Starbucks' new Tribute coffee, celebrating forty years of life, is ironically appropriate. But before I get to that, a peeve. Starbucks has not been around for forty years. Yes, the very first Starbucks was founded in 1971, but it is so distantly related to the current permutation of Starbucks as to be significant in name only. They didn't sell drinks until 1987, when Howard Schultz bought the chain from the founders and rebranded his own burgeoning coffee chain, Il Giornale, as Starbucks. Thus, the Starbucks of today is actually Il Giornale with a different name. I've posted the original logo so you can see the strong similarity between it and Starbucks' current logo. Basically, the Starbucks name is forty years old. Starbucks as it is is only twenty-four.
Now on to the coffee. After my last roast review of Casi Cielo was such a success, I came into this one with high hopes. Sadly, I have had my hopes run through a grinder like so many coffee beans. I said that this coffee is ironically appropriate, and by that I mean it is ironic that a company that has been so known for burnt coffee as to earn the moniker Charbucks should celebrate its anniversary with a blend that is burnt indeed. It is further ironic that a company that made its name and fortune with expensive espresso drinks should celebrate with a roast that doesn't go terribly well in espresso.
As a semi-objective measurement of roast level, I use my grinder, a Rancilio Rocky, and the required grind to get a perfect espresso shot. Most good espresso grinds like Black Cat require grinds in the area of 10 on my grinder. Casi Cielo required a 9, the darkest Starbucks I've ever had required a 4, with most Starbucks coffees requiring a 5. Tribute requires a grind of 5-6, so it's right in line with their other offerings. Amazingly, it tastes darker than this would indicate. I can taste almost nothing but roast. Smooth, yes, but roast nonetheless.
I'm left with some confusion. Until Casi Cielo, I always assumed that Starbucks was actually incompetent, but I now know that they aren't. They can produce an excellent roast if they want to, which means that this coffee is a conscious choice. Why would a company knowingly create a dark, blasted husk of a bean (I mean that in general, not to Tribute specifically)? What flavor profile are they shooting for? To what demographic are they trying to appeal? I'm very confused. Regardless, this was a disappointing coffee. Their standard espresso roast is much better for espresso, and I've had better pour over with a multitude of their other blends and single origins. It's certainly not disgusting, and in less-gourmet times, I might give a thumbs up. But in the face of stiff competition from local roasters and even Starbucks' own selection, I can't recommend this coffee.
Starbucks Tribute Coffee: NOT RECOMMENDED