November 29, 2022

The Spy Who Loved Coffee

By The Coffee Research Department
The Spy Who Loved Coffee

One legendary coffee house, we’ll use the code name "mermaid", is notorious for consistently and hilariously misspelling customer names on its orders. You may have seen a post or two go viral. There are even conspiracy theories that the coffee giant encourages its employees to intentionally mangle names to garner more social media mentions, in some kind of evil genius marketing ploy.

But did you know about its most secure location where the baristas never get the names wrong because they aren’t allowed to ask them in the first place?

Inside a heavily guarded building in Langley, VA - at a location so secretive it doesn’t even show up on GPS - the coffee shop functions as a kind of agency watercooler, with a notable exception. 

When you place your order you skip the name-dropping. The nine baristas who work at the Shhhhh‘bucks cannot ask for customer names, instead they must remember who placed the order and go by facial recognition alone. Easy enough if you only have two customers in line, but this location is known to be the busiest one in the world, with lines frequently stretching down the corridor during the morning and afternoon rush.

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”
- The Washington Post [1]


Given that the symbol of the CIA stands for alertness, it makes sense that there would be demand for caffeine inside the headquarters of central intelligence. After all, many of the agency employees work late into the night on difficult cases or because they are working in different time zones. 

Urban myth says the CIA Starbucks is the busiest in the world, and to me that makes perfect sense. This is a population who have to be alert and spend hours poring through documents. If they miss a word, people can die.”
- The Washington Post

What’s more, due to the tight security of the island-like campus, this particular windowless cafe has a captive audience of analysts, engineers, accountants, and, yes, undercover agents working on solving some of the world’s biggest threats. 

While the daytime favorites are lemon cake and vanilla latte, you won’t find the name of the world famous brand on your receipt. In print, it goes by the rather generic alias,  “Store Number 1.” 

Some of the agency’s employees affectionately know it as “Stealthy Starbucks.”  But you didn’t hear it here.

Sorry, caffeine fiends. No reward or loyalty cards are accepted at this location. The information stored on them might land in the “wrong hands” and accidentally reveal an agent’s favorite flavored latte - and his habits.

All the baristas must undergo serious and rigorous background checks and even have “minders” that escort them to and from their work space. In fact, they are often instructed to observe and report suspicious conversations or activities. That employee who asks unusual questions about the workplace?  Might be Double Agent Macchiato.

The good news is that you are likely to have more peace and quiet at this location because it’s a cell-phone free zone (we picture the cone of silence). As a matter of security, all CIA employees must surrender their phones or leave them off premises.

“There are plans to redecorate, possibly including spy paraphernalia from over the decades”
- The Washington Post

Other than that, this branch looks and acts like any other, playing the same contemporary music and displaying posters of coffee growing regions. Rumor has it there are  plans to include some spy paraphernalia in the decor, much like the CIA museum contains (another high security outfit).

It’s easy to imagine the kinds of conversations and encounters that go on while waiting for the next order to be filled. 

One infamous story from The Washington Post article suggests that former high school classmates only discovered they were colleagues while waiting in line for their 3pm caffeine crutch. It makes sense that announcing your employment position via email or on social media is discouraged.

So, in a spot where regular employees can mingle with Bourne-like spies, exchanging pleasantries over the afternoon pick-me-up, wouldn’t you wonder if that person standing behind you is a cartographer who loves cold brew or a spy who studies international espionage over her orange mocha frappuccino?

One thing is certain. Whether we could give the barista an alias or not, we know what our code name would be among spies who love coffee.  Beim, James Beim.

1. At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert [WaPo]


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