Laxman Narasimhan has been CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company for just over a year. In that time, he told Fortune last month, he’s been able to try many Starbucks drinks—and even learn to prepare the full menu as a barista. Despite his stature as the number-one at Starbucks, he doesn’t have fancy taste. His go-to drink costs just $3.35—on the lower end for the ubiquitous coffee chain, whose prices can cost as much as $5.95 for a seasonal pumpkin spice frappuccino.
“My favorite go-to drink at Starbucks is the Doppio Espresso Macchiato with some hot milk on the side,” Narasimhan said. He added that he prefers skim milk, because it’s the closest way of replicating the taste of South Indian coffee when in the U.S. Narasimhan is from Pune, a large city in southwest India.
Once in a while, the CEO—whose lengthy résumé includes a long C-level career at PepsiCo—will indulge in more ritzy Starbucks offerings. He said he’s tasted and been “very amazingly surprised” by the whiskey barrel-aged Guatemalan coffee, which is available at Starbucks Roastery stores. “It has no alcohol. It has a cube of ice, and it’s a wonderful drink that I’ve enjoyed deeply.”
Narasimhan honed his varied taste through the 40 hours he spent training—and six months he spent working—as a barista alongside Starbucks partners while gearing up for the CEO gig. “The idea was to really immerse myself in the business, understand the culture, understand it from a partner’s lens, and also get really good at coffee, which I love drinking,” he told Alan Murray and Michal Lev-Ram on an episode of the Leadership Next podcast. Working in stores across the continents gave Narasimhan “a real lens into what it meant” to be a Starbucks employee.
Since taking the reins from erstwhile CEO and company founder Howard Schultz, Narasimhan has made clear his intentions to prioritize Starbucks corporate’s relationship with its in-store workers. Recent successful financial results, he said, proved that his efforts were paying off. Earlier this month, the chain reported an 11.4% bump in quarterly sales, equaling $9.37 billion. It also shared plans to add nearly 15,000 new locations, mostly outside the U.S. That’s alongside its existing more than 20,000 non-U.S. stores.
Narasimhan is avowedly militant about work-life balance; he meditates daily, exercises 150 to 250 minutes a week, and largely avoids answering work calls after 6 p.m. And even the CEO of a Fortune 100 company doesn’t drink too much Kool Aid; he avoids any coffee after 2:00 p.m. At that point, he told Murray and Lev-Ram, he switches over to one of Starbucks’s “wonderful range of teas.”