Don Valencia

Don Valencia was a cell biologist and chief executive officer of a biomedical firm, but he was also an avid backpacker who wanted more from the cups of instant coffee he’d been drinking on his hikes.

So he did what scientists do – he experimented, utilizing his expertise and equipment to find the best way to dehydrate ground coffee while maintaining their aroma and flavor. One day, he sent us a sample of a soluble coffee powder he made from our beans, and it made its way into the hands of Dave Olsen and, eventually, Howard Schultz.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start, and Howard knew Don could help us innovate. In 1993 Don became head of Research & Development, where he was instrumental in some notable successes – both in stores and on the shelf – and one lucky mistake.

Don also led a long-term secret project in pursuit of his dream to create a delicious instant coffee. Don died in 2007, but his vision became a reality in 2009 with the debut of Starbucks VIA Instant.