Thursday, September 15, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW: Starbucks Anniversary Roast 2011

Starbucks coffees are really hit or miss, what with their massive supply line, and I briefly pondered whether the drastic increases in coffee prices would affect their quality. First, I can safely say that Starbucks quality is generally in-tact. I was surprised by the number of broken beans in the bag, but that could be a result of rough handling by anyone in the supply chain. Prices are significantly higher, though. The half-pound bag was nine dollars, and that makes the proposition of buying coffee from a local roaster all the more attractive. But this is neither here nor there. Neither over hill, nor over dale.

The 2011 Anniversary Blend is the annual release of a blend onto which they slap a brand. I haven't tried earlier versions, but I suspect that the blends are whatever is available in large amounts, and since the anniversary comes out at the same time every year, the blends are undoubtedly similar.

I like the new blend. I'm a bit disappointed by the level of the roast, as I usually am with Starbucks. Instead of relying on my grind level, I'm going to start referencing how much the beans weigh per level tablespoon of unground beans. Most roasts are in the 6-8g range, while Anniversary 2011 is 4.5-5g. That is quite dark indeed.

Luckily, unlike the incredibly disappointing Tribute Blend, Anniversary retains some flavor. It's dark, roasty, very mellow, and goes wonderfully in an espresso double. It's still darker than I would have liked, and the age of the beans is very apparent when extracting a shot: the crema is thin, thin, thin. While these would have been deal-breakers in most circumstances, Anniversary is perfectly balanced and such a good "standard" coffee, that I can't help but give it a thumbs up.

I finally have a siphon pot and pour-over setup, so I can give you more rounded reports of the flavor. Unfortunately for these beans, both pour over and siphon amplify their shortcomings. Espresso does very, very well with rich, simple blends. Truly, in most espresso cases, the simpler the blend, the better. The slow extraction of pour over make the most of vibrant, complex, lightly-roasted coffees. The age of the beans is again apparent with a near-nonexistent bloom. Still, as with the espresso, it's very good "standard"-tasting coffee. Complex? No, but it's leagues better than Folgers.

So while I was disappointed by the roast level, and thus the pour-over extraction, the rich espresso and good basic flavor make up for it. My only serious reservation is the price, and it's the reason why I'm hesitant to recommend it. Nine dollars for half-a-pound is a LOT of money, especially when you can buy excellent coffee fresh from local roasters like Updike's Newtowne or Coffee Exchange for less money. Worse still, prices might get higher, rendering Starbucks a non-option (Starbucks Reserve coffees, at $30 per pound, are already the domain of lunatics).

Price aside, though, it's a good coffee. I just hope that bean prices don't get any higher, or only a maniac would buy Starbucks.

Starbucks Anniversary Blend 2011: RECOMMENDED

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