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The History of the Frappuccino

Contrary to popular opinion, Starbucks did not invent the Frappuccino (although the chain did popularize it nationally). In fact, the general concept behind the Frappuccino popped up at many independent coffee shops, with one in Seattle and one in Massachusetts being particularly significant. George Howell owned The Coffee Connection in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1989, he took a business trip to Seattle to explore the coffee scene there. He stopped at Torrefazione Italia Café (which was later purchased by Starbucks) with a local guide and saw a frozen cappuccino being made in a granita machine. His guide provided a list of the three simple ingredients used to make it — strong coffee, sugar, and milk. Howell took the concept back to Cambridge and worked with his right-hand man, Andrew Frank, to perfect the recipe. They ensured a smooth texture that didn’t have any crystallization and Frank provided the iconic name: Frappuccino. In the summer of 1992, Howell had coupons distributed to advertise the store’s new drink, which was first available at The Coffee Connection’s Harvard Square location. By 1993, the drink had become very popular in Cambridge and Howell began selling Frappuccinos at his other coffee shops in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. He even replaced the granita slushie machines in his stores with soft-serve ice cream machines to keep up with the demand, but every batch was still brewed and mixed fresh. Around the same time, Starbucks began testing a similar drink at a single Los Angeles store. The Starbucks version was made in a blender, which allowed for the addition of many more ingredients, including a wide selection of flavorings and syrups. Reportedly, musician Kenny G, a friend of Howard Schultz (who was then the CEO of Starbucks), was partially responsible for the Starbucks creation, as he claims to have urged Schultz to create a blended coffee drink similar to those he had previously tried at other chains. Around 1994, Starbucks bought out The Coffee Connection and as part of the purchase, the chain got the rights to the "Frappuccino" name that Howell had trademarked. Starbucks then used the name for its own blended frozen coffee drink and by 1995, Starbucks was selling its version of the Frappuccino all across the U.S. and Canada. Today, the Frappuccino is closely associated with Starbucks and the chain offers a wide range of specialty Frappuccinos; some have even become social media sensations, such as 2017’s colorful “Unicorn Frappucino.”

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