Starbucks’ Light Roast: A Dumb, Blonde Joke?

When Starbucks announced the impending release of their new Blonde Roast offerings last October, the coffee blogosphere BLEW UP: speculation, the making of fun, and a surfeit of ponderance at the decision. A great many people pre-opined on this new roast profile; we chose to stay out of the fray until we’d had a chance to try it ourselves.

This week marks the much-discussed launch of that Blonde Roast, and if you live in North America, it’s quite likely you’re no further than a few miles from the nearest chance to try it. Sprudge.com set out to investigate at the Starbucks Coffee at 3rd and Market, in San Francisco. Here’s what we found:

First things first, upon entering the Starbucks we were greeted with by an imposing retail display. “Introducing Starbucks® Blonde Roast®: The lighter roast perfected™.” This effectively laid to waste any questions we had about the semantic difference between “blonde” and “light”; to Starbucks, they are interchangeable, though as pointed out here by DCILY, Starbucks Blonde Roast is being pulled right at the second crack, which is not exactly “light” in the fancy coffee parlance.

Once past the looming display, we moseyed past the chicken salad sandwiches and ordered up the two available Blonde offerings, “Willow Blend” and “Veranda”. The register barista warned us that the Willow Blend was “really over-the-top acidic.” Sounds promising, right?

Our beverages were prepared for us by the resident Coffee Master Clover attendant, clad in a black apron that 1. identified him formally as the “Coffee Master”, and 2. bore an accompanying sticker with the claim “I am smooth.”

The Clover Station, like the Cold Beverage Station, sits isolated in a corner. The downfall of the Clover brewer – specialty coffee’s unloved bastard of a brew method – would make for a far longer and different blog post, so we’ll spare you the soliloquy. Our Coffee Master kept up with us throughout the brew process, chatting about Blonde Roast’s purportedly higher caffeine content while white chocolate mochas and Frappuccinos backed up on the bar. We were served in ceramic mugs that said “Clover Brewed”; it was gently suggested we pair our coffees with a salted caramel square.

Tasting Notes:

Snark and doubtfulness aside, both the Veranda and Willow Blend are worthy of actual consideration, if ultimately unsatisfying to our palettes. Veranda tasted woody and flat at first – less than fresh – a tired taste that coffee types might describe as “baggy” or “past crop”. That said, as the Veranda Blonde Roast cooled, more pleasant fruit notes jumped out. Also, Veranda was unexpectedly clean.

Willow Blend was our favorite coffee of the two. Definitely not “too acidic,” with less noticeable bagginess on the front end. The note of the day: “This actually tastes like specialty grade coffee.”

As they cooled past 100 degrees, both coffees just fell apart. The Willow’s pleasant acidity turned acrid and really made us focus on the roast. Turns out that 40 years of the “Starbucks Roast” profile may owe to more than mere stubbornness, or a refusal to fix that which is not perceived to be broken: dark roasting helps to cover up all that bagginess. Perhaps erstwhile “Seasonal Blends” are next?

Did we absolutely, unequivocally, no shade snobbishly go Coffee Diva Supernova in the direction of these cups of Blonde Roast? No. But were we interested or capable of finishing our ceramic mugs? Also, most definitely no. Those coffees were really tough to drink after about 10 minutes. But don’t take our word for it, for what are we but humble bloggers? Go try some for free between January 12th and 14th at your local neighborhood Starbucks®.

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Comments

  1. Jack says

    The roast is only part of the process. I went out of my way to sample this coffee and it exceeded expectations for an insipid cup. Dull, baggy, as you cite, watery and no finish.

  2. old skool says

    i had the chance to cup both roasts last week alongside a variety of other coffees.  the veranda blend was quite clearly almost entirely brazilian, not very drinkable.  the willow blend on the other hand i’m fairly certain had a good chop of ethiopians in there.  i agree it was surprisingly good and even worth buying!

  3. Pedrogabba says

    Drink the roast… get the girly girl. It’s embarrassing that coffee is still marketed this way. This aspect alone tells me that *bucks know their product isn’t strong or competitive enough to market it on its merits. Perhaps they feel that it just sin’t good enough without the cutsey girl. If they must perhaps this new *bucks would feature a happy, normal same sex couple. I could live with that… an edgy, street level, hip to the game *bucks.

  4. says

    I asked them a couple questions on the youtube post. It’s great that they’re starting to realize that dark roast isn’t king. The thing is, now they need to start purchasing better coffees. This was before my “coffee enlightenment”, but I do recall one black apron coffee from years ago. It was a single estate Ethiopian and it was absolutely astounding. That coffee wasn’t roasted to near ash, and it had explosive flavour. IF they went to coffees like that on a full time basis, they might be able to get some of my respect back, but not with fluff garbage marketing like that. That was just stupid.

  5. Rwesterfield says

    palate = tongue
    palette = artist’s tool for mixing paint
    pallet = wooden slat thing used in shipping

    Sorry, that mistake bugs the crap out of me more than eXpresso.

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