Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) is starting out its fiscal 2003 with a bang, not a whimper. (Reverse apologies to T.S. Eliot.) The coffee company's first-quarter results are scorching hot, and so are its shares, up 12% today.

Revenues jumped 25%, as previously announced, to $1 billion. Same-store sales were also jacked up, growing 9% for the quarter.

Starbucks' earnings shot ahead 17% to $80 million from last year's $68.4 million. On a per-share basis, that's $0.20 versus $0.17 -- rich enough to top analysts' expectations by two cents.

Margins were largely unchanged, underscoring the caffeine pusher's business strength in the face of a weak economy. Gross margins were up slightly to 58.2%, while net margins dropped a tad to 8%. Starbucks brewed up nearly $140 million of free cash flow during the quarter, as well. Not bad for hocking bean water, eh?

The coffee king pointed (again) to the Starbucks Card as a real driver of its results. The quick turnaround for customers who use the card, rather than fumble around for cash, gets them the juice even faster. Obviously, that speeds up response rates and leads to more people buying more coffee. It creates positive impressions, too, in the minds of customers who have good experiences and therefore return. The company's new automated espresso machines also give sales rates a jolt.

Looking ahead, Starbucks sees another successful year (we're starting to sound like a broken record!), raising its 2003 earnings forecast to $0.67-$0.68 a share from $0.65-$0.66. Should that play out, it will mean earnings-per-share growth of around 22% from fiscal 2002. The chain expects to open at least 1,200 new shops during the year and increase total revenues by 20%.

Starbucks' success has almost become passé. The company's just so good and so solid that it becomes increasingly difficult to generate enthusiasm again and again for its outstanding results. Those poor shareholders....

Yeah, right.

Disclosure: LouAnn Lofton is a Starbucks shareholder.