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Better latte than never to achieve goal

Quest to visit every Starbucks on planet keeps collector busy

When you visit more than 5,000 Starbucks around the globe, things begin to run together. The perky barista. The quirky way the sizes are named -- tall, grande, and venti. The way they write your name on the cup.

''The coffee is amazingly consistent, even overseas," said the man who calls himself Winter, but was born Rafael Antonio Lozano. Winter has set the unusual goal of attempting to drink a cup of coffee at every Starbucks in the world.

It is a goal he may never realize, though he has spent about $30,000 trying. In the eight years since Winter started his quest, Starbucks has grown from a midsized chain into an international corporate behemoth. The company averages 11 new US stores and three new international stores each week, and is planning to add nearly 1,000 new stores next year.

This weekend, Winter was back in New England to visit stores in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts that have been built since he was last here several months ago.

''The reason I'm trying to visit them all is not because I like Starbucks, but because it is difficult and it is rare," said Winter, who has set up a website that chronicles his travels. ''Climbing Mount Everest is difficult, but other people have done it. I specifically set out to tackle something no one else has done."

Winter, 33, a freelance computer software developer from Houston, has visited 4,958 stores in Canada and the United States, including 116 in Massachusetts. He has also visited 213 stores in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Japan. There are 6,055 corporately owned Starbucks stores in the world, according to a monthly report released in November by the Seattle-based company.

Tomorrow, he flies to London for the fourth time in six years to visit a few cafes that have sprouted since his last trip. When he gets back in a week, he'll drive to Florida and take a Southern route to California, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver.

To complete his mission, Winter has laid out a few ground rules: He counts only stores that are owned and operated by Starbucks, eliminating some 4,400 licensed locations in airports, grocery stores, and Barnes & Noble bookstores. He also must drink caffeinated coffee for the stop to count (usually, it is a sample size, or a half-filled ''tall" cup -- 4 ounces -- of the daily brew). He tries to avoid visiting the same store twice to save precious time, but if a store relocates, he has to go back.

Every few stops, he starts up his laptop and hooks up to the wi-fi link that most Starbucks offer to record his visits on his online log, and upload photos of stores.

Winter's personal best is 29 stores in a single day. The whirlwind nature of his visits has resulted in few Starbucks memories: When asked about the most memorable New England stores, he recalled a two-story cafe in Newport, R.I.; after looking through his photos, he said his favorite Boston-area store is on Tremont Street in the South End.

The mission has its perils. During his visits, he has pumped about 162 gallons of coffee into his body, the equivalent of about three bathtubs full.

He has started calling his venture ''Starbucking," and a documentary of the same name is expected to debut at several film festivals this winter.

Filmmaker Bill Tangeman -- who lives in Kearney, Neb., 130 miles from the nearest Starbucks -- has followed Winter for about a month over the last year. Tangeman said he was struck by the mundane nature of the adventure and by Winter's drive to complete it.

''As I've looked at all this footage of Starbucks, I often wonder where the hell I am. They're all the same," he said. ''It's like a universal living room. There's a living room in cities across the world, and they're all the same."

Winter came up with the idea in 1998 while talking with a few Starbucks baristas in Plano, Texas, about the company's rapid expansion and goal of opening 2,000 stores by the year 2000. Once he created a website, he received more attention.

The question he gets most often: Why?

''Part of it is my collector's instinct," he said. ''Once I get into collecting things, I have to have it all. I'm big into comic books, cards, and coins. Essentially I'm collecting these Starbucks. And I'm compelled by my instinct to get them all."

Several professors and social commentators said it is not unusual for people to try to visit every county in the United States or every Major League ballpark. Winter's mission will be harder to complete.

''This poor person will be on a Starbucks-chasing treadmill for the rest of his life," wrote Rachel Weingarten, a marketing strategist who tracks social trends, in an e-mail.

In an e-mail, a spokeswoman for Starbucks offered a one-sentence statement that one might call as tepid as a three-hour-old pot of Verona.

''We are flattered by Winter's enthusiasm for the Starbucks Experience," wrote the spokeswoman, Lara Wyss, ''and we wish him well with his endeavors."

Matt Viser can be reached at

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