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2014: The Year in Starbucks

It was a year of new drinks and well-timed tech.


If 2014 has shown the world anything, it's that people still really love Starbucks: CIA agentsNBC employees in Sochiteenagers, and the even President himself. Still, it has its detractors, including coffee snobs, comedian Nathan Fielder, and musician Neil Young.

But that hasn't stopped the chain from achieving financial success. The Seattle-based coffee behemoth managed to end the fiscal year with a net income of $2.1 billion. That's not all that surprising considering that the chain now has over 21,000 locations spread across 65 countries.

This year, though, Starbucks did much more than spend the days slinging thousands upon thousands of sugary lattes and raking in the cash. From trendy drinks to cringe-worthy missteps, here now, a look back at the year in Starbucks:

Starbucks got serious about coffee:

Courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks is perhaps best known for its crazy coffee concoctions including the famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, which is more about add-ons than actual coffee. The company wants its coffee credibility back so that it can compete with Third Wave coffee shops like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia. To do this the chain unveiled a luxe 15,000 square foot Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle. Coffee drinkers are given a choice between six different brewing methods for a slew of rare, small lot Arabica beans. The chain also opened multiple Reserve stores — including a fancy flagship in China (which features an area for star-gazing!) — where serious coffee drinkers can get their hands on the upscale beans, and they plan to open 100 more next year.

But it got distracted by expanding its menu:

Courtesy of Starbucks

At last count, Starbucks sells at least 255 items, or over 70 more items than it offered in 2009. This year alone the chain introduced grilled cheese sandwichesgreek yogurt smoothies (including one made with the hottest ingredient of 2014: kale), and "handcrafted" sodas. The chain expanded the number of locations that offer its "Starbucks Evenings" program, or a menu of wine, beer and tapas-like plates. Starbucks also somehow convinced media mogul Oprah Winfrey to play tea alchemist and make her a special blend.

Photo: Daniela Galarza

On the non-coffee shop front, Starbucks opened an all-day restaurant/cafe location of La Boulange — the bakery it acquired in 2012 — in Los Angeles. There the company serves everything from burgers to milkshakes to cocktails served out of oh-so-chic mason jars.

And Starbucks is looking to add even more to the menu:

Photo: honbliss/Flickr

This year the coffee giant experimented with adding trendy cold brew coffee to the menu. Plus they started looking into offering coconut milk as a dairy alternative for all their lactose-averse customers. They tested out a "mini" Frappuccino for those who prefer to not guzzle 30-ounce coffee milkshakes. And for those who love flavored lattes and beer, Starbucks has been messing around with a non-alcoholic coffee — called the Dark Barrel Latte — that apparently tastes like a cup of Guinness.

Starbucks tried to please its employees:

Photo: Starbucks/Facebook

The Seattle-based coffee seller announced that it would help pay for employees to college tuition through a partnership with Arizona State University. This means employee perks now include free lattes and bachelor degrees. Exactly how many of Starbucks' employees were able to take advantage of this system remains unclear.

Photo: lynnfriedman/Flickr

Not everything was fine and dandy between Starbucks and its employees this year: The two parties fought over whether or not employees were allowed to have visible tattoos. Baristas were up in tatted arms over the ban that forced them to wear long sleeves even on hot Summer days. Eventually, Starbucks gave in.

The chain handled its scheduling of employees was revealed to be pretty horrendous, causing many employees hardships. Supervisors commonly scheduled employees at least one clopening shift per week, in which they had to close the shop in the evening and also wake up early the next day to open. (Starbucks says they plan to change the way they schedule employees.) Other changes: Starbucks' employees are now also allowed to wear colored ties, scarves, and black denim. Black denim! How's that for freedom of expression?

Surprise: Baristas still spell your name wrong:

Even with all of the effort to keep its "partners" — as Starbucks calls its employees — happy, baristas still regularly spell patrons' names incorrectly. It's so common that someone even made a video about it. So far, over 8 million people have seen this parody.

Starbucks denied a pregnant woman use of the bathroom:

Cringe! In October, a barista at a Starbucks location in Arizona told a pregnant woman she could not use their restroom — even after the woman purchased a drink. When a woman in line behind the pregnant woman and her husband said, "I'm about to make a purchase, give me the code and I'll give it to her," the barista still refused to provide the code. Starbucks apologized. The pregnant lady eventually used a restroom at a nearby Subway.

Did Starbucks enter into a sketchy tax deal with the Netherlands?

Patrick Rasenberg/Flickr

The European Union accused Starbucks and the Netherlands of some financial funny business after an alleged tax break went public last month. It's not the first time Starbucks has come under fire for talking governments into giving them unfair business advantages. Bloomberg investigated and found that the same thing happened in the UK.

People went crazy over the chain's holiday lattes:

Photo: jameswarwick/Flickr

As per usual, people lost their marbles over Starbucks' holiday themed drinks, especially the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL for short. (Though it must be noted that television host John Oliver is not a fan.) The melted Yankee Candle-like coffee creation — which now has its own Twitter account — was released earlier this year to adoring masses.

The chain almost didn't sell its Eggnog Latte nationwide this year, but customers were not having that. Angry eggnog-coffee mashup lovers apparently took to social media, wrote letters and emails, and left many complaints with the chain's customer service line. So, Starbucks gave in and rolled it out to all stores.

Chestnut Praline Latte Photo: Starbucks/Facebook

And, for the first time in five years, the seller of fashion-forward coffee mugs introduced a new holiday-themed drink: The Chestnut Praline Latte.

Everything you've ever wanted to know about Starbucks' holiday lattes, below.

People also went crazy upping the free drink record:

"Mega" Latte Courtesy of William E. Lewis Jr.

This year, frequent Starbucks' customers set crazy new records for ordering the most expensive free drink possible.

1) May 2014: The "sexatinguple vanilla bean mocha Frappuccino" = $54.75
2) July 2014: A Frappuccino with 60 shots of espresso = $60.58
3) October 2014: A "mega" latte with 101 shots of espresso and nearly 7,500 milligrams of caffeine = $83.75.

The obscene drink creations inspired the chain to "crush the basic human right to order comically large coffees."

Starbucks got high tech:

Courtesy of Starbucks

Customers no longer have to fight for outlets at Starbucks: In partnership with AT&T, the coffee chain rolled out Powermat Spots — small circular wireless charging pads that are seamlessly implanted in tables and counters — at over 200 locations this year.

Starbucks also overhauled its app to allow users to place and pay for orders in advance. (They officially rolled out the feature in Portland this month.) And if having to go to a Starbucks is still too much effort, the company announced this year that it will begin a delivery service in 2015.

Finally, Starbucks sold many obnoxious things in the month of December — as per usual:

Courtesy of Starbucks

1) A $110 Swarovski bejeweled coffee tumbler
2) A $100 Swarovski-accented coffee mug
3) A $50 bejeweled ornament
4) A $200 Sterling silver key chain
5) A gift card made from 10 karats of hammered gold, worth $5,000. Technically, no one can buy it. It can only be won and gives the 10 victors a free drink every day for 30 years.

Photo: Starbucks/Facebook