The Husband here. Those of you who know me may know that I tend to avoid Starbucks. Yes, it’s true; I’m a snooty coffee drinker. But this post isn’t about that. In fact, I went to Starbucks this week — twice!

It all started when people in my Twitter feed started thanking @jonathanstark for free coffee. Huh? It turns out that Jonathan posted a picture of the barcode from his Starbucks Card Mobile App on his blog. The app lets you pay for your Starbucks order by holding your phone in front of a scanner. He found paying with his phone to be so intriguing and addictive that he decided to share it with others. So he invited others to download a picture of his barcode and use it for their order. Free coffee on Jonathan!

I have to say, it tastes better when it’s free, especially when it feels like a gift and a social experiment all in one.

This started on July 14. People began to take notice and it quickly became a little experiment. Jonathan showed people how to update the card balance and even hooked up his Starbucks account to its own Twitter account that broadcasts updates when the balance changes. The card has been going for almost two weeks and is still going strong! Check it out for yourself here:

So what can we learn from this? First of all, Starbucks is very good at what they do. They’re accessible, fast, friendly, have a strong brand, and do great marketing. I went back later that week and bought the same drink again! (To my credit, the alternatives are extremely limited where I consult in the middle of Cupertino.)

My other observation is that it’s nice to exchange generosity with others, even if it’s on a very small scale with people you’ll never meet. Jonathan links to an interesting blog post explaining that there’s an Italian custom for this called caffé pagato. Wikipedia and other sources calls it caffè sospeso (suspended espresso). Basically, a person in good fortune pays for more espressos than they ordered. The intent is that someone who is down on their luck can later come in and receive the favor. Interesting, isn’t it?

I’ll leave other reflections to those with a bent for cultural and sociological observation. In the meantime, enjoy a coffee on someone you’ve never met before 🙂