Fresh Eats: Starbucks' Blonde Roasts: Swing and a Miss

The trend toward light-bodied, floral, fruity coffee has finally registered with the industry's corporate giants. Earlier this month, Starbucks Coffee announced a series of "blonde" roasts. With names like "Veranda" and "Willow," the new coffees come in shiny metallic packaging promising a "mellow, soft and subtle roast" best served "on a sunny day."

In the interest of staying current on all coffee, I sampled a scalding hot cup of Starbucks' Veranda Roast matched against the much darker Starbucks Medium Pike Place Roast and — for comparison's sake — Sightglass's Blue Boon blend.

Where the Blue Boon smelled something like a wispy bit of cotton candy infused with the slightest essence of berry, the Veranda Roast smelled like a tire fire that had been extinguished with a bucket of cat urine. The taste of the Veranda Roast was thin at first, almost watery, quickly followed by a stampede of charred, chemical flavor reminiscent of severely burned popcorn or a piece of grilled cheese that had lingered on a cast-iron skillet too long. In contrast, Sightglass's Blue Boon seemed downright ethereal, a cloud of ripe orange and cocoa that evaporated in to a soothing freshness. Paired against its "medium roast" cousin, the Veranda did seem lighter, but the lightness bore no additional subtlety.

Though it is refreshing to see Starbucks pushing in a different direction for its coffee — the packaging of the Veranda Roast instructs customers about using freshly ground beans and accurate measurement of beans and water — the blonde roast is a failure in terms of taste. Harsh, seemingly roasted alongside a bucket of cleaning chemical, the Veranda Roast does nothing to enlighten the palate, instead announcing itself with all the nuance of a nuclear weapon.

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Michael Castillo
Michael Castillo

"Paired against its 'medium roast' cousin, the Veranda did seem lighter, but the lightness bore no additional subtlety."

That is a valid review. The rest just screams hater-ade. Not a Starbucks fan, not by a long shot. But if you are going to review the blonde roast, don't taste test against a micro- roaster that participates in direct trade seasonal sourcing. It is apple and oranges. And its a comparison that a macro roaster will always lose. 1) there isn't enough supply of High quality micro-lot arabica beans to fulfill the coffee demands of a global chain 2) starbucks would be broke if they tried to buy every micro lot just to serve up coffee for $1.50.

For a FAR more interesting taste comparison, try pairing Peet's Coffee's new medium roast with the blonde roast, or another MACRO-roaster such as a Dunkin' Donuts.

Starbucks is simply ok. But before Starbuck's there was no third wave. Without Starbucks, the average coffee consumer would still be drinking Hills Bros coffee or thinking Folgers coffee is the be all, end all. Starbucks is responsible for setting a baseline level of acceptance for quality while also convincing the avg person that $2-$5 a cup is worth it. By doing so, this allows high quality roasters (like Sightglass, Four Barrel, Contraband, Stumptown, et al) to charge upwards of $3 -$5 for a pour over.

Not trying to hate on the article but it just doesn't shed any insight other than OMFG SBUX BLOWS, Sightglass is fairy dust in a cup!

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