Starbucks showed coffee drinkers the difference between a cappuccino and a latte and then taught them how to order one by saying "grande" instead of medium.
Consumers drank it up and in return made Starbucks the world's largest coffee chain.
When Starbucks went public in 1992, it had 125 stores. Today there are more than 15,000 stores in 44 countries, and billions in sales. But now after years of spectacular growth, the nation's leading premium coffee roaster has found its coffee going cold.
"We have challenges that we haven't had in quite some time in our company," said Howard Schultz, Starbucks' once-again leader.
In 2000 Schultz stepped down as CEO after 13 years to focus on larger projects and become the company's chairman. But in January the company fired then-CEO Jim Donald and Schultz returned.
To meet the battle brewing over coffee, Schultz quickly announced a series of initiatives to refocus Starbucks on how it all started: It's the coffee, "one cup of coffee at [a] time."
On Tuesday, consumers will get their first taste of the "new" Starbucks as the company launches a blend of coffee called Pike Place Roast, with free cups of coffee served nationwide from noon to 12:30 p.m. ET.
From then on, the coffee will be served every day in every store, brewed fresh every 30 minutes.
"The goal is to reinvent brewed coffee in America," Schultz told ABC News "Nightline" anchor Terry Moran during an exclusive interview in the company's first store in Seattle.
Despite continued growth and strong sales overall, the last year has been a tough one for the nation's largest coffee chain.
The company has been battered by a combination of higher dairy prices, consumers spending less in a slowing economy, tougher competition from McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, along with missteps Starbucks made as it became increasingly bureaucratic and corporate and less a neighborhood coffee shop.
"Some of the problems that have occurred over the last year or so have been somewhat self-induced," Schultz said. "I think we've allowed the lines between us and everybody else to be somewhat blurred in terms of what we do."
In the last three months of 2007, sales dropped 1 percent at stores in the United States open for more than one year, a first for the company. The company's stock price has dropped more than 40 percent from a year ago.
"I think it became too corporate," said portfolio manager Patricia Edwards with Seattle-based Wentworth Hauser & Violich. "It used to be that you could go in, you could get coffee, you could get an espresso drink, that was pretty much it. And over time they added food, they added hot sandwiches, they added teddy bears, they added cups."
With so much for sale beyond just coffee, Edwards believes the company lost its unique café experience. "I think that's where their downfall has been."
The company recently announced that it would open only 2,150 stores worldwide in 2008, down from a planned 2,500. In the United States, the company will open 1,175 instead of the originally planned 1,600 stores.
In addition, Starbucks will close 100 stores that have performed poorly and cut its work force by nearly 600 jobs.
Schultz, the man who made Starbucks a part of America's national culture, is back in charge again, and he's now taking decisive actions to reclaim the company's roots as a small, Seattle-based coffee roaster.