The Inventor of Frappuccinos Can't Stand Coffee Culture in America
An interview with George Howell reveals how he plans to reignite the coffee revolution
While coffee culture in America stretches from the ultra-premium coffee roasts from local roasters (i.e. Stumptown, Joe, the Art of Coffee, et al.) to the sugary-sweet coffees that taste more like candy than coffee, one man is looking to change that. And he's the inventor of the Starbucks Frappuccino.
While George Howell may not be a household name to all coffee connoisseurs out there, he is responsible for creating the mass-market, iced frappe drinks that dominate the Starbucks menu. A new interview with Howell from Boston magazine reveals how he plans to change the coffee culture in America once again.
The Frappuccino was born from Howell's desire to compete with Starbucks; he began to experiment with the West Coast's iced, blended espresso drinks and settled on the Frappuccino. Howell's coffee chain, the Coffee Chain, was Starbucks' first acquisition back in 1994, reports Janelle Nanos — and that included rights to the Frappuccino name. (Now, Frappuccino sales hit $2 billion in 2011.) Howell was paid $23 million for Coffee Connection and the Frappuccino; after Starbucks bought Coffee Chain, Howell began to focus on developing relationships with coffee farmers and pursuing his dream — a better coffee bean. Now, he owns an 8-year-old roastery, plans to open a flagship coffee shop in Boston, and travels the country to educate fellow coffee lovers on cupping and roasts.
While Howell never says explicitly that he hates the Frappuccino, he does reveal he eventually was pleased with the sale of the Frappuccino to refocus on his first passion: a good cup of coffee. "The Frappuccino... wasn't my life goal," Howell said in the interview. Nanos also notes he's "disdainful" of the coffee snobbery of café culture today. Ultimately, Howell hopes his coffee shop rivals a wine shop in terms of experience, tasting, and appreciation. We'll be interested to see how Howell revolutionizes coffee once again.