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The Starbucks Where Everyone's a Secret Agent

The Starbucks at the CIA headquarters is not allowed to take names for orders. It’s not “business as usual” for the Starbucks franchise housed inside the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. This particular store, code-named “Store Number 1,” operates much differently than their other 12,000+ stores in the U.S.—not surprising when it must accommodate clandestine spymasters working for the most powerful spy organization in the world.

This seller of skinny lattes and double cappuccinos is deep inside the agency’s forested Langley, Va., compound. Because the campus is a highly secured island, few people leave for coffee, and the lines can stretch down the hallway. Welcome to the “Stealthy Starbucks,” as a few officers affectionately call it.

Servers do not ask for the customer’s name (which they normally write on the coffee cup to expedite things), for undercover agents grow uncomfortable when someone asks for it. Even the receipts the baristas hand back have “Store Number 1” cryptically printed on them.

Each barista goes through a robust interview and background check before they are even told that they will be working at the CIA Starbucks. There are nine baristas working there and whenever they leave their work area, a CIA “minder” escorts them. All are regularly briefed about security risks and must report if someone seems overly interested in where they work or asks too many questions about their employment. They can’t even blow their own horns about working inside the CIA at nightclubs or parties and, if asked, can only tell friends, family members and acquaintances that they “work in a federal building.”

One barista said she has come to recognize people’s faces and their drinks. “There’s caramel-macchiato guy” and “the iced white mocha woman,” she said. “But I have no idea what they do. I just know they need coffee, a lot of it.”

Possible Preaching Angles:

1) Compromise; Hiddenness; Light of the World - Agents and even baristas must remain secretive and anonymous at CIA headquarters. But there should be no “undercover Christians” who follow this pattern in their daily lives. Christ wants no hidden Christians; he wants us to shine as lights and be bold and open in our testimony as his followers. 2) Accountability; Secrets; Secrecy – Christians must be open and accountable with one another; there should be no hidden areas of our lives that we conceal while pretending to be godly. 3) Persecution – Some are covert Christians who practice Christianity in secret, often because they fear persecution or discrimination because they live in countries where Christianity is illegal or heavily restricted.


Adapted from Robert Morton, “The Starbucks coffeeshop inside the CIA- a top secret hangout for spies,” Medium (10/14/21); Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, “At CIA Starbucks, even the baristas are covert,” The Washington Post (9-27-14)

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