; baristas can still offer these cups in the meantime. I see he realizes that is a possibility, but I also gather there is backlog trying to get things approved and can appreciate the challenge of balancing store priorities.

I explain how having for here-cups could save costs on trash pick up. He says that’s a corporate expense so doesn’t immediately affect him. In this situation, I actually think it would be good for stores to pay for this expense, or at least be aware of it to help encourage managers to take greater responsibility for their store waste.

My attention has been directed to the condiment stand at the front of the store several times. I’ve seen someone pour coffee down the trash – right now I see a plastic water bottle brimming over the top. That pains me.

Dylan says there’s a recycling bin, pointing to the back of the store. Around this bin are line dividers, which are also used to keep people from going into an area. “What kind of message is this sending people in the store?” I think. Also, “Who the heck sees this?” I tell Dylan I’ve been in the store for almost 4 hours and wasn’t aware of the bin. If customers are already at the condiment stand, why are they going to walk all the way to the back to recycle something – that’s if they’re even aware of it. Also, how do they know what they can recycle? There’s no information displaying what can and can’t be put into the bin.

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As I was leaving the store, I thought about asking Dylan to remove the dividers around the recycling bin. I didn’t because I think I gave it to him pretty hard about not having for-here cups and he was trying his best to be accommodating. He even asked at one point if I drank cold coffee and offered to me, on the house, one of their plastic reusable cups. I thanked him but declined.

For the new direction I’m going in, I’ve thought about approaching Starbucks, potentially for sponsorship. I see that they want to “become the world’s greenest retailer” and are working to “promote and incent the use of “for here” and reusable cups”. These goals are aligned with the Cup Switch mission.


*UPDATE! November 15, 2017.

Since writing this, the store manager made an effort to respond to my concerns. I wanted to share this because I think it illustrates how change can be made by speaking up and creating a dialogue – discussion in this way may “tip” (I’m reading Melcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point right now) people to move in the direction they have intentions of going. Below is a snippet of the email I got from the store manager a few days ago.

I wanted to let you know that this passed weekend we put in a statement to get the rail guards for the espresso machines to display the for here cups. However regardless if approved or not we will be receiving for here cups this Sunday! I am definitely excited about that and happy to say you can now enjoy your beverage in a ceramic cup! I am also planning on relocating the recycling bin to a more noticeable location and will be ordering a surplus of reusable cups in efforts to up sell.

Well done Dylan!

Original visit November 3, 2017. Didn’t do a bathroom inspection.

Coffee Shop Hop #11

Black Brick, Brooklyn. Is there some tropical storm going on? I enter a glass door drenched, looking as if I’ve stepped out of a shower. Later on my bathroom inspection, I see my mascara has smeared across the side of my face. Nice. The state I’m in, it takes me a few minutes to get my bearings.

Two baristas are behind the counter. I make eye contact with them as I enter, saying I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m looking for a friend, Roman, a tall blond haired guy I met at the NAG Gala. We connected with our shared interest in sustainability and after going on for a bit, we thought it’d be good to find a time to meet, both admitting we could go on for hours.

I head to the back of the shop looking for Roman. Don’t see him. I put my stuff on a table and take a 360 degree look around. There’s this guy that might be him at the front of the shop. While I’m debating in my head whether to approach him, and seeing the scenarios of what will happen if it’s not him, I just decide “screw this” and go over. He’s looking down, deeply engaged in a book. “Roman?” I ask. His face lifts up, staring at me in confusion. Nope! “Sorry” I say, telling him I thought he might be someone I know and at the same time trying to subdue my embarrassment.

I walk back to my table. I then see an email from Roman. He’s at Devoción – where I did my first coffee shop hop. We were supposed to meet at Black Brick around 2:30. I arrived after 4. He had been there since then and moved to Devoción for a change of scenery.

I’m fighting internally whether to go home (I’m drenched and tired) or stay. Recently, I’ve been challenging myself to say yes to the opportunities before me, rather than dismissing them and thinking I’ll do it another time. No, the time to do something is now.  So I decide to stay to finish the coffee shop hop. I let Roman know I’ll be there for a little bit but not to worry about coming by.

I do the bathroom inspection first. TP has an eco-friendly certification. Paper towels are brown – they look eco. I don’t know the deal with the hand soap, but appears to be something cheap you could pick up at any general grocery store – not specifically selected for it’s environmental friendliness.

I’m back at the table with my things. I finally enter my observation mode. Vintage is the vibe of the place. Everything, from furniture to the interior seems to be up-cycled – nothing is new. The ceiling particularly captures my attention. It’s made of old crates. Lamps are birdcages. There’s some typewriters (I also saw these at Brooklyn Roasting Company and  Toby’s – I guess people like the nostalgia).

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It’s a Sunday, so not sure if this is the typical crowd (I’m later told more tourist come through here on weekends and their regulars during week days). The crowd here is younger – I’d say 20s- 30s.

I finally decide to go up and talk to the barista. It’s just one guy working now. He’s got dark hair and eyes. As he’s talking to me, he is taking tea out of a glass jar – it looks like cannabis buds. I redirect my mind to focus on what he’s saying. At first, I don’t sense too much enthusiasm by him about the topic despite his willingness to chat with me. He tells me the place does not really attract overly concerned sustainable people – it’s a “cheap” coffee shop (I see drip starts at $2) – it’s more for the experience. The barista also informs me this isn’t really the mindset of the owner.

I notice most people at tables have paper and plastic cups, although there are a few people with ceramic. They use regular paper and plastic cups. I’m told they try to recycle paper cups. I interject saying that the wax/plastic lining sometimes interferes with the ability to recycle. He says they’ve been doing it and haven’t had any complaints from their carter. I’m told that because of the recent law that was passed, requiring now small businesses to recycle, they can only dispose of things two times a week. This is starting to give them appreciation for the amount of waste they produce.

I explain my thoughts about disposable culture and an interest to shift/create change – he seems to get the challenge and uses the phrase “out of sight, out of mind“. That’s exactly it. If people don’t see their waste, they don’t have the opportunity to realize what their contributing to.

The barista seems a lot more skeptical than other baristas I’ve met about behavior change. I get it. I also like hearing other perspectives, particularly where there is doubt or uncertainty. This is going to be where the greatest challenge lies – I think I had a bias sample, going to places where there’s more awareness about sustainability.

Roman walks in. The engine of inquiring has started. I give him a hug and explain I’m asking questions for my blog. He cordially tells me it’s fine and he’ll do some work while I finish up.

I continue talking with the barista, bringing up the idea of a loyalty program across stores. He mentions other local chains, like Joe Coffee (on my list!), Gregorys (heard the name – should check them out), and Cafe Grumpy – when they start doing things, other smaller shops seem to follow. So it would be good to start with them. The implication I’m getting from the barista is that this isn’t guerrilla warfare: bigger coffee stores, changes higher up in the industry need to guide consumer behavior. I have mixed feelings about this. I think both need to be tackled, and also a solid communication structure between higher (corporate) and lower (consumer) levels needs to be in place.

They don’t do cup discounts. Grinds are thrown out in the waste. They were, until recently, putting grinds in a bin without plastic liners (mostly just because of logistics, not really out of trying to be sustainable) but there was something about FDA regulations and now they’re back using plastic bags.

The barista makes a reference to a Texan company, bio-bean. I check out their website later – looks like they collect coffee grinds to make bio fuels. Cool!

The one thing the barista is aware of that is sustainable is the coffee packaging from Stumptown. I learned about that on my Coffee Shop Hop #5.

I asked the barista about the music – it’s almost contrasting to the interior of the place I say. It’s House. The particular songs playing seem to belong in a store with a clean, modern feel, accented with steel counter and table tops. Here I’d expect more indie rock or folk to be playing. The barista tells me he plays House because it’s “uplifting” and not “sad” like some of the other music that gets played throughout the week.

At the end of the discussion, I notice the barista is more animated and engaging in the conversation. I am given some of the drip. I bring this back to where Roman is sitting. Several hours pass talking with Roman. We share a lot of common perspectives about waste and both at a place in life trying to zero in on our calling. We plan to meet again. He has a few places he frequents – he suggests one in Park Slope for next time.

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Regardless of the sustainability issues, the atmosphere of this place is chill and pleasant for meeting up with people. I’d go Black, but I’d like to see them Brick up their game. I think they could push harder by offering for-here cups. Also, because they are a smaller store, I think there could be an opportunity to partner with a local community garden to donate coffee grinds rather than throwing them away. I understand offering reusable cup discounts is financially difficult, but in the future, they could join a rewards system that connects to many coffee shops (something I’m interested in developing), which would pool resources and allow them to offer things like free drinks (I haven’t fully expanded upon this idea, but wanted to toss it out there because things are moving fast in the background and this chapter of the investigation process may be coming to a close soon).


Original visit October 29, 2017.