How To Decipher The Secret 'Color Code' Of Starbucks Aprons

There's no denying that Starbucks is one of the most recognizable chains in the world. With over 15,000 stores in the U.S. alone and another 20,000 in locations around the globe, it's hard not to take notice of this coffee giant seemingly lurking around every corner.

Most of us can picture that specific shade of green that's come to represent the company. After all, it's not just the color of their iconic siren logo, but also the color of the aprons their employees sport as they pour our coffees, make our espressos, and craft our complicated orders. But while it's the most prevalent, that Starbucks green isn't the only color of apron you'll see at their stores.

In fact, there are more variations of the Starbucks apron than you may think. Sometimes a black or red apron will be zooming around behind the counter, or even an orange one if you're in certain parts of the world. Sometimes you'll spot one embroidered with an American flag or a rare purple apron. So what do they all mean? Here's how to decode them.

What each apron color signifies at Starbucks

According to Starbucks, when the first store opened in Pike's Place in 1971 the employees sported practical brown grocer's aprons (the same shade as the original logo). But in 1987 the company started serving handcrafted coffee and espresso drinks, and with that released the iconic green aprons we know today — along with the updated logo. That's still the standard apron that most Starbucks employees wear, so that's the color you'll see the most. But what about the others?

The black apron dates back to the 1990s when Starbucks designated this color to those that had successfully completed their Coffee Master program. "It's also an indicator they've been with Starbucks a while because the program has been cut," a current Starbucks partner tells Mental Floss. So a black apron indicates a specialized level of knowledge — think of it as the black belt of coffee.

Red aprons were introduced later in the '90s when they first released their iconic red holiday cups; so, fittingly, red symbolizes a celebration of the holidays. If you find yourself in the Netherlands, you might see special orange aprons in stores to celebrate the country's National King's Day. If you ever spot a pale blue apron, that one was created to celebrate Frappuccino Happy Hour. The purple apron (even more rare) indicates a "barista champion." You'll also notice different aprons behind the counters at Starbucks Reserve locations: tan colored with a special Reserve logo.

There are special embroidered aprons at Starbucks, too

Starbucks aprons don't just show up in color variations. Some include special embroidered elements to signify a milestone or recognize something specific about an employee. For example, Starbucks employees that are either veterans or military spouses will don aprons with an embroidered American flag.

At a specific store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, employees wear aprons with "Starbucks" embroidered in sign language, dedicated to Starbucks partners that are deaf or hard of hearing. The company also has a College Achievement Program that provides 100% tuition for some employees. Those that graduate from this program receive an apron with an embroidered mortarboard.

If you see an apron embroidered with the employee's name, that might also be an indication of some level of seniority. "It costs money to embroider an apron," the same Starbucks employee ("M") tells Mental Floss, "so managers won't likely put a name on an apron unless that person seems unlikely to be part of turnover." So next time you walk into a Starbucks, take note of the aprons you see around the store. They may tell you a little more about the person wearing it.